ILM's 2005 collaborative mix project hoonja-doonja!

February 16, 2005

Cassius Clay, "I Am The Greatest (Single Version)"

When Columbia released I Am The Greatest! in 1963, they thought they had a comedy album by some loudmouth boxer who was about to get his ass handed to him by Sonny Liston. They couldn't have known Cassius Clay would become the heavyweight champion of the world, join the Nation of Islam and change his name, becoming not only a pop icon, but also a cultural icon within two years of the record's release.

I imagine a handful of people picking up this album, giving it a spin, chuckling and completely forgetting about it, not realizing it gave them a glimpse into the future. This album laid the foundation for two things that seem inescapable now: brag raps and athletes referring to themselves in the third person.

This track, released as a single, takes the live "recitation of his classic poem 'I Am The Greatest'" and layers it over some shuffling bass, drums, guitar and organ. Cassius Clay tells you how wonderful and pretty Cassius Clay is, all without the aid of the words "I" or "me" (outside of the title, of course).

The poem appears unaccompanied at the beginning of the album, but someone must have realized all this "I AM TOTALLY AWESOME" talk might merit more repeat listens if, you know, it had a good beat and you could dance to it.

In the past forty-plus years, became slicker, rhymes became tighter and athletes became less eloquent, but the formula hasn't changed much. Any dis track or hilarious, self-serious pre-game interview shares something with "I Am The Greatest." The only thing missing from the modern versions is the audience's laughter.

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