Making Roots: A Nation Captivated

Roots & Hip Hop

What do Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, 2 Pac, Missy Elliot, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and Kendrick Lamar have in common?  They and dozens of other rappers have lyrics that reference Alex Haley's Roots.  From Philadelphia's Lady B in 1979 to Atlanta's Future in the 2010s, hip hop artists keep returning to Roots with the expectation that their audiences will understand, or be encouraged to learn about, the reference.  Most recently, Kendrick Lamar's "King Kunta" turned LeVar Burton's character into royalty, while making both explicit references to the television series (“Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta”), and more subtle gestures towards the nourishing power of African-American history, culture, and traditions (Everybody wanna cut the legs off him / When you got the yams... (What's the yams?)).

Here is a chronological list of hip hop songs that reference Kunta Kinite, Roots, and/or Alex Haley.  Thank you to Adam Bradley for sparking the idea for this page and to my research assistant Alexus Stewart for helping to compile this list.  Clicking on the song title will take you to the song lyrics at, while clicking on the "Video" link will take you to YouTube.  Please e-mail me at matthew.delmont[at] if there are songs I have overlooked.  Please note that several of these songs have explicit lyrics.

Lady B, “To The Beat Y’all” (1979)
Said I've got more rhymes in the back of my mind
Than Alex Haley's got cousins
To the mack, to the mack
To the front, to the back

Marley Marl ft Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, Daddy Shane, “The Symphony Part II” (1988)
Prepare for shoot bear, I'm knocking boots daily
Fruits, I rip 'em out of their roots like Alex Haley
Here I come straight to the mouth
I'm kicking it slick

Big Daddy Kane ft Gamilah Shabazz, “Who Am I” (1990)
No freedom to vote, not even to make a decision
I saw my peoples, sold raped and took out
The rest of that stuff that Alex Haley talks about
They said I'm not from Asia I'm from Africa
And all the blacks there now are just scavengers

Kool G. Rap ft. Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie & DJ Polo, “Erase Racism” (1990)
In the days of slavery
Some got to run away and many got done away
Inferiority is what some men say
But that shit played out with Kunta Kinte

A Tribe Called Quest, "What?" (1991)

What's Rasheed without Tonya, Tamika?
What's Oran Juice and Doug E. Doug without Shaniqua?
Not a not a not a, not a damn thing
What's Duke Ellington without that swing?
What's Alex Haley if it doesn't have roots?
What's a weekend if you ain't knockin boots?
What's a black nation, without black unity?
What is a child who doesn't know puberty?

Ice Cube, “No Vaseline” (1991)
Now they got The Villain with a purse and high-heels
So don't believe what Ren say
Cause he's going out like Kunte Kinte
But I got a whip for ya, Toby

Sir Mix-a-Lot, “The Jack Back” (1991)

It ain't done til the punk stops breathin;
Watch Kunta Kinte get even!
It goes like that when a brother stays strapped

Wu-Tang Clan, “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’” (1993)
[Ol' Dirty Bastard] Grab the microphone put strength to the bone
DUH DUH DUH...enter the Wu-Tang zone
Sure enough when I rock that stuff
Huff? Puff? I'm gonna catch your bluff tuff
Rough, kicking rhymes like Jim Kelly
Or Alex Haley I'm a Mi-..Beetle Bailey rhymes
Coming raw style, hardcore

Coolio, “Hand On My Nutsac” (1993)
My name ain't Alex Haley but I still got roots
I bang bang bang to the air now ya dead

Common, “Orange Pinneaple Juice” (1994)
Steppin to me, with them dirty feets you'll get defeated
Like Kunta Kinte, I'm kin to the Lynn crew
My great, great, grandpap done been through
So much it's in my hemoglobin to be a ill nigga

2 Pac, ”My Own Style” (1996)
I been rocking mics since Sergio Valenti
Down for my people just like Kunta Kinte

Fugees ft. John Forte & Omega, “Family Business” (1996)
I think of old ghosts that ain't even here
Like Alex Haley, take notes on this biography
My family tree consists of street refugees
A ghetto land where we talk slang
Stolen cars bang like my chitty bang-bang sh-bang
For the heads, we ain't sellin' cocaine today
So refrain and let my family reign, okay

O.G.C, “No Fear” (1996)
But I'm on probation
For knocking wack MC's out daily
Plus I fly heads like comets from Alex Haley
Now tell me, won't this fucking verse right here
Turn a wack rappers day into his worst nightmare

Busta Rhymes, “Rhymes Galore” (1997)
Yo, yo yo, mayday mayday, mayday mayday
Walk barefoot on niggas like Kunta Kinte
(So, what you say?) What is you doin you walkin this way

Ghostface Killah ft The Dramatics, “In the Rain (Wise)” (2000)
We taught you how to get game, from sayin' "peace god"
Islamic translates Allah's tounge, spit the language art
Alex Haley thoughts, identical twin
My A-Alike gasmate, the hay grows

E-40, “Clown Wit It” (2000)
They funky like Kunta Kinte own thang
On my bike I'm ridin the fuckin rap game on the handle bars

Too $hort, “U Stank” (2001)
You see my pockets stay full, yours stay empty
You say I look Kunta Kinte
Blue black ain't shit jack, I'm blacker than that

Soulja Slim, “My Jacket” (2001)
I get through like a scalp blade and Kunta Kinte your left leg
I play surgeon and I'll be splurging in Denalis, Navis, and big bourbons

Missy Elliot, “Work It” (2002)
Girls, girls, get that cash
If it's 9 to 5 or shaking your ass
Ain't no shame, ladies do your thing
Just make sure you ahead of the game
Just cause I got a lot of fame super
Prince couldn't get me change my name papa
Kunta Kinte a slave again, no sir
Picture black Sam, oh yes a massa

Kanye West ft Jay Z & J. Ivy, “Never Let Me Down” (2004)
I'm not a miracle, I'm a heaven sent instrument
My rhythmatic regiment navigates melodic notes
For your soul and your mental
That's why I'm instrumental, vibrations is what I'm into
Yeah I need my loot by rent day
But that ain't what gives me the heart of Kunta Kinte
I'm trying to get us "us free" like Cinque

MF Grimm, “Go Back” (2004)
Brother and sisters are dying
Forty acres and a mule
Land was promised
Forty lashes whipped so cruel
Kunta Kinte is astonished
For so long we slaved this earth
But when time to get what's deserved
You didn't read the fine print

The Coup ft Black Thought & Talib Kweli, “My Favorite Mutiny” (2006)
And read "put down the bottle and come get the gun"
Let's get off the chain like Kunta Kinte with a MAC-10
They want us gone like a dollar in a crack den

Akon, “Shakedown” (2006)
Dippin' European linen with the v-net
Diamond studded vvs
No less
Kunta kinte bracelet
Lit up the whole set

MF Grimm, “Earth” (2007)
I’m the original, researching like Alex Haley
All's well in Hell, listen GM Grimm's fairy tale
Get slick rewrite, script turn horror flick
But murder scene for the police, we gonna edit it

Lil Wayne, “Whip It” (2008)
Okay new day new yay
Then I whip it like Kunta Kinte
I'm talking sugar talking dough like a beignet

Lil Wayne Ft. Kidd Kidd, Mack Maine & Nicki Minaj “Thinking To Myself (Her Eyes)” (2009)
No wraps on ma back, rah, whatcha name?
I yell kunta rah kunta kinte
With one foot off I still try to escape but who can I run to like escape

Common ft Pharrell Williams, “Announcement” (2009)
Freestyle paid off so Lincoln paid me
Now we can push more whips than slavery
Alex Haley of this rap shit, my roots is deep
You heard the bitch in you, yeah I know what's beef

Flo Rida, “R.O.O.T.S” (2009)
Hey, still on my Kunta Kinte
Somebody had to bleed just for me to get away
My sister had to leave, I respect her staying safe

The Game ft Rick Ross, “Maybach Dons” (2009)
Run the place, take you straight back
To Martin Luther roots
Pistol never fail me, official Alex Haley
Let me chill, cause my vision getting blurry
Hailed as a boss, nailed to the cross
Rose from the dead, that Rolls Royce cost

Young Money ft. Nicki Minaj, Drake, Gudda Gudda, Jae Millz, “Finale” (2010)
I'm in that cotton pickin' bent, put massa on the guts
White on white whips, Kunta Kinte on the clutch
You at the bottom of the pole, Totem

Big Sean, “Supa Dupa” (2010)
And I can make an insecure bitch feel super'
Realest nigga ever - Kunta - Kinte
Ultra - master - super – sensei

Jeezy, “Rap Game” (2010)
They like, "Young where you been?" Niggas acting like I got ghost
Til' I came back in that black on black Phantom ghost
Looking better the Picasso y'all should frame me
Killing niggas Kunta Kinte y'all should hang me

Meek Mill, “I’m Not A Rapper” (2010)
I remember dog we used to be slaves
Now we whip that white like it's Kunta Kinte

Sway UK, "2nd Delivery” (2010)

There's so many whips behind us
I don't know if this is a slave ship or car show
I talk a lot of shit
I'm an asshole
Anyway, Kunta Kinte, the O.G
I told you mudasukas that my name's not tobi
Put me back on my boat please, I wana see Kofi
Annan, one hand up on the beach like oh see
Chilling in the shades, and I ain't talkin Oakley

Blu, “Fully Crack” (2012)
This ain't about Kunta Kinta but the cunt I'm kin to
On a wednesday I stay with a blunted mental

8 Ball & MJG, “Baby Girl” (2012)
We dip Tuesday be back in town by Wednesday
Break a girl off that chain like Cunta Kintae

YG, “Too Short” (2012)
Young Kunta Kinte, I got chains and whips
I'm in the bay getting paper, riding in the scraper

Robb Bank$, “That Sound (Atlanta)” (2013)
Jays on my feet
Magnums on my meat
Check my roots but still tip toed I know these Kunta Kinte jealous
Fall in love but can't stand the way I had your bitch screamin
When y'all seen me whip it

Future ft Casino, Pharrell Williams & Pusha T, “Move That Dope” (2014)
Servin' a new Maserati, in a brand new Maserati
That's a whole lot of new money
Snatch it, then hide it from the 12
Movin' them squares and them bales, servin' the rawest of yayo
Beating that china like Kunta Kinte

Doe B, ”I remember (Intro)” (2014)

We don’t know nothing else that’s how we get our rent paid
I was working like a slave, call me Kunta Kinte
Caught the chain in the whip and went and got my shit sprayed

Kidd Kidd, “Die For” (2014)
Which leg get Kunta Kinte, which rapper ditch imma dig today?
N/A when it come to the name, not available when the phone ring, that's about caine

Wu-Tang Clan, “Crushed Egos” (2014)
A neighbor illustrated Alex Haley with paper
Waves spinnin' like the Titanic, come take a float on
Silky like King Henry VIII’s robe in late spring

Young Thug, “Should I” (2014)
Yeah your boy trending topic
I'll go stompin' like Kunta la Kinte

Sean Price, “Hot Breath” (2015)
Cry Freedom like Kunta Kinte with one foot (Ruste)
Type far when I write, Sean crazy
Never catch my daughter with a white doll baby

Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta” (2015)
Bitch, where you when I was walkin'?
Now I run the game got the whole world talkin', King Kunta
Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta
Black man taking no losses, oh yeah
Bitch, where you when I was walkin'?
Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin', King Kunta
Everybody wanna cut the legs off him
When you got the yams... (What's the yams?)

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