“You’d see someone who finally came to the decision ‘You know, I’m gettin out of this business.’ Well then all of a sudden the promoter would come along, give him a huge push, give him a whole new… it was almost like the tentacles… could never release you, for a lot of people.”
For those of you who are going to be watching WrestleMania 30 this weekend, this statement from Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura may ring as true from a fan’s point of view as from the wrestler’s. The cultural elite and the intelligentsia turn their nose up at grown men putting on spandex and throwing each other off the top of ring ropes, in a manner we can all admit has little to do with “scientific” or collegiate/Olympic wrestling, but once the tentacles wrap around you they don’t easily let go. If you grew up a fan of wrestling, even if you don’t watch it weekly any more, WrestleMania is that time of year where those tentacles grab you and say “LET’S WATCH SOME RASSLIN’!!”
It’s as much as tradition for me to set aside a weekend to the squared circle as it is to look for hip-hop/wrestling crossover events come late March/early April. The results are at times mixed, but I appreciate the salute all the same, because hip-hop has its tentacles on me too and in fact runs exactly parallel to my love of sports entertainment. I started with both at the same age. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant are my LL Cool J and Run-D.M.C. and vice versa. For me it makes perfect sense to call this mixtape “Rap’s Da New Wrestling,” since neither one is letting go of me any time soon. I get a little older and a little more cynical, but I’m still here. Like Al Pacino once famously said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
The debatable point on this 2008 DatPiff mixtape is whether or not they intentionally made another comparison between hip-hop and wrestling – it’s a staged performance with a fictitious narrative. The Pittsburgh based group (not to be confused with the Philadelphia State Property) is a little rough around the edges for many reasons. The mix is rough – vocals on freestyles like “What These Bitches Want” are hard to hear and the bass drops are distorted. The wrestling theme is actually downplayed more than you’d expect, only factoring into a few skits and interludes, like the short “The State’s In Here” that samples from The Rock’s theme. There aren’t a prevalence of metaphors GZA style about breaking backs like Ken Patera – instead it’s a rather predictable set of lyrics about street hustling. “Crack Sale” is like sending Zack Ryder out to wrestle Mark Henry – the outcome is predictable before the bell rings.
“Jakes snatching up everybody, Jakes all in my hood
And it ain’t just crack, deal move if it’s good
Weed, X pills, stay strapped if you could
Cause bullets’ll have you under dirt, in a box of wood
Niggaz wearin wires, watch who you let in your home
And it’s tapped so don’t say shit on the phone”
Successful pro wrestling blurs the lines between fiction and reality in a way fans refer to as “suspension of disbelief” – you know it’s staged but you allow yourself to get caught up in the outcome and invest emotionally. The trials and tribulations of the characters become real to you when wrestling is done right. When it’s done WRONG your brain clicks “pause” and says “What’s his motivation? Does he want a world title? Fame? Women? To settle a grudge? I don’t get what’s in it.” Mediocre rap tends to have the same effect. I’m not sure what you gain from proclaiming yourself a “Real Burgh Nigga” – is it respect on the local rap scene? Does it make you a bigger star? Are women on the jock? Or is it just the sort of thing you’re expected to say when you’re portraying a rapper from your town? It feels like a Mick Foley “cheap pop,” but those only worked because Foley knew it was a joke, and let us all in on the fact he was playing to the audience.
“Rap’s Da New Wrestling” desperately needs a Cactus Jack to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the listener. The whole thing feels like a put on, with names like Instrumentally Sick, Holla Stakko, Epik-Peezi et cetera punctuated with random bursts of gunfire on songs like “Never Seen It Coming.” The wrestling theme isn’t strong enough to appeal to me as a fan of the squared circle, and the beats and rhymes aren’t strong enough to appeal to me as a discerning rap fan. When the lead producer “One Two” admits in the comments section that the album was done in his bedroom on a PC and not in a studio when he was “still learning the ropes” well that’s the real metaphor of the whole album. That’s why pro wrestling has what we fans call “the indies.” Just like rappers who sell or distribute their albums independently, a lot of them are still learning the ropes, plying their craft in places like CZW or AIW (or some three initials that end in a W). Many are bad. A few are decent. One in every 500 or less gets called for a WWE tryout. State Fam were clearly at the indie wrestler stage in 2008 – they had a lot to learn.