David Bowie’s passing has brought about a more pronounced and defining kind of Monday blues for everyone who appreciated the musical icon’s unparalleled brand of habitual line-blurring and transcending talent. Living a life that drew on the most extreme boundaries of art and creativity, it’s no wonder that Bowie’s legacy is followed by an outpouring of respect and admiration from all kinds of individuals who represented different facets of art, music and entertainment. Included in paying their respects and sharing their wistful memories of David Bowie were what seemed at the surface, an unlikely cadre of artists from the world of hip-hop. Icons in their own respective rap worlds, artists like Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams and Common, amongst others, shared their sentiments and personal homages to the Thin White Duke.
“David Bowie was one of my most important inspirations, so fearless, so creative, he gave us magic for a lifetime,” tweeted Kanye Monday morning. “What a honor, what a soul. David Bowie, Spirit of Gold. RIP,” offered Kendrick Lamar. “David Bowie was a true innovator, a true creative. May he rest in peace,” chimed in Pharrell via Twitter.
Though hip-hop and David Bowie seem worlds apart on paper, his influence is clear once you consider the careers of Kendrick, Kanye and Pharrell. All three are fearless creatives who pay no heed to the suffocating confines of reality. The common thread Bowie’s weaved through many hip-hop artists is his out the box mentality and knack for perfecting a fantasy that paints itself so vivid, that it’s near-reality is magnetic. His larger than life stage persona preceded an untamed spirit whose existence seemed to pivot on many a daring challenges of what many consider taboo and uncharted – a struggle that hip-hop as a whole has had to endure and fight through constantly.
What’s more, David Bowie’s literal influence on hip-hop is clear in how many of his songs have been sample material for rap music for years. Before Bad Boy Records could floss globally on Mase’s “Been Around the World,” they had to get there via a sampling of Bowie’s enduring dancefloor hit, “Let’s Dance.” And even in Vanilla Ice’s garish assumption of the Queen and David Bowie track, “Under Pressure” in the form of “Ice Ice Baby,” we found a point in music where hip-hop’s art of sampling became a hot topic. The in-between is just as impressive, with Jay Z, Public Enemy, J. Dilla, Ice Cube and El-P all having sourced material from Ziggy Stardust himself.
And though the surface suggests that the androgynous, flamboyant and lush Bowie seems an unlikely icon of hip-hop, one need not look further than his skewering of MTV’s lack of support for black artists back in the early 80s. Taking advantage of his platform on an interview with MTV’s Mark Goodman, Bowie questioned the network’s barely-there support of black artist’s music videos – live on MTV programming no less. It’s that kind of ballsiness that not only has championed and paved the way for hip-hop artists now to be who they are, but also has been a point of inspiration for them to create their own indelible legacies themselves.
Between a galaxy of creativity to offer and a brand of bravery and boldness that any artist, no matter what genre, should pattern, it is no wonder at all why David Bowie can be considered an appropriate hip-hop icon.