Rhymes in Time and Sings on Key, She's the Champ's Kid—may May Ali

updated 04/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

May May Ali attracted attention growing up as the eldest child of three-time heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, some of it less than warm and loving. "My family used to get threatening calls before a fight," recalls May May, now 19. "Stuff like, 'Watch your kids!' I thought it was neat. It seemed like the movies." Even then, May May (her real name is Maryum) clearly had a yen for show business.

Now she's playing it out. A cinematography major at UCLA, May May has a rap single called "Satisfaction" coming out later this month and an album due this summer. The LP, to be distributed by famed Philly R&B producer Kenny Gamble, will feature a swaggering tune she wrote, dedicated to her 46-year-old father, called "The First Rapmaster." It's her first public tribute to a man she only wishes she had seen more of.

When her parents divorced in 1975, she was sent to live with her mother Khalilah's folks near Chicago and helped raise Khalilah's three younger children by Ali. "I did the dishes and cleaned the house for $5 a week," she says. "I never lived in my dad's mansions." But she did watch him often in the ring. "Even when Dad would win, I would cry because it was so intense," she says.

May May describes her relationship with Ali (like him, she is Muslim) as more "sister and brother" than child and parent. "Because I didn't grow up with him, he was never a strict disciplinarian," she says. May May receives some financial help from her father and says she does her best to keep him up to date on her life. The two talk constantly on the phone. When she told him about her nascent singing career, though, Ali's reaction was far from enthusiastic. "Don't do that," she recalls him saying. But May May told him she'd keep her songs clean, and he was mollified. "He'll support me," she says. "He knows I'm smart."

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