"Rap music is the only vital form of music introduced since punk rock," Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain said back in 1991. Over the last 20 years, and right up to this very day, the hip-hop community has continued to repay Cobain for the compliment, repeatedly referencing the man, his music and his eventual suicide (17 years ago today) in interviews, performances and song lyrics. From Drake talking about how his kush "got the room smelling like teen spirit" to Jay Electronica boasting how he spits " that Nirvana shit" to a Houston-based rapper naming himself Kirko Bangz, Cobain's legacy is still palpable throughout the genre.
Here are ten examples of rappers who in their music and lives have shown to be influenced by the forever-27 rock immortal. And be sure to give Nevermind or In Utero a tribute spin before the day is out.
Jay and Roc partner Memphis Bleek used footage of Kurt's wild, guitar-swinging on-stage antics (as seen in part in the "Lithium" video) during a Royal Albert Hall performance of Jay's "U Don't Know." The Jiggaman also alluded to Cobain's struggles with fame during a verse in his "Most Kingz": "So it's best for those to not overdose on being famous / Most kings get driven so insane / That they try to hit the same vein that Kurt Cobain did."
2. Public Enemy
Nirvana and Public Enemy shared a mutual respect in the late '80s and early '90s, and the two groups co-headlined the Reading Festival in 1992. Kurt once listed PE's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back as one of his favorite albums, and lead rapper Chuck D referenced his suicide in 1999's "Do You Wanna Go Our Way???," rapping "Figure I smashed the pumpkin / So I parallel the brains of Cobain."
3. Freddie Gibbs
Gibbs's nihilistic, humorously despairing approach certainly seems to bear an echo of Nirvana's influence, which was confirmed by Gibbs in an L.A. Times interview where he named them as his favorite rock band. "Kurt [Cobain] changed it up," said Gibbs. "That's why it was such a revolution when he commited suicide. Plus, you mess with... Courtney Love, you're bound to kill yourself. But I love Nirvana. I still bump 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.' I used to listen to it before all my football games."
4. Dizzee Rascal
The one-time teen prodigy of the U.K. grime scene has shouted out Nirvana as one of his primary influences for pretty much his entire career. "There was something rugged and rebellious about them," Dizzee told the Guardian in 2003. "Kurt Cobain, he was just heavy, man." More recently, Rascal has taken to playing his U.K. top ten hit "Stand Up Tall" as a mashup with "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in live performances, a mix that isn't nearly as awkward as you'd think.
A fellow pop renegade around the same time as Cobain, Tupac Shakur will be forever linked with the Nirvana frontman as two of the most galvanizing figures of '90s music, and both taken far too soon. In a 1994 TV interview, 2Pac showed an awareness of and strange admiration for his tortured peer when talking about the fallout from the rape accusations he faced a year earlier. "The whole world's gonna owe me an apology, 'coz I went through this and ain't blow my brains out like Kurt Cobain," stated Pac. "And I should."
6. Lil Wayne
"I been into them since 'Teen Spirit,'" Lil Wayne once told Hip Hop DX of Nirvana, when asked about his favorite rock bands. "There used to be this video-request station called the Box, and some motherfucker must have loved Nirvana, 'cause that video was always on. I loved it—everyone was throwing everyone else around, and all the girls looked like they were ready to do whatever." Makes sense, given the affinity for high-school anarchy Weezy has shown in his videos. It's a shame that he had to be associated with the Nirvana reference on Lloyd's "Pusha" though—"Cobain, Cobain [gunshot] / She blows my brain," though.
7. Dipset Crew
Songs from the Harlem-based hip-hop supergroup have seen variations of the same namedrop of the Nirvana frontman reappear over the years. "Yeah, the whole Bird gang's in here / Like Kurt Cobain was here," rapped Juelz Santana over "Dipset (Santana's Town)," a reference probably either to Kurt Cobain's scene-busting stature or his heavy association with drugs. The line was echoed again on Santana and Cam'ron's "More Gangsta Music," and then by Lil Wayne in a freestyle over the "Dipset" beat called "Dipset 2."
8. The Game
It's not just his hip-hop ancestry that rapping music encyclopedia The Game pays tribute to in his lyrics. In "My Life," his last Top 40 hit to date, the California rapper used a reference to Cobain's suicide to illustrate his despair: "Take me away like I overdosed on cocaine / Or take me away like a bullet from Kurt Cobain."
9. Tyler, the Creator
It's not hard to see why such an anarchic, pissed-off and f*cking funny rapper as Tyler, the Creator would look to Cobain as a sort of career role model. The 20-year-old rising star recently recalled one of Cobain's more infamous media moments while Twit-ranting about a Rolling Stone interview he had to do. "Nevermind, I'm Gonna Do What Kurt Did. I'm Going," Tyler tweeted, later clarifying, "No Not Kill Myself, Wear a Shirt That Says F*ck Your Magazine."
Probably Cobain's most obvious cultural sucessor, Eminem's f*ck-the-world attitude, occasional difficulty dealing with the mainstream media, generation-defining appeal and constant drug issues would make the comparison obvious even if Em didn't namecheck Kurt lyrically on occasion. "My favorite color is red, like the blood shed / From Kurt Cobain's head, when he shot himself dead," Eminem rapped on "C-m on Everybody," echoing the reference a couple years later in D-12's "Devil's Night": "A whole generation of kids / Blowin' out their f*ckin' brains to this Kurt Cobain music." It's both comforting and sad to think of Eminem these days beating his drug addictions and rapping his problems out as self-psychiatry in his music, seemingly finding the way out that Kurt never could.
Also check out Complex.com's excellent compendium of some of the genre's most bizarre Cobain lyrical references, including Noreaga's "See n*ggas, they want my name next to Kurt Cobain/But I don't sniff cocaine, I sniff propane," and Planetary's "My death wish is to die on the Soul Plane/Next to Chuck D., Coltrane, and Cobain."