Over the past few years, a common response to ‘beef’ between two rappers has been “the industry is like WWE now.” Well, I’m going to agree with that point, but take it beyond disagreements between artists.
For those of you that don’t know, I am an avid fan of professional wrestling. Ever since my great-granddaddy first put me onto the NWA at the tender age of 5, I’ve been a loyal supporter wrestling. For most of my childhood, I won’t front, I thought that wrestling was real. The blood, the injuries, the climatic finishes, and everything had me sold. But, as I watched it more, and got older, I not only came to the conclusion that it was staged, but I also started to appreciate the wrestling culture for what it brings to fans everyday.
Think about it: these performers, promoters, stage hands, drivers, and announcers work 300 days year, risking injury, astranged relationships with their own families and peace of mind to entertain millions of fans worldwide. Pro wrestling is one of the biggest pay-per-view draws in the world, and last April 70,000 fans piled into the Citrus Bowl for Wrestlemania 24. But that’s enough of my lovefest for wrestling. Let’s get to the similarities between ‘rassling’ and rap.
Let’s start at the top. The top of the food chain on any major label is the label’s president or CEO. The head honcho at any radio station is the program director, so the entity that influences all program directors would have a serious impact on airplay. The heads of music channels like MTV, BET (I’ll tear BET apart at a later date), and other music channels have a huge say in who & what we see. Magazine editors decide what artists they’ll feature in their publications (again, that’s another discussion for another day). Those are a lot of people to remember, so from here on we’re going to refer to this conglomerate as ‘the machine.’
Well, pro wrestling’s equivalent to the machine is Vince McMahon. He has final say over everything related with the WWE. (My apologies to the independent federations such as TNA, but at the time of this your market share is too small to be relevant. And let’s be honest, you pretty much exist in the shadow of Vince’s WWE.) Vince and the machine are both all about whatever will make them the most money.
Anyway, the important point here is the concept. Independent artist who can create a buzz on their own are more attractive to the machine. The wrestling equivalent is the indie wrestler that starts out in local federations, busting his ass for small crowds, all while demonstrating superior talent, personality and charisma. Soon, the locals spread the world about him, and the shows start to get more crowded. Then the internet latches onto the hype, and you start seeing columns, blogs, and even bootleg videos of the wrestler’s work. At this point, someone is whispering in Vince McMahon’s ear to offer the indie wrestler a tryout. (the new World Heavyweight Champion CM Punk followed this path).
In both cases, if the response is good, then the artist/wrestler will be given more. That is, if the first CD sells well in stores and online, then the label is more likely to give the artist more promotional money, and a larger budget for future releases. That’s how an artist like Ludacris can go from 25,000 sold out of the trunk, to a deal on Def Jam, to a multi-platinum artist, actor and label owner. I’ve already mentioned CM Punk. His current position in the WWE is the result of the insane response that he gets from fans, and how his television segments draw in more viewers. Not to mention the fact that independent wrestling fans are the equivalent of backpacker rap fans: hard to please, but when you find a way to draw them in, it’s a great thing. Punk is like a mainstream artist that keeps his underground fans happy while making new fans in the mainstream.
That’s the positive spin on all of this. But what happens when an artist doesn’t sell well the first time out, or if the fans don’t respond to a new wrestler? Well…
If the new artist doesn’t sell well, then chances are that it could be a very long time before the artist gets a chance to do better on the second album. (nevermind the fact that it could be the label’s fault for how they promoted the artist/album) Some of the rap game’s promising acts never got a chance to follow up a solid first album, since that album didn’t live up to the financial expectations. (G-Dep comes to mind, even though rumor has it that he got high more than he went to the studio)
When the fans don’t respond to a new wrestler, his gimmick or his storyline, then the wrestler is going to either be taken off of TV, pitted against lesser/unknown wrestlers at house shows, or possibly released. The process of winning over the fans will have to start all over again, and none of us get any younger from day-to-day.
There are some key factors to the making of a successful wrestler or a rapper. First of all, Vince/the machine needs to provider their employee with the necessary resources. Its not fair to ask an artist to sell 1,000,000 records (or even 100,000) when you’re not getting the lead single played on the radio. Its impossible to win over wrestling fans without them getting to see you wrestle.
When Edge slept with his then-best friend Matt Hardy’s girlfriend, although Hardy was previously fired, the “you screwed Matt” chants from fans towards Edge at live shows practically forced Vince to re-hire Matt.
So to me, its no surprise that many artists (or their labels for that matter) seek out conflict with other buzz-worthy artists in an attempt to bring attention to what they are doing. Shawty Lo’s video series targeting T.I. is no different than when wrestlers cut promos targeting their opponent at the next pay-per-view. Diss records back and forth aren’t any different than one wrestler attacking the other on Monday Night Raw, then the next Monday that attackee becomes the attacker.
The crazy thing about this comparison to me is that, at least in the realm of pro wrestling, the fans above the age of 9 are aware that it’s a staged performance, and that the ‘drama’ of beef and disagreements are not genuine 90% of the time. But as rap fans, many of us are all too willing to accept every new rapper that claims to be a tough guy who moved weight as genuine. AND…we’re too quick to give a rapper the title of ‘conscious’ after they make a record that makes us think outside of the box. Some of these conscious rappers are bigger hypocrites than the mainstream rapper that they blame for ruining hip hop! (that too, is another blog for another day)
In closing, I hope that now you see the real reasons why the rap game is parallel to pro wrestling. I can only assume that there are members of the machine that dream of having the type of success that Vince McMahon has achieved with his WWE. Either way, I’ll be watching both to see what happens next.