After a YouTube clip made the rounds of Bob Dylan raspily rapping his way through a solid chunk of LL Cool J’s classic “Mama Said Knock You Out,” the Internet had good time with “LOL” and “WTF” responses. But Dylan’s symbiotic relationship with hip-hop actually runs fairly deep.
Hip-hop and Dylan were both gestated in New York, distrust the government, aren’t fond of using their birth names, and have a pretty evocative way with words. And although Dylan recently told Street Newspaper that he doesn’t really listen to rap all that much, he did admit, “I love rhyming for rhyming sake. I think that’s an incredible art form.”
Let’s take a look back at the many times their paths have crossed:
1965: Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
Is this the very first rap song ever? Dylan’s rollicking “Subterranean Homesick Blues” predates hip-hop’s labyrinthine rhyme schemes, anti-authority philosophy, pop-culture obsessions and street-level turns-of-slang; distilling bohemian counterculture, war paranoia and the ongoing civil rights struggle into a two-minute barrage of fascinating wordplay. At once political and pop, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was Dylan’s first Top 40 single.
1986: Kurtis Blow featuring Bob Dylan, “Street Rock”
After Dylan borrowed a couple of Blow’s backup singers for a mid-’80s record, he returned the favor by donating an intro to the rapper’s headbanging “Street Rock,” the opening track to the 1986 album Kingdom Blow. Blow and his bodyguard showed up at Dylan’s Malibu home, and Bob dropped science in one take. In Chronicles, Volume 1, Dylan admits it was in fact Blow who turned him on to rap music, and had since become a fan of Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Ice T and N.W.A. “These guys weren’t standing around bullshitting,” said Dylan. “They were beating drums, tearing it up, hurling horses over cliffs. They were all poets and knew what was going on”
1987: Public Enemy, Yo! Bum Rush the Show
Due to his firebrand attitude and endlessly dissectable lyrics, Def Jam publicists pitch Chuck D to the editors of rock magazines as “the new Bob Dylan.”
1989: Beastie Boys, “Johnny Ryall”
1992: Beastie Boys, “Finger Lickin’ Good”
Quoth Mike D on Dylan: “He’s one of the first b-boys, if not the first. What more to say?” The ultimate arbiters of New York boho cool, the snotty beat poets in the Beasties were naturally drawn to Dylan. Their landmark Paul’s Boutique borrows a line from Dylan’s protest-of-protests “Maggie’s Farm” on their lovable bum tale “Johnny Ryall.” And on “3-Minute Rule,” MCA even drops his own unique props: “I’m just chillin’, like Bob Dylan.” Three years later, the boys would sample Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” for their “Finger Lickin’ Good” — a clearance that would ultimately cost them $700. Mike D told Boston Rock, “He asked for $2,000. I thought it was kind of fly that he asked for $2,000 and I bartered Bob Dylan down. That’s my proudest sampling deal.” Their upcoming Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 is set to feature another sample of Dylan, a spoken word bit where he talked about the Boys on his satellite radio show.
1997: Wyclef Jean, “Gone ‘Til November”
The rapper pulls out the line, “I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door, like I’m Bob Dylan,” and the next thing you know, Bob is pulling a quick but memorable cameo in the video at the 2:30 mark.
1999: Black Thought, Common, Mos Def, Dice Raw, Flo Brown, the Jazzyfatnastees and the Roots, “Hurricane”
This massive posse cut from the movie of the same name details the racial profiling and imprisonment of boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter — much like the 1975 Bob Dylan song of the same name.
2006: Bob Dylan, “Mama Said Knock You Out”
In the second episode of his Sirius Satellite Radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, Dylan dropped a gravelly rendition of the LL Cool J classic. Naturally, LL Cool J was totally honored, and told TMZ, “That blows me away… What he needs to do is call me and let’s do it together. I encourage everyone to get out there and buy Bob Dylan’s records.”
2008: Evidence featuring Fashawn, “The Far Left”
In the video for “The Far Left,” Dilated Peoples MC Evidence dropped a loving tribute to D.A. Pennebaker’s iconic clip for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” with Dylan’s cue cards updated to feature some more modern, graffiti-influenced scrawl.
2009: Bob Dylan featuring Will.i.am, “Forever Young (Continued)”
Bobby D and the Black Eyed Pea teamed up for a remix to his 1974 single “Forever Young.” It was used in a Pepsi commercial that aired during the 2009 Super Bowl. Its “the more things change, the more things stay the same” message was more saccharine than a dumptruck full of diet soda.
2009: Kid Cudi, “Highs N Lows”
The soul-bearing rapper created a melancholy mood by rapping over Dylan’s 1969 classic “Lay Lady Lay” on this mixtape staple.
2009: Juelz Santana featuring YelaWolf, “Mixin’ Up The Medicine”
Upstart Alabama MC YelaWolf is already an effortless blend of hip-hop, country and rock, the perfect guy to flip the the opening line of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” on the chorus of this Juelz Santana single. Dylan’s line “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement thinking about the government,” was already perfectly hip-hop couplet that was just sitting there, begging to be recontextualized.