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PHOTO ESSAY

In the Beginning: Hip Hop's Early Influences

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The cover of a collection of Muhammad Ali's sayings.

For their style, posturing, and attire, rap and hip hop have often looked toward the world of sports for influences, and few figures in the world of professional sports have been a more significant single influence than Muhammad Ali. The greatest professional prize-fighter of his generation—and many others—Ali was born Cassius Clay on 17 January 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, and went on to become heavyweight champion of the world when he defeated Sonny Liston in 1964 and again when he shocked the world by defeating George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" in 1974. An outspoken and controversial advocate for civil rights, Ali was stripped of his title in 1967 following his declaration of conscientious objector status in the war in Vietnam. This, coupled with Ali's decision to banish the name Cassius Clay as a relic of his ancestors' slave past and to announce his membership in the Nation of Islam, served to make Ali a figure of national speculation and argument. Ali's exuberantly boastful personal style, the quick-witted rhyming patter he used during jousts with both the press and prospective opponents, and his unquestionable status as one of the superstars of the professional sports world have ensured Ali a permanent place in the canon of hip hop and rap's most important forebears.

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