When you think about it, it’s really no surprise that many rappers are avid fans of professional wrestling. Predicated on clashing egos, pageantry and more than a hint of bravado, there’s plenty of shared attributes between the rap game and what transpires within the famed squared circle. As such, transposing the sights and sounds of the mid 2000’s hip-hop landscape into audacious hand-to-hand combat for Def Jam: Vendetta and its superior sequel Fight For New York was an almost seamless process. Larger than life characters in their own right, it’s only natural that many rappers would gravitate towards the bombastic heels and triumphant babyfaces of the time-honoured profession.
From artists that have subsisted below the mainstream’s glare to some of the biggest MCs to ever step in the arena, it’s time to separate the casual viewers from hip-hop’s resident grappling fanatics. To clarify, this isn’t going to be an exhaustible overview of every rapper that’s thrown in a token reference to a wrestler or devastating finishing move here or there. Instead, we’ll be charting those MCs whose careers are inextricably linked to sports entertainment in one way or another, either from drawing a heft of inspiration from its tropes or actively participating in its culture.
Mark Dadswell/Getty ImagesIt should come as no surprise that Ric Flair has morphed into one of hip-hop’s informal patron saints. Nowadays, nods to the rolex-wearing, jet-flying, wheelin-dealin’ son-of-a-Gun are commonplace, with the Naitch even showing up in a plethora of music videos and rhyming couplets respectively. But long before Offset expounded on the virtues of having the “Ric Flair Drip,” it was a man that’s no stranger to upsetting the status quo that opted to bring him into hip-hop lore in earnest.
The centrepiece of 2011’s PL3DGE, Dungeon Family veteran Killer Mike ushered in a career rebirth with “Ric Flair.” Formed of his obligatorily punchy verses and some of the iconic wrestler’s greatest promos from Crockett-era WCW, the Georgia native would go on to expand on his love for “The Man” during Run The Jewels’ edition of Pitchfork’s Over/Under. Amid a typically fiery rant that saw him run down the soon-to-be disgraced Hulk Hogan, Mike explained that it was the ideology of the Ric Flair character that drew him to old Space Mountain himself.
"He endorsed women, drugs, Mercedes Benz, fur coats in the summer… That is the true heavyweight champion of the world, that is the only heavyweight champion of the world. He wore big gold and Hulk Hogan is nothing but an oversized model."
Remaining on the southern side of the Mason-Dixon line, another beloved icon that’s long maintained a penchant for the squared circle is Lil Wayne. When he wasn’t dabbling with skateboarding or experimenting with electric guitar, Weezy— who has referenced a cadre of the profession’s all time greats including Andre The Giant, the N.W.O and Sid Vicious— spoke to Bleacher Report about his love for the medium and his aspirations of testing his mettle in wrestling’s leading organization:
"Vince, Vince McMahon. Well first I want to say why the hell does he walk like that? Has he been to prison before? That strut kills me but I respect him for what he does, he basically built an empire. I do need to talk to Vince though, as you know I try to be the best at whatever I do, so I am planning my pro wrestling debut."
When pressed to expand on his blueprint for a career between the ropes, Wayne produced a moniker and finisher that’d lead you to believe that he’d contemplated it before.
"Well I would be BWA, which stands for Best Wrestler Alive [laughs] and my special move would be call the toilet because I am the ish and I just be doodooing all over the other wrestler's, ya dig?"
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesShifting generations, there are no shortage of modern-day stars that are beholden to wrestling for inspiration. Among the colourful and charismatic MCs this side of ODB and Biz Markie, Flatbush Zombies have an unrequited love for all things WWE. From the outset of their career, Meechy Darko was eager to refer to himself as "Randy Savage On Acid," even declaring the late Macho Man to be the “greatest wrestler that ever lived” during an interview with Nardwuar. Alongside staging a “Zeltron Vs Zombies” soundclash against Denzel Curry, Meech, Zombie Juice and Erick also engaged in a spot of ill-fated CZW-style backyard wrestling for their "New World Order" video with Durt Cobain sporting a vintage Dennis "Rodzilla" Rodman NWO shirt for good measure.
Remaining in the Empire state, Smoke DZA has made his fondness for sports entertainment pronounced since the outset of his career. Although he’d been prone to a lyrical nod here and there, his fandom became undeniable with the first edition of his Ringside EP series. Launched on the night of Wrestlemania XXX in 2013, he has since turned in another seven instalments of the grappling-oriented project that repurposes themes and contorts them into his normal brand of kush-sprinkled rhyming. If that isn’t enough to satiate any cravings for wrestling-themed hip-hop, be sure to check out the work of Pennsylvania’s Mega-Ran. Longtime friends with The New Day’s own Xavier Woods, 2016’s Mat Maniais a masterclass in fusing the two mutually appreciative subcultures.
After performing "Invincible" at Wrestlemania 28, the ever divisive MGK spoke to Wrestling Inc about how he’d extracted strength from the artform in his youth. Or at least he did prior to Kevin Owens fulfilling the dreams of Eminem stans all over the world by hitting Colson with a powerbomb through a table.
"Wrestling in the 90s was a huge part of mainstream culture and definitely in the area where I've grown up, the Midwest," he declared. "That was our Monday Night Football, you know what I mean? That was the people that we were looking up to because wrestlers give off that underdog vibe, like the John Cena's and the Rocks… they overcome all this adversity, and it's inspiring." Although he’s expressed a desire to do further work with the company, his rep as a wrestling fan is certainly dwarfed by another MC that’s sporadically appeared on WWE fans’ screens.
Wale is the embodiment of a grappling aficionado that uses his platform to meld his two passions in any way he can. On top of hosting a controversy-garnering rap-battle between The New Day and The Uso’s on Smackdown! Live and staging an annual Walemania convention during Wrestlemania Weekend, the Gifted MC also summarized the plight of the beleaguered long-time viewer like few else could during an interview with The Undefeated, saying, "When wrestling is good, it’s amazing. When it’s not good, you hoping nobody’s seeing you watch the shit."
Having shared a panel on wrestling with Wale at Complexcon, the only artist that could possibly rival Wale’s encyclopaedic knowledge of wrestling’s golden age is Mr. Baklava himself, Action Bronson.
Speaking to HNHH in February 2015, Bronsolino— whose debut album’s title Mr. Wonderful was an ode to WWE Hall of Famer Paul Orndorff in itself—outlined his favourite in-ring performers of all time and cited some names that go way beyond the average casual viewer. "I used to love watching all types of wrestling, man. Tito Santana and Rick Martell when they were the tag team (Strike Force) and split up. The Hart Foundation, Kamala, Bruno Sammortino… Papa Shango, Koko B Ware, Arn Anderson, Dean Malenko, Psychosis," he relayed.
But where "Bam Bam" has penned odes to infamous jobber Barry Horowitz and dubbed himself to be the "Intercontinental Champion," he’s abstained from using a wrestling reference for a side project in the vein of Westside Gunn and Conway. A homage to "The Outsiders" from WCW, their deep-rooted respect for the lineage is so strong that Westside Gunn took to Instagram to voice his umbrage with what he saw as Drake’s aesthetical foray into the subculture:
"Drake is probably a Kool dude who knows, but my company logo is the scorpion and coincidentally he names his album Scorpion. I was at Coachella wearing the hat and somebody says, 'Is that Drake's hat?' I almost smacked him, now he's rocking Scott Hall sh*t when I've never seen this ni**a anywhere at any wrestling event and I go by Hall…"
George Napolitano/FilmMagic/Getty ImagesNo matter how infatuated they may be with the realm of scripted combat, there is one wizened rapper that’s more synonymous with the industry than any other. Snoop Dogg breached the walls of sports entertainment’s most hallowed club when he was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
A harmonious and reciprocal relationship that has withstood the test of time, hip-hop artists and wrestlers are bonded by a shared desire to not only be the best in their field but to get their due respect for their unmatched prowess. As a parting gift, enjoy the incredible "Pay-Per-View," a vastly underrated gem which features Ruff Ryders’ Drag-On, Eve, Jadakiss and Styles P rhyming almost entirely in mid-90’s wrestling references.