The Man Who Fell To Earth has gone home. The space oddity known as David Bowie died at 69 on Sunday, just two days after his birthday, the same day he released a brilliant new album, Blackstar. He knew he was dying, but it was something the world wouldn’t want to believe — and still doesn’t. This one stings particularly hard.
But let’s take solace in something: David Bowie, in a way, will never die. He’ll live on through the incalculable influence he’s had on pop culture over the span of his otherworldly six-decade career. His pervasive legacy owes to the fact that he was a bisexual, ginger, snaggle-toothed Goblin King in a dress — and he made everyone else, regardless of gender or genre, want to be exactly like him. The man was normcore repellent; he made it okay for legions of people to be weird, to turn and face the strange. A wise man (actually, it was Banksy ripping off Irvin D. Yalom) once said: “You die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” In that sense, David Bowie is immortal. We’ll never stop referencing him.
To celebrate Bowie’s far-reaching impact, here are just a handful of the many times rappers, rockers and spacemen alike borrowed from the Thin White Duke.
Puff Daddy feat. The Notorious B.I.G. & Mase — “Been Around The World”
Alright, I’ll come clean: back when I was 11-years-old, I thought Puff Daddy was a genius. Mostly because of the beat to “Been Around The World,” the first Puff Daddy song I ever heard. Years later, I realized the brilliance of that instrumental (like many Puff Daddy instrumentals) was indebted to a far superior song recorded many years earlier: Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance.” It was my first introduction to Ziggy Stardust, and sparked a personal revelation that Bowie’s been sampled in some of hip-hop’s greatest bangers — and some of its worst. (I’m looking at you, Vanilla Ice).
Death Grips — “Culture Shock”
Yes, Bowie even had an influence on pre-post-apocalyptic cyberpunk rap. “Culture Shock,” off of Death Grips’ debut album Exmilitary, centers around a line from Bowie’s “The Supermen,” warped and repeated throughout the track. The impact went both ways: Bowie later said Blackstar was partly inspired by Death Grips. That’s right: shit-starting, splatter-drumming, noise-making Death Grips. Bowie kept a creatively curious mind right until the end.
Nirvana — “The Man Who Sold The World”
One of the greatest Nirvana songs ever wasn’t a Nirvana song at all. After speaking of “the debt we all owe to David” on MTV’s Unplugged in 1993, Kurt Cobain introduced a whole new generation to Bowie’s 1970 classic “The Man Who Sold The World.” Nirvana’s spirited, semi-distorted take on the song went on to be the band’s final hit, breaking into the U.S. Top 40 and, following Kurt’s death, becoming a haunting posthumous rock-radio staple. It’s all the more haunting now.
Janelle Monáe — “Heroes”
Android-soul songstress Janelle Monáe has made no secret of her love for Bowie. Case in point: her drastic update of his 1977 classic “Heroes,” which trades in the original’s woozy guitars for warbly, dubstep-happy synths. “He’s a true time traveler and I think that that is a part of who I am and the legacy that I want people to remember,” she told Rolling Stone. “I will never expire. Nor will David Bowie.” Damn right, girl.
Beck — “Sound and Vision”
Here’s what happens when you give Beck a bunch of Lincoln money and tell him you can perform a Bowie cover with “no limitations of restrictions”: batshit insanity. This rendition of Low’s “Sound & Vision,” recorded live at Fox Studios in L.A. in 2013, took place on a slowly rotating stage and featured over 160 musicians, including the Dap-Kings, a gamelan ensemble, a string orchestra, members of the USC marching band, a Purivian charango group, choirs, guitarists, a harpist, and a fucking musical saw player. It’s safe to say they did the original justice.
Smashing Pumpkins — “Space Oddity”
Say what you will about Billy Corgan’s petulant, furniture-hawking, pro-wrestling-loving ways, but the man knows his music. And he knows that a cover of Bowie’s 1969 “Space Oddity” — a song that pushed the limits of studio effects and captured the imaginations of the world around the time of the first moon landing — couldn’t be pulled off today unless it went louder, dizzier and proggier, making Bowie’s journey into the unknown even more cosmic.
Chris Hadfield — “Space Oddity”
Okay, so we just featured a “Space Oddity” cover. But who better to perform a tribute to the Starman than a bona fide, literal man among the stars? Back in 2013, Canada’s own Col. Chris Hadfield recorded a cover of “Space Oddity” while living on the International Space Station. It was the first-ever music video made in space. The cover flips the alienated, anxiety-ridden feel of the original for warmth, optimism and wonder. It makes the future seem not so scary after all. Bowie himself said it was “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created.” But let’s be real: “Space Oddity” is possibly the most poignant song ever created, full stop. Ground Control to Major Tom: your genius inspired us all. Safe travels.