Here's a little background on Mr. Fredrick Shepeard, Jr. from his own website to kickstart our review: "Fred Knuxx started rapping at the age of six and has been training all the skills needed to be the next hottest rapper. For one to have a chance at becoming an elite rapper, they must be able to write and arrange their own music. Not only does Fred Knuxx possess these skills, he also provides messages that people of all ages can relate to."
I'd like to focus on the last sentence of that quotation for just a moment, because Fred Knuxx has decided to drop a free album called "RapMania" in advance of a similarly titled annual sports entertainment spectacle called WrestleMania. There have been 27 editions of WWE and fans alike call "The Showcase of the Immortals" so far, with the 28th coming up on April 1st in Miami, Florida. The hook this year is that Hollywood movie star Dwayne Johnson, known to millions by his WWE nickname The Rock, is returning from the world of film to have a one-on-one match with the current poster boy of pro wrestling - John Cena. It's being billed as a once in a lifetime match, even though plans are already underway to do it NEXT year.
Now if you're asking "Flash, what was the point of that segue into the world of pro wrestling?" well it's to illustrate that an album called "RapMania" is NOT a "message that people of all ages can relate to." There's a very specific niche that Fred Knuxx is targeting with this release, one which as the owner of a wrestling and MMA website I'm already part of. Now it's not unusual for rappers to reveal their interest in pro wrestling through an occasional punchline referencing a star of the squared circle - and rarely some blatantly name songs after wrestling stars. What is unusual is for anybody other than a wrestler who made a rap album to have a whole hip-hop release where every single song references AND samples from the sport.
Now speaking of those samples, Fred Knuxx has an interesting problem on his hands, and it's one which I suspect will catch up to him sooner than later. WWE would probably offer one of their own wrestlers free sample clearances for their library to record a song (though they might take the royalties in return and only give the star a small share), but it's unlikely Knuxx submitted this release for approval nor would WWE have given it to him. The reason is fairly self-evident - disgraced pro wrestler Chris Benoit is featured in the upper left corner of the artwork and an entire song named "Angry" is dedicated to his dark legacy. The track even samples the entrance music he used to walk to the ring to - "Whatever" by Our Lady Peace. Quite frankly I doubt the band would have approved the use either if they had any say in it. After he murdered his wife and son and subsequently committed suicide, everyone who had anything to do with him quickly tried to put as much distance between them and him as possible. There's no way this would be cleared, and no chance that this is something "people of all ages can relate to" in any way.
While many hip-hop producers try to disguise where they get their samples from in order to avoid both the lengthy process and large expense of clearances, Fred Knuxx waves a blatant Big Show sized hand in front of his face and dares WWE to see him. The song titles are arrows pointing to who he jacked: "Da Bad Guy" sampling Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), "Million Dollar Men" sampling Ted DiBiase, "Play the Game" sampling Triple H (and Motorhead) etc. It's not just that he uses their music - he actually takes snippets of their dialogue from WWE's television shows and puts them in the songs. I'll give him this much though - it's clear from the tracks he is a dyed-in-the-wool wresting fan. It's not just a gimmick to move a free download at a time of year when wrestling is hot - the rhymes of tracks like "Straight Edge MC" suggest he's a regular Monday night WWE viewer.
"Most of these emcees is chumps
Puttin knees in their face like CM Punk
See me die before you see me run
I bet your girl wanna see me huh?
Yeah right - never that
Never catch Knuxx goin to bed with that
Everybody claim to be the best in rap
Put me against them and I'll dead the cats
Music is my addiction
This pain that I'm inflictin
You sick but I'm your prescription
Y'all famous 15 minutes
After that then y'all be missin
I'm the victor and you're my victim
Defeat me man y'all is trippin
In the game man we the difference, AHHHH!"
Fred Knuxx has made hip-hop by a pro wrestling fan specifically FOR pro wrestling fans. Non-WWE fans could still listen to "RapMania" but they wouldn't get near as much out of it. To be honest I'm not sure how much I do get out of it even as one myself. Invoking Benoit's memory and music doesn't strike me as being in good taste, and some of the things found here were never meant to be turned into rap. In fact in what's at least a bald-faced moment of honesty, Knuxx admits on the Curt Hennig inspired "Absolutely Perfect" that he once took part in a song where he admitted to HATING rap music. I never took that personally because it was something he said to "get heat" or draw the ire of the crowd, which humorously had the opposite effect because so many middle aged Southerners who were the core of WCW's audience (the company who employed him at the time) were NOT rap fans themselves.
That fact may illustrate my point better than anything else I could say, but I'll leave you with this thought anyway: when John Cena recorded a rap album, his persona on TV was that of a hip-hop influenced pro wrestler who rapped to his fans. These days wrestling fans have had Cena crammed down their throat as WWE's top star for so many years they are ready, willing and eager to pay $50-$60 for a PPV where they hope The Rock will beat him unmercifully. It won't be a legit beating like inside a UFC Octagon, but if it looks good and plays to the emotions of the viewing audience, a fake fight can be as good or better than a real one. That's what appealing to all ages is all about - pitting the children who love Cena against the adults who grew up loving Rock, and the women who cheer for Cena because he's handsome against the men who cheer for Rock because he's mas macho. There's something for everyone there, but on "RapMania" there's only something for rap fans who like wrestling, and that's only until WWE erases this album from existence for the unlicensed samples. Get it while you still can if you're interested.
Music Vibes: 5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 5 of 10
Originally posted: February 28th, 2012