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10 Musical Works Inspired By Maya Angelou: Kanye West, Common, Alicia Keys and More

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May 28, 2014 02:18 PM EDT

Maya Angelou(Photo : Getty Images)

Today, the world lost the great memoirist, poet, novelist, dancer, singer, and public speaker Maya Angelou.

Angelou, 86,was born April 24, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri and grew up between there and the then-racially segregated town of Stamps, Arkansas. She didn't speak for years after a childhood tragedy, but turned to writing as an outlet.

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Her work I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is considered a staple in American literature. The book gave a glimpse into life in the Jim Crowe South and challenged its readers to evaluate their own world views. 

Her literary agent, Helen Brann, confirmed Wednesday that Angelou died at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Her life and works have inspired the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King Jr. as well as President Barack Obama, who awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, in 2011. Beyond that, however, she has been an inspiration to other artists, especially musicians.

In testament to her legacy, here are 10 songs that were inspired by the late American icon, revered by many as a patron saint of conscious rap.

1. "Caged Bird" by Alicia Keys from Songs in A Minor (2001)

The lyrics in "Caged Bird" are modified from Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." Staying true to the theme of the original, Keys suggests that freedom and happiness can be found through song. She compares herself to a "caged bird," singing "I feel like a bird, caged without a key," and implies that she is not the only one looking for freedom.


2. "Still I Rise" by 2Pac + Outlawz from Still I Rise (2001)

The album was the third posthumous release from 2Pac and the first album by the Outlawz as a group. The title is a reference to Angelou's poem "Still I Rise" and the title track explores the theme of standing strong in the face of opposition, living in a rough environment and making a mark in history.


3. "Still I Rise" by Yolanda Adams from Songs from the Heart (1998)

This song was dedicated to Rosa Parks and interpolated with Angelou's line "still I rise" with themes of perseverance ringing through. "Yet still I rise," she sings. "High above the clouds / at times I feel low / Yet still I rise."


4. "I'll Rise" by Ben Harper from Welcome to the Cruel World (1994)

Harper takes lines from "Still I Rise" and sprinkles them between his own interpretations of the poem, from a male perspective. For example, he replaces "sexiness" and "sassiness" with "confidence." The song champions themes of spiritual hope and triumph over adversity, staying true to the theme of the original work.


5. "Bird Sings Why The Caged I Know" by Atmosphere from Seven's Travels (2004)

This song title is clearly a play on "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings." It sees the "bird" as a metaphor for a failed relationship and being enraged from the fallout. It doesn't necessarily follow the themes of the original work, but it is obviously inspired by it nonetheless.


6. The State Vs Radric Davis 2: The Caged Bird Sings by Gucci Mane (2013)

The title of Gucci Mane's album is an obvious reference to Angelou's work. It explores the theme of transformation from a caged (or imprisoned) person to an enlightened person. He was in jail when he released the effort, and his reference to Angelou's work could be interpreted as his resolve to leave prison a reformed person, inspired by her story of hope.


7. "The Dreamer" by Common (feat. Maya Angelou) from The Dreamer/The Believer (2011)

This song caused controversy between Common and his featured artist, Angelou, who was upset over his use of racial epithets and his use of the n-word. She told The New York Post that she was "surprised and disappointed" by his use of the word. Common later admitted to The Post that he hadn't warned Angelou about his lyrical content but he did tell her the message he was trying to convey. "I wanted young people to hear this and feel like they could really accomplish their dreams," he said.


8. "Hey Mama" by Kanye West from Late Registration (2005)

This song was dedicated to West's mother, who died because of medical complications after cosmetic surgery. He compares his mother's beauty to the beauty of Angelou's poetry. "Can't you see, you're like a book of poetry," he raps. "Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni / Turn one page / And there's my mommy." He also wrote in a 2010 blog post that he hoped to follow in Angelou's footsteps.


9. "Hugo Chavez" by Das Racist from Shut Up, Dude (2010)

Although Angelou would probably have been unhappy with some of the lyrical content of the song, she is referenced in the first lines of the track. "Me and Maya Angelou / Playin' double dutch / She got a bubble butt ... I really like her views / Yes, you could say / Angelou's my muse."


10. "Phenomenal Woman" by Olivia Newton-John from Stronger Than Before (2005)

The song is based on the Angelou's poem of the same name. It praises womanhood and the small details that make women "phenomenal." The song was used on a compilation CD that raised money for breast cancer awareness.


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TagsMaya Angelou, Alicia Keys, 2Pac + Outlawz, Yolanda Adams, Ben Harper, Atmosphere, Gucci Mane, Common, Kanye West, Das Racist, Olivia Newton-John, Obituaries

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