I feel it's in the interest of full disclosure to state an inherent bias toward
the "Mat Mania" project going in. I appeared on the 8th episode of the podcast of the same name thanks to my
friendship with Random and unapologetic interest in professional wrestling. I think when it comes to
"the nerdy pursuits" in hip-hop, there may be few people I have in common with than
Raheem Jarbo. In 2016 video games and WWE are both billion dollar business, but
there was definitely a time when people looked down their noses at both, and as
any of us who grew up a child of the 1980's, hip-hop was often talked about in
the same dismissive tones. I can't tell you how many times I heard "rap's just a
fad" and "that's not even real music."
I don't need to spend the whole review drawing the parallels for you though - the
sheer amount of comic book and pro wrestling references in rap songs tells you there's
an undercurrent that runs through them all as "outsider" cultures that gradually
became part of the mainstream entertainment landscape. And as art imitates life
and vice versa, there have been very real issues with racism in pro wrestling over the years, and that's where we
have to draw a clear distinction as to a parallel that does't exist. Hip-Hop was
able to set its own tone from its inception in the 1970's to the present day,
but African-American wrestlers didn't write their own story in most cases entering
the "grappling arts." The 1990's in particular were a case of extremes (pun
intended) where some black wrestlers became world champions while others were expected to act
parodies of Haitian Vodou. The unfortunate truth of being a wrestling fan
is that these aren't isolated incidents, and you either learn to live with them
or your discomfort pushes you away from the "sports entertainment" business for good.
Thankfully Random wasn't pushed away, though if he had taken exception to Triple H
acting like he was a "towel boy" or Ric Flair telling Booker T to "carry his bags"
back in 2003 I wouldn't have blamed him. These things nearly killed off my own
renewed interest in pro wrestling, but for reasons I can barely fathom in hindsight
I actually doubled down instead. I started following "the indies" to counteract
whatever I didn't like from WWE, explored the available alternatives on PPV, and
kept on believing that the good was better than the bad and it was still worth
celebrating what was good. "Mat Mania" is that album in a nutshell. This is the
Mega Ran and Lynx Kinetic tribute to what's good without any kind of political
statement on what's bad. There might be a place for a rap album to address the
problematic history of pro wrestling over the years, and if there's any man I'd trust
to do it, Raheem Jarbo is that man. As this time of year is the "Road to WrestleMania"
though, the single biggest wrestling show of the season, it's time to kick back
and fondly reminsce about the good things -- like how damn entertaining Macho Man was.
There is a moment when all of these issues come full circle in the squared circle
though intentionally or otherwise. If there's a rap wrestling stable that perfectly
intersects all of the worlds I've talked about - comic books, video games, hip-hop
and sports entertainment - it's The New Day. They've individually had their own share of bad gimmicks.
Xavier Woods once had to play an Apollo Creed knockoff called Consequences Creed.
Big E. was once forced to play the hired muscle of other WWE heels, even having to
fake a love interest in another female wrestler his employer was feuding with. I
told you that wrestling is littered with these kind of incidents and even in its
original inception The New Day was problematic. As Ran raps so eloquently though
the group overcame the odds against them through the irony that they were supposed
to be heels but "thanks to the power of positivity/we instantly
rearranged the entire industry."
Perhaps the single coolest thing about the entire "Mat Mania" album though is the
run-in by fellow pro wrestling fan Murs,
who once did a remix featuring guest bars from John Cena. His fandom of the squared
circle comes through loud and clear as Lynx Kinetic links them up with a reinterpreted
version of Bray Wyatt's entrance theme for the aptly named "Run." Mega Ran's bars
throughout the album are top notch but on this track Murs steals the show and
offers his "cheers to the villian" - much like Wyatt's fans do for his appearances.
It's not a perfect album (nor a Mr. Perfect album) to be sure. Chris Jericho is a
natural choice for a hip-hop update given his natural swagger, but when Ran says
he "knew when Lynx Kinetic gave me this beat we would make something cool" it's just
not true. The bars are a worthy tribute to Y2J but the beat doesn't bump and it
might have been better to rap over an actual loop of Jericho's entrance music.
"Closed Casket" does just that for The Undertaker and it's one of the album's top
tracks, as is the chopped up "Here Comes the Pain" for Brock Lesnar.
One might ask "How far can this album go with WWE's litigious practices with
enforcing their copyrights" and the numerous WWE related samples? Well they probably
can't complain about the Macho Man music because they don't own "Pomp & Circumstance"
but there's definitely other issues they could come down on if they wanted to.
That being said Ran has some experience in this area, and actually got Capcom to
give him the clearance to have unrestricted Mega Man samples on his albums. I'm
not saying he can pull that off again here, but for now this album exists and there's
no better time to take advantage of the name your own price option (which may itself be a way to dodge the copyright
bullet). Give "Mat Mania" a chance even if you're not a fan of pro wrestling.
Music Vibes: 8 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10