David Bowie: An unlikely hip-hop icon
David Bowie was an unapologetic, ferociously independent artist who inspired outsiders everywhere. So perhaps it’s not surprising that amid all his incalculable influences on music, he’s also something of an icon in hip-hop.
On Monday, the day after he died of cancer at age 69, many of today’s most important hip-hop artists gave some of his most sincere, moving appreciations.
David Bowie poses beside his Rolls Royce in May 1973.(Associated Press)
David Bowie performs live on stage at Earls Court Arena on May 12 1973 during the Ziggy Stardust tour.(Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns)
A portrait taken on May 13, 1983 shows British singer David Bowie during a press conference at the 36th Cannes Film Festival. He is the main actor in Nagisa Oshima’s film “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.”(RALPH GATTI / AFP/Getty Images)
David Bowie is seen during a press photo call at a hotel in London, March 17, 1983.(Associated Press)
English model Twiggy poses with David Bowie in Paris for the cover of his ‘Pin Ups’ album, 1973.(Justin de Villeneuve / Getty Images)
1965 photo of David Bowie.(Redferns)
David Bowie performs in Hartford, Conn.(BOB CHILD / Associated Press)
David Bowie performs on the first night of his UK tour at the MEN Arena on November 17, 2003 in Manchester, England.(Alex Livesey / Getty Images)
David Bowie performs on stage on the third and final day of “The Nokia Isle of Wight Festival 2004" at Seaclose Park, on June 13, 2004 in Newport, UK.(Jo Hale / Getty Images)
From left, Kate Moss, David Bowie and his wife, Iman, pose for a photo at the 2005 CFDA Awards dinner party at the New York Public Library.(Evan Agostini / Getty Images)
David Bowie performs during the Nokia Isle of Wight Festival in Newport, Britain, on June 13, 2004.(Jo Hale / Getty Images)
David Bowie with his wife, Iman, at the New York premiere of “Hannibal” at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Feb. 5, 2001.(Darla Khazei / Associated Press)
David Bowie at the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards at the New York Theatre Workshop on April 2, 2015.(Peter Kramer / Associated Press)
Bowie performs at the Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, Britian, on June 25, 2000.(Toby Melville / Associated Press)
David Bowie performs in October 1990.(Associated Press)
David Bowie as Andy Warhol during filming of the movie “Basquiat” in New York on June 13, 1995.(Steve Sands / Associated Press)
David Bowie poses in a promotional image for the 1977 album “Heroes.”(Neal Preston / EMI)
David Bowie shown in January 1976.(Andrew Kent / Showtime)
David Bowie in the 1976 film “The Man Who to Fell to Earth.”(Studiocanal Films / Showtime)
“What a honor, what a soul. David Bowie, Spirit of Gold. RIP.,” wrote Kendrick Lamar, whose range of vocal techniques and character performance in song recall’s Bowie’s shape-shifting personas. “Hoping 2 meet u after we heard the news. At Brock’s house watchin your Doc’s & interviews. But no lens could ever capture your point of view.”
Kanye West, whose own mix of daring fashion choices, electronic experiments and sonic metamorphoses had a clear debt to Bowie, said, “David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime.”
Pharrell Williams added, “David Bowie was a true innovator, a true creative. May he rest in peace.” Big Boi, one half of OutKast, simply posted a perfectly poised shot of Bowie in concert from his Ziggy Stardust years.
But the influence was often literal -- Bowie has been popular hip-hop sample material for generations.
“Let’s Dance,” his eternal club-floor filler, was also stellar sample material for Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G. and Mase’s decadent “Been Around the World,” while on the other end of the spectrum, “Soul Love” showed up in underground cuts from J. Dilla and El-P.
And, of course, there’s Vanilla Ice, whose “Ice Ice Baby” launched a thousand debates on the lines between musical reference points and sample hijacking in drawing from Bowie’s collaboration with Queen, “Under Pressure.”
His songs were staples of the imaginative ‘70s and ‘80s pop radio that came up alongside hip-hop’s rise. Hip-hop is a genre overtly concerned with fantasy life and escape from mundane, dispiriting circumstances -- a key component of Bowie’s material if there ever were one.
With Bowie’s outsize persona, paired with some of the most beautiful melodies and inspired aesthetics of anyone to ever take a stage, it’s obvious why all sorts of musical outsiders responded to him.
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