Hip Hop has always had a fascination with professional wrestling. If it wasn’t the over the top interviews featuring the late Randy Savage, the unique swagger of Nature Boy Ric Flair, the preserved coolness of the late Curt Henning, or just the overall over the top chaos of the in-ring action or the chaos. Wrestler promos, sound bytes, are often dropped in hip hop songs and theres even wrestlers(Big E Langston, New Jack) whom appeared on Smoke Dza’s mixtapes. But what many don’t want to tackle is how much of a black influence professional wrestling really has and with the first article of 2016 I’m posting, I’m gonna give prime examples:
Terry Bolea was like many wrestlers in the 1970s-80s trying to make the big time. He along with Ed Leslie(Brutus Beefcake) would go through all of the territories through the deep South trying to find a identity and develop their craft. He had already copied Superstar Billy Graham for his bleach blonde, muscular look, and had to find ways to stand out as his own character. He adopted the name “The Hulk” from the Marvel characters “The Incredible Hulk” and Jerry Jarrett being astonished by Hulk’s larger than life physique.
When Vince McMahon Sr(Vince McMahon’s father) fired Hulk Hogan for taking the role of Thunderlips in 1982, Hulk knew he had to knock this out of the ball park. When Hulk did that Rocky 3 movie and it ended up excelling expectations, It really blew his career up and raised his and Mr T’s stock. Vince McMahon Jr had inherited the company from his ailing father and wanted to put the WWF into a new vision. He wanted to take Wrestling out of the bingo halls and into the mainstream. He had raided alot of the territories for their big stars and then set sight on bringing Hogan back to capitalize off Rocky 3’s success.
He resigned Hulk and wanted to build his new-found the World Wrestling Federation around him. Hulk Hogan himself started captivating as a brand within itself. But it was his affiliation with Mr T and the Rocky 3 franchise that really took him into the mainstream. Merging with Mr T and the success of Wrestle-mania made him one of the biggest icons of the 1980s.
People also tend to forget that Hulk Hogan was born and raised in the dirty south. The deep south part Augusta Georgia so most likely he was around alot of soul brothers real deep in learning how to articulate to the masses and develop his charisma . It explains why alot of them became so memorable to this day. He was not from Venice Beach California like the WWE would love for you to believe.
This may come across as a shock but Steve Austin’s whole Bald head, goatee and rebellious lone wolf gimmick was basically a redneck version of what Bad News Brown was doing in the 80s.Bad News like Austin was a lone wolf, He broke all of the rules, and was basically one of the meanest heels of the late 80s in the WWF. Austin also incorporated elements of ECW’s wrestler the Sandman with the whole beer drinking which he would add as he would become the face of the company. But Austin’s heel run from 1996-97 was clearly a influence from Bad News.
As Austin was building heavy steam in 1997, His career was almost put to a screeching halt as Owen Hart would execute a piledriver dropping Austin on his head and breaking vertebrates in his neck. Despite the injury, Austin returned with his popularity not missing a beat and closed out 1997 as the intercontinental Champion.
It wasn’t until January 19th 1998 after Austin won the Royal Rumble the night prior is where his status as the “Toughest son of a bitch” would be certified. Mike Tyson whom at the time was considered “The Baddest man on the Planet” was featured as a special guest for Wrestlemania 14. At the time Tyson’s was coming fresh from the ear biting incident with Holyfield which added to the endless controversies he was involved in.
Tyson’s name still had marketability and when he clashed with Austin, It gave the WWE the biggest mainstream press in almost a decade. Tyson’s involvement caught the eye of the casual that the WWE has lost to WCW and shifted them back into the fight for Monday Night Supremacy. Just like Mr T’s involvement in the 80s boosting Hogan’s status, Tyson did more of the same for Austin in the late 90s.
You also have your “Kliqs and Stables” whom heavily copied from the popularity of hip hop at the time. You had The NWO Wolfpac basically ripping off the thuggish attitude of gangsta rap(and the Gangstas). Konnan changed his whole Luchador Mexican look and looked like your everyday LA Mexican gang banger. The Wolfpac also borrowed slogans from Master P by using “Bout it Bout it and Rowdy Rowdy” in their promos. Konnan clearly gave the group that extra street cred and swagger which made them look more hip and was in neck in neck with Degeneration X throughout the summer of 1998 in popularity. The Wolfpac was probably the first stable in WCW to use a serious rap song for their theme music.
Degeneration X on the other hand played up to society’s then rebelliousness and was geared as poster child’s for the South park watching, middle finger showing, Eminem and Limp Bizkit listening misfits. The member of the group Road Dogg and X-pac clearly copied the styles of hip hop rappers Snoop Dogg and the late Tupac Shakur. Between Road Dogg even using “For shizzle”, “Doggystyle,” into his regular shtick for promos and Sean Waltman changing his name from 1-2-3- Kid to Syxx to X-Pac. Clearly the hip hop influence was evident. They even chose Run DMC to re-do their theme music with the whole WWF Aggression soundtrack where hip hop artists rapped over remixed WWF themes.
Before he became who he is now. Dwayne Johnson(like Roman Reigns today) was chose as the next blue chipper. He had the look, he had the moveset and the rich Samoan heritage from his family to actually give him that cosign and a real feel good story. When he won the Intercontinental title months after his debut, The sky seemed to be the limit for him.
However things weren’t going as planned. Fans were reacting to more of the crazy off the rector antics of Stone Cold Steve Austin and responding to the South Park humor of Degeneration X. Rocky Mavia on the other hand, was your typical white meat babyface. He was a jolly guy whom smiled, kiss babies, took pictures with old ladies and was a good kid. With the company shifting a different direction character wise, Rocky was literally getting booed out of every arena. The disrespect even grown to notorious heat levels when fans use to bring “Die Rocky Die” or “Rocky Sucks” signs to the arena.
This was the perfect character shift for him. He would use the hatred to morph into “The Rock”. He linked up with the Nation of Domination and started really finding himself in terms of personality and promos. He incorporated alot of his dialogue being around the Barbershops in the hoods in Miami and started to take creative elements in dressing the part. Master P, Puffy and JayZ both were blowing up around the time Rock was finding his niche and he started to use the flamboyant images from Master P, Puff, and JayZ to really groom his character. Everything from the Versace glasses, Rolex watches, silk shirts and vests came to play and the Rock was officially a main player by the fall of 1998.
And for the OBVIOUS of them all. You have a failed bodybuilder whom all of a sudden seemingly watched 8 Mile and decided over night that he was gonna be a rapper. John Cena to many would be the perfect example of capitalizing off the culture and not giving back. The wrestling version of a “culture vulture”.
Strong arguments would be that if it wasn’t for hip hop, Cena would have been on the levels of Luther Reigns, Hendrich and many other stiffs that got pushed aside because they couldn’t connect with audiences. To really develop Cena’s character, They had him linked up with emcees such as Freddie Foxxx, Murs, Method Man, to give him credibility and to give him an edgy attitude. He started opening up every match cutting freestyles against his respective opponents and they were actually entertaining.
To really groom John Cena from a Marky Mark wannabe into a serious player, They had him walking around with throwback jerseys, He started putting out rap albums, He started copying G-Unit with the G-Unit spinner and the Tony Yayo hand wave. He started developing a heavy following and it eventually paid off for him.
He was catching fire as one of the biggest up and coming stars since Austin and Rock were on their way out, But once he won the title in 2005 from JBL and became the “face of the WWE”, something changed. He slowly started drifting away from the culture that accepted him. He eventually would stopped rapping, He stopped wearing the spinner, He stopped using hip hop slang in interviews and eventually developed into the more of the clean-cut, teen girl heart-throb, boring promo cutting, Marine thats been on display for the past 10 years.
You have other obvious examples of wrestlers being around black culture heavily and it shows within their characters. Ric Flair has become a phenomenon in hip hop due to his wild rambunctious promos, flashy lifestyle, and classic one liners. Flair upgraded the swagger from the late Buddy Rodgers and mixed that with the lingo he learned from being around different players and pimps from the South.
Dusty Rhodes admitting to borrowing rhythms, wordplay and deliveries from many of the Black Pastors and different orators(Martin Luther King was a inspiration for Hard Times). Randy Savage dropped a hip hop album in 2003 calling out his nemesis Hulk Hogan. Hulk Hogan even used Voodoo Child from the late Jimmy Hendrix as his theme music for his Hollywood Hogan character. The list goes on and it even crossed over to Japan.
The Black influence in wrestling has also crossed into Japan as well. New Japan Wrestling Icon New Japan Wrestling Iconn Shinsuke Nakamura is currently one of the biggest signees in the WWE.
His gimmick was based on being the King Of Strong Style (Shoot Wrestling), and he’s borrowing Prince’s and Michael Jackson’s swagger, charisma and swag and mixed it with his wrestling styles. You can definitely see it with his entrances.
The Gangstas deserve more credit than given by the business. They were mainly responsible for bring that hardcore gangsta hip hop vibe into the wrestling business. New Jack use to come out there wearing Hip Hop shirts as his regular attire, He had Natural Born Killaz by Ice Cube and Dr Dre as theme music which would eventually be their war march. Before them, Nobody in wrestling was incorporating seriousness with the hip hop culture within wresting gimmicks. Most of what was represented amongst hip hop in professional wrestling were basically satire gimmicks or spoofs. What made the Gangstas work was that you couldn’t tell if these guys were really serious about cracking your skull or if it was apart of Kayfabe.
WWE and then WCW at the time didn’t want to deal with them but they had people copy pieces of their gimmick. The Dudleyz copied Jack’s fatigues attire(Which was one of New Jack’s main qualm with them for years). Which raises the overall point of the business not respecting alot of black wrestlers but stealing bits and pieces from the culture.
The purpose of this post was to create conversation and awareness behind the businesses biggest influences and where these wrestlers get alot of their styles and gimmicks from. Do you feel this is accurate? Definitely leave your comments below. I’m only responding to ones whom have respectful opinions.