Last night, my Twitter timeline was hijacked by wrestling fans thanks to Wrestlemania 31. It happens at least once a week, usually on Mondays for WWE Raw, but last night’s event made it feel like everyone was tweeting about RKOs and someone named Seth Rollins.
I don’t get it. The last time I was interested in wrestling, it was still called the WWF, and my interest was mostly in watching men violently hurt one another. Like football. It also gave me another reason to play video games such as Smackdown, just like feigning interest in skateboarding gave me a reason to play Tony Hawk and feigning interest in cars gave me a reason to play Midnight Club. I was also in the fifth grade.
In recent months I’ve found it a little odd, frankly, that so many grown men on my timeline (it is exclusively men, as far as I can tell) are obsessed with wrestling. The Rock is a movie star now, Stone Cold Steve Austin isn’t out there chugging beers and stunning anybody, and The Undertaker is probably old enough to have been serviced by an undertaker at this point. More importantly, I remember realizing how fake the whole thing was, and as soon as the facade was exposed, I lost interest. If they aren’t really hurting one another, then what the hell is the point? Even the dramatic backstories weren’t real. I felt duped.
But it occurred to me last night why, in 2015, so many male rap fans on the internet are in love with wrestling. It’s because wrestling and rap are the same thing now.
In rap, we have characters. Rick Ross plays a cocaine dealer. Lil Wayne plays an alien. Nicki Minaj played a Barbie, until recently. In order to live up to their roles, which are of course more marketable than “regular human beings” in the eyes of their record labels (read: owners), these artists need to fill their music and videos with the characteristics of said roles. Do you really think Rick Ross, who straight up stole his name from the legendary drug dealer, actually knew the real Noreaga? Do you really think the Migos actually have Middle Eastern drug connects? Do you really think every rapper who talks about busting a gun even owns one? Don’t be ridiculous. The game is largely one of acting now. Smoke and mirrors. Just last week, Killer Mike co-wrote an article saying “Rap lyrics are fiction.” Case closed.
The key is to make it sound like it’s real. Hip-hop is, of course, rooted in realness, hence why prosecutors feel justified in using rap lyrics as evidence in court. “I do what I gotta do, I don’t care if I get caught / The DA can play this motherfucking tape in court, I’ll kill you,” said 50 Cent on “Heat,” and we believed him because so much of his image was based on the fact that he’d been shot nine times. It doesn’t get any realer than that. Just ask Bobby Shmurda. His lyrics were all too real until they led police to bust his criminal organization. Now he claims all his raps are false.
Wrestling, too, conjures up real injury despite being completely fake. Whether via camera angles or subtle body movements, wrestlers pretend like what they’re doing is genuine when it’s really 100% scripted and safe. It can’t really be a “sport” when the main attraction is put-on performance instead of spontaneous competition. The winners are determined beforehand. It’s more akin to dress-up. If you wanted to watch theatre, why wouldn’t you just watch a play instead? Perhaps it’s because Broadway doesn’t give the illusion of being “real.” The very use of a stage lets the audience know that what they’re seeing is art. Flying from ladders and fighting in steel cages, on the other hand, gives the impression that something very real is at stake for the wrestlers, and though that’s obviously not the case, the balance between being authentic and being scripted gives wrestling it’s commercial edge. After all, it’s not boxing. Fans need it to be fake, or else it’s not performance.
The recent overlap of rap fans and wrestling fans also speaks to the rising popularity of battle rap in recent years. Battle rap is nearly identical to wrestling, right down to the ring, the costumes, and the pre-fight antics. But it can’t come off as too fake. The artists want fans to believe there is real animosity between competitors, because that’s what gets people to watch – not only the rhymes, but the personal motivation behind said rhymes. Sure, most of these beefs are fabricated and exaggerated for publicity. But that’s exactly what fans want to see.
Then there are all the theatrical backstories. When the camera goes “behind the scenes” to show viewers sudden confrontations between wrestlers and executives, it’s practically sketch comedy. Rap today doesn’t seem to be very different. With the advent of social media, rappers are free to entertain their fans all day, and enterprising artists like 50 Cent and Retchy P make it a priority to brand themselves on these platforms. It’s all entertainment. Hence why, when Kanye West and 50 Cent squared off to see who would sell more first week albums in 2007, it came as no surprise when the public learned it had all been conjured up as a publicity stunt. It wasn’t real. It was fake. Pure antics.
Now more than ever, fans want to buy into hype. So much of rap today is image driven, less about substance than about symbolism and the representation of cool. Thus, an artist makes more money from a sponsorship than they will from album sales. They might make incredible music, but it’s a brand that really sells on a massive scale, not a classic album.
So if everyone tweeting about wrestling last night wanted to see real fighting, they’d tweet about UFC too. But they don’t. They like the performance aspect of WWE. And it makes sense why all these rap fans love performance art. Because that’s what rap has become.