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Basic internet searches on the origins of hip hop will undoubtedly lead to a top listing on DJ Kool Herc, a New York deejay, appropriately linked as one of the most influential figures in the early years of the art form. But before the 1970s other influences can be found.

In 1964, when he was still known as Cassius Clay, Muhammed Ali delivered one of the most intriguing poems ever spoken before a broad audience by a Black athlete. Every Black household in America was riveted by the braggadocious delivery of his poetic prediction for the outcome of a boxing match that would mark a defining moment in Black generational history. Clay was an unapologetic man who used poetry to engage with the media. In this way, he always controlled the narrative. In his poetry and in his demeanor, Clay displayed a level of outward confidence that had previously been reserved only for church leaders and civil rights orators. The poetry is simple yet holds a great deal of significance as a precursor to a generation of poets who would leave behind all inhibitions to comment on the state of their communities and world, following in the footsteps of Cassius Clay.

Cassius Clay taunting Sonny Liston
Ali vs. Liston, courtesy Wikimedia

Clay Comes Out to Meet Liston

Clay comes out to meet Liston

and Liston starts to retreat,

if Liston goes back an inch farther

he'll end up in a ringside seat.

Clay swings with his left,

Clay swings with his right,

Look at young Cassius

carry the fight

Liston keeps backing,

but there's not enough room,

It's a matter of time till Clay lowers the boom.

Now Clay lands with a right,

What a beautiful swing,

and the punch raises the Bear

clear out of the ring.

Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown,

For he can't start counting

till Sonny goes down.

Now Liston is disappearing from view,

The crowd is going frantic,

But radar stations have picked him up,

Somewhere over the Atlantic.

Who would have thought

when they came to the fight?

That they'd witness the launching

of a human satellite.

Yes the crowd did not dream,

when they put up the money,

That they would see

a total eclipse of the Sonny.

You can hear the full poem recited by Clay on YouTube (video not available to share).


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