Why WWE's Moves to Embrace Hip-Hop Culture Are Refreshing and ExcitingJuly 9, 2021
On Wednesday, WWE shook entertainment news outlets with the announcement that Friday Night SmackDown will be a part of Rolling Loud Miami 2021 on July 23. Collaborating with the popular annual rap music festival is the company's latest attempt to branch off into an eager and relevant hip-hop audience. Frankly, it's long overdue.
In the accompanying press release, co-founder and co-CEO of Rolling Loud Tariq Cherif said, "I grew up on Sweet Chin Music, mesmerized by the spectacle that Vince McMahon and co have built at WWE. The idea of weaving our two storylines into one world, one must-see event, is electrifying."
That definitely lines up with what many hip-hop heads already knew. This new partnership may seem random on the surface. But it's no secret that rappers and hip-hop aficionados like Peter Rosenberg, who has co-hosted several WWE preshows and a network-exclusive series, love professional wrestling.
Hip-Hop's Unrequited Love Affair with Pro Wrestling
Action Bronson, Smoke DZA and Flatbush Zombies are just a few contemporary acts who have proudly referenced their affection for wrestling in their music. Griselda members Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine have appeared front row and backstage at shows. The duo also calls themselves Hall and Nash, an homage to The Outsiders. Their catalog is filled with bars about the medium, memorable soundbites and songs named after prominent wrestlers and on-screen figures.
Although hip-hop's devotion often seemed one-sided in the past, that is quickly changing this year. After all, WWE made Bad Bunny a big part of its road to WrestleMania to start 2021. The Latin trap artist performed his hit single "Booker T" at Royal Rumble and went on a brief stint with the company leading up to his in-ring debut on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Wale also appeared at the world-famous event to perform Big E's theme song "Feel the Power" as The New Day's resident powerhouse made his way down to the ring. The D.C. rapper and diehard wrestling fan took part in the rap battle segment on the July 4, 2017, episode of SmackDown where he hilariously dropped a nod to Smack URL (Ultimate Rap League) events. The Grammy-nominated star also accompanied the Street Profits on the two-hour premiere of NXT on USA.
Still, his appearance on the second night of WrestleMania 37 was the realization of a lifelong dream. When Graham GSM Matthews of Bleacher Report broke the news that Wale would appear to assist his friend and fellow rap rap fan, Big E stated:
"One of the things that I realized years ago is that so many of the rappers as a hip-hop head that I really enjoyed were big, massive wrestling fans. I thought, 'Man, we should be doing so much more to connect those two bridges.' I love that and that's what he's been doing: bringing the culture to WWE and I think it's so dope."
This New Direction is a Game-Changer
Despite some of WWE's recent missteps, it seems like the largest wrestling promotion in the world got the memo. Working with Rolling Loud is just another step in that direction.
After all, Cardi B's "Up" is the theme for SummerSlam, and the chart-topping rapper will host The Biggest Party of the Summer, according to Andrew Zarian of Mat Men Podcast (h/t Sportskeeda). That's a welcomed departure from the usual alternative and nu-metal fair that usually plays ahead of its pay-per-view events. This, of course, came after Cardi B gushed about being a wrestling fan and got into a contentious exchange with Lacey Evans on Twitter in January.
Even more, Hit Row is the hottest new stable in the company, led by Isaiah "Swerve" Scott. He's tweeted about inspiration drawn from rappers Isaiah Rashad and Travis Scott, who seem to have influenced his ring name. He even told WWE's The Bump that "swerve" is a reference to the ad-lib used in the 2012 posse cut "Mercy" from GOOD Music's Cruel Summer.
Finding a way to marry his love of music and wrestling has always been a part of Scott's presentation, and it seems like he has finally found the perfect middle ground. More importantly, WWE has seemingly fully invested in his new character and clique. Hit Row is fresh, unique and accessible for current hip-hop fans. Their championship cypher at NXT: The Great American Bash was a pertinent display of just how far representation for the genre and Black viewers has come lately.
It's unclear if this will amount to a lasting change for WWE—or professional wrestling at large—but it's still a much-needed step in the right direction. The fact is that rap music is a large part of pop culture, and wrestling's mainstream footprint has been dwindling over the past decade. It's certainly not the cultural phenomenon that it was during the Attitude Era. So, it makes all the sense in the world for the company to ingratiate itself with hip-hop and its fans long-term.