10 Ways Malcolm X Influenced Hip-Hop

Hip-Hop emerged on the heels of the civil rights movement in America. Therefore, the influence and messages of the Black Panthers, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X were all very prevalent in rap’s early days.

And with Saturday, February 21, 2015, being the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s passing, AllHipHop.com wanted to pay tribute to the civil rights icon by celebrating his life and acknowledging the impact he played in so many people’s lives. Here is a list of ways in which Malcolm X helped shape Hip-Hop. As a culture, it is will always be better than it would’ve been without him.

Samples: Naming music that samples Malcolm X would be an entire other (very long) list, so as a way of giving props to all of them, check out Keith Leblanc’s record, “No Sell Out.” The precedent that this Tommy Boy-released song set over 30 years ago is still being followed by countless emcees to this day.

Boogie Down Productions By All Means Necessary Album Cover: KRS-One is one of Hip-Hop’s most insightful and influential figures. He showed his respect for Malcolm by re-creating the image of him standing by the window with a gun for protection after his house had been firebombed for the front of BDP’s sophomore set. Malcolm once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” and KRS is one example which validates those words.

“My Philosophy” Video: Similar to the samples, there are countless rappers, ranging from Public Enemy to Drake, who have referenced Malcolm X in their lyrics. However, when a photo or image of him is put into a video properly, it takes the already powerful song and gives it an even greater impact. One of the best examples of this is BDP’s “My Philosophy.” Malcolm’s influence clearly didn’t stop with the album cover in ’88.

The Source Magazine Cover: Back in 1990, an image of Malcolm X appeared on the cover The Source. At a time when the crack trade was in full swing, Malcolm’s messages of hope and empowerment was much needed. Plus, considering he already had such a presence on records from Hip-Hop’s golden age, the magazine cover confirmed that he had reached a Hip-Hop audience. The caption said it perfectly, “After 25 years, Hip-Hop Keeps His Message Alive.”

Paris The Devil Made Me Do It\**:** Keeping in mind the previous item on the list, one of the best examples of Malcolm’s ideas and influence making its way on to wax from one era to the next is the debut from West Coast rapper, Paris. He was heavily inspired by the Black Panthers and both of its founding members has cited Malcolm X as playing a significant role in their lives. One of its founders, Huey P. Newton, wrote that he perceived the Black Panther Party as “a living testament to [Malcolm X’s] life work.”

The Nation of Islam: When Malcolm X was sent to prison, he was still Malcolm Little. It was during his incarceration that he converted to Islam and changed his last name to “X” (as in the variable since he believed his true lineage had been lost or destroyed during slavery). Not long after, the pride that he took in the Nation was very apparent. Similarly, some Hip-Hop artists have put a spotlight on the Nation in their rhymes and videos, just like Malcolm did in his speeches. Clearly, his message was heard by the generation that followed.

Tupac Speech: Pac is widely regarded as one of rap’s most iconic figures. Not only were his rhymes incredible, but the depth of his writing on things in the real world connected him with listeners in a way that no one ever did before or has since. Not surprisingly, Malcolm X was a major influence on him.

Twone Gabz “Malcolm X”: For as often as the current Hip-Hop scene is criticized for being unintelligent and unoriginal, it is just that much more important to recognize artists who really do stand for something. One such artist is Twone Gabz, a protege of the legendary Erick Sermon, and two years ago he dropped mini-movie called “Malcolm X” which showed that like Malcolm himself (and unlike many of his contemporaries), he won’t be bamboozled.

Nicki Minaj “Lookin’ A** N***a” Cover Art: Fortunately, Ms. Minaj got rid of it. However, just last year, Nicki released a single called, “Lookin’ A** N***a” and the album artwork featured a picture of Malcolm X right next to the racial slur. Malcolm X’s family and his estate were quick to call her out. Malcolm’s daughter said that the picture “in no way is endorsed by our family.” And the business representative for his estate referred to it as “dehumanizing.”

Names: While not all of these acts have work that reflects the same level of social awareness as Malcolm X, artists, groups, and DJs like Mia X, Sadat X, Professor X (and the group he was in, X Clan), and Terminator X, just to name a few, have all given props to him by adding the 24th letter of the alphabet to the end of their name just like him.

Rest In Peace, Malcolm X.

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