Words

Chance The Rapper Pays Tribute To Muhammad Ali At The ESPYs

Fightland Blog

By Sarah Kurchak

The ESPYs are dedicated to celebrating the best and brightest in sports, so it’s fitting that they closed the 2016 edition of their awards ceremony with a powerful tribute to the Greatest of All Time.

Accompanied by Donnie Trumpet, Jamila Woods, Peter Cottontale, Teddy Jackson, and a gospel choir, Chicago MC Chance The Rapper wrapped up the Tuesday night broadcast with the performance of an original song in honor of Muhammad Ali, who died last month at the age of 74.

The new track, which features clips of an interview that Ali conducted in the summer of 1977, during a visit to England to help raise money for boxing clubs there, kicked off with Ali prophetically stating that “When I get out of boxing, when I’m through, I’m going to do all I can to help people. What’s the best thing I can do? Get ready to meet God.”

An increasingly emotional Chance, with assistance from the choir, then sang about Ali in the as of yet untitled song as images of the boxer and social activist were projected on the screen behind them. Here are the lyrics, as transcribed by Genius:

“Back in time
I lost track of time
Rolling on the road
Christmas eves and valentines
Seem like the days before
I came I went I did well
I did I really meant well
But I almost missed my beat
So thank you for saving me a seat

I swear ain't no where greater
Ain't no where brighter
Ain't no where better, better, better, better
Ain't no one prettier
Ain't no one wiser
Ain't no where better, better, better, better”

Here a second clip from the 1977 interview, in which Ali further reflected on his relationship with God, played: “God is watching me. God don’t praise me because I beat Joe Frazier. God don’t give nothing about Joe Frazier. God don’t care nothing about England or America as far as wealth. It’s all his. He wants to know how do we treat each other.”

“I was a rock
I was a rock and roller
Back in my day (Back in my day)
But now I'm just a rock (I was a rock)
I was a rock and roller
Back in my day (Back in my day)
But now I'm just a rock
I was a rock

Steady hold
I've grown weary and old
We're as close as we'll ever be
I was gone I have places to be
And of course you're in the last place I look

I swear ain't no where greater
Ain't no where brighter
Ain't no where better, better, better, better
Ain't no one prettier
Ain't no one wiser
Ain't no one better, better

And I'm still standing here
Standing still
I won't be moved
How used to do when

I was a rock
I was a rock and roller
Back in my day (Back in my day)
But now I'm just a rock (I was a rock)
I was a rock and roller
Back in my day (Back in my day)
But now I'm just a rock
I was a rock (I was a rock)
I was a rock and roller
Back in my day (Back in my day)
But now I'm just a rock (I was a rock)
I was a rock and roller
Back in my day (Back in my day)
But now I'm just a rock
I was a rock”

Before the performance, Ali’s friend, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, honored the G.O.A.T. with a thoughtful and pointed speech, praising him for his showmanship, his presence “and, most of all, his magic.”

He also praised his activism. “Every athlete handles fame in their own way,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. “Some people revel in it. Some people aren’t so comfortable. Muhammad Ali used it to speak his mind. He spoke fearlessly about injustice and he sacrificed tremendously for his principles. In this day and age, at this moment in history, that’s what I hope everyone remembers about Muhammad Ali. We’re never going to see his likes again walking down the street, but I hope his death spurs his successors to remember what truly made him The Greatest.”

Ali’s spirit of using sporting fame for social change was also alive in the opening segment of the ESPYs, with NBA stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade stood on stage together to call for an end to police violence against black people in the United States.

“We cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America,” Anthony said, calling attention to the recent events in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas. “The system is broken.”

Chance The Rapper was right when he sang that there “ain’t no one wiser, ain’t no one better,” and Abdul-Jabbar was equally correct when he stated that we’d never see the likes of Ali again, but his memory was well served by the greatness, passion, and commitment to justice that we saw last night at the ESPYs.

 

Check out these related stories:

The Champ At Rest: Muhammad Ali In His Later Years

The Life and Fights of Muhammad Ali: A Ballet of Stubbornness

A Neurologist Weighs In On Muhammad Ali's Battle with Parkinson's Disease

 

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