Hip-Hop was born from a spirit of protest and the desire to be heard, so it’s no surprise that many of our favorite rappers have drawn influence from Dr. Martin Luther King. Here’s 10 times Hip-Hop artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z, Public Enemy, Snoop Dog, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar and Common referenced Martin Luther King, Jr.
The powerful voice of Dr. King in his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 March on Washington, sets the precedence for an emotional and revolutionary empowerment. To this day, it still stands as the most sampled Dr. King audio recording in hip-hop history.
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and his legacy here are 10 hip hop songs that sampled our fierce leader’s iconic voice:
1. My President is Black (Remix) – Jay-Z, Young Jeezy, & Nas
Lyric: “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk/Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run.”
When Barack Obama was elected for president in 2008, Jay-Z placed context around the election reminding us that we would not have a black president if it were not for Rosa Parks and MLK who paved the way.
2. Kanye West Recites Poem Dedicated To MLK at 12 Years Old
Lyric: “Martin Louie the King Jr./starting all that stunting is gon’ ruin you.” (Kanye West)
When Kanye West was just 12 years old, he wrote a poem dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr at his middle school in 1990.
3. 50 Cent “Smile (I’m Leavin’)” (2007)
Lyric: “I’m like Martin Luther King: people listen to me a lot/It’s non-violent, non-violent ’til I’m hit with a rock/Then it’s Coretta, fuck this; go and get me my Glock.”
4. Snoop Dogg f/ The Game “Gangbangin’ 101” (2006)
Lyric: “I’m Dr. Martin Luther King with two guns on/Huey P. Newton with Air Force 1s on.” (Game)
The Game laces used this bar referencing two revolutionary figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party. While MLK fought his battles without violence, The Game draws parallels of the willingness to fight for a cause, regardless of how.
5. Common Feat. Will I Am – I Have a Dream
Chorus: “I have a Dream, That One Day” of MLK’s Voice
Lyric: “In between the . . . hustle and the schemes / I put together pieces of a dream / I still have one”
This entire song sampled Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Will.i.am and Common joined forces for a track that appeared on the soundtrack for “Freedom Writers.” Even the rap generation respected Dr. King’s struggle because if it were not for him, there would most likely be no rap.
6. Public Enemy – By The Time I Get To Arizona
Lyric: “Talkin’ MLK/Gonna find a way/Make the state pay/I’m lookin’ for the day/Hard as it seems/This ain’t no damn dream.”
As one of the most controversial music videos ever, its introduction begins with a sampled a clip of Governor Evan Mecham saying he opposed the Martin Luther King holiday and said he would stay opposed to it as long as he was in office and that as long as city officials agreed with him, there would be no holiday in this state[Arizona].
The video shows powerful visuals of black people protesting for the right of their leader, MLK’s holiday and while doing so, it shows the vicious brutality of police unleashing their dogs, beating, hosing down and hitting black people, including women. Sista Soulja is even voice over with her support in the fight.
Public Enemy went even further, devoting a whole song to Arizona’s backward state of mind. One year later, after the NFL moved Super Bowl XXVII from Tempe, AZ to Pasadena, CA —thereby, as Chuck D said, making the state pay—Arizonans finally voted to observe MLK Day. Behold the power of hip-hop and its .
7. Kendrick Lamar ‘HiiiPOWER’
Lyric: “Visions of Martin Luther staring at me/Malcolm X put a hex on my future; someone catch me/I’m falling victim to a revolutionary song.”
The West Coast rapper sets a tone placing himself in the shoes of all of revolutionary leaders. He mentions the revolution of Haiti, mentions Huey Newton of the Black Panthers, and his uses visuals in his official video to show the oppression of black people.
8. Ice Cube – Steady Mobbin’
Lyric: “Police, eat a dick straight up!” “Look here you little goddamn nigger, your not gafflin nobody. You fuckin understand me? That’s right, get down on the goddamn ground now. Fuckin’ move now.” (Let me take a shot at him!) “We’re gonna do you like King.” “What goddamn King?” “Rodney King, Martin Luther King, and all the other god damn King’s from Africa.” “Look out motherfucker!”
This racist brutality police skit comes at the end of “My Summer Vacation,” setting the stage for “Steady Mobbin.” The track appeared on his second solo album, which was released on November 6, 1991—right between Rodney King’s beating by LAPD officers on March 3, 1991 and April 29, 1992, when the jury’s not guilty verdict set off the L.A. Riots. So much for nonviolence.
9. Lupe Fiasco- BMF (Building Minds Faster)
Lyric: “I think I’m Malcolm X, Martin Luther/Add a King, add a Junior/Some Bible verses, couple Sunnahs/an AK-47—that’s a revolution.”
Using Rick Ross’ street anthem, Lupe replaces Big Meech and Larry Hoover with Malcolm X and MLK, turning it into a call for revolution.
He continues his rap with a list of other influential revolutionary figures, “I’m Tupac, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Marcus Garvey . . . I’m Rev. Run . . . I’m T-Pain” — between his various critiques of social and foreign policy.
10. Lil Wayne – Playing With Fire
Lyric: They say, “You’re nobody ’til somebody kills you / Well, where I’m from, you’re nobody ’til you kill somebody / And you know what they say; when you great / It’s not “murder,” it’s “assassinate” / So assassinate me, bitch ‘Cause I’m doing the same shit Martin Luther King did / Checking in the same hotel, in the same suite, bitch /Same balcony, like, “Assassinate me, bitch!”