By Joe Walker
Special to The New Citizens Press from XPOZ magazine
He’s won his first major championship as a professional wrestler. He became the first rapper signed to a major record label to win a wrestling championship. And in May, he released his first album.
The former body builder turned professional wrestler and Sony/Columbia hip-hop recording artist became the WWE Champion at Wrestlemania on April 3rd. After 3 years in the company and gradually growing in popularity, the company gave him the top prize and made history by giving a rap artist a pro wrestling championship – which John proudly displays to a national viewing audience every week on WWE RAW on Spike TV.
"People don’t realize it, but this is ground breaking stuff," Cena said. "[WWE is] being more open-minded about the way things are. For so long wrestlers looked like your 80’s glam rock’n roll stars, and there is nothing wrong with that. But music is diverse. So it’s about time WWE opened up and said that [hip-hop] is perfectly welcomed here. And I’m proud to go out on [RAW] and dress the way I want and be who I am.
"This is the first time WWE has gone open arms into the field of hip-hop, and I always tell people that I’m not the perfect ambassador for it, but at least they’re giving it a chance. If I can do something to just break that wall down … for so long the spandex and long hair have been trademarks of Rock’N Roll."
Though Cena rocks his opponents in the ring and keeps the crowds rolling when he delivers his promo speeches on the microphone, he does not look like the stereotypical wrestler. He declines the use of tights for what many consider a more "street" look, but Cena assures he is just being himself. His ring attire, which includes a pair of baggy jean shorts, a t-shirt or sports jersey and high-top sneakers stems from his civilian wardrobe.
"I love wrestling," Cena said. "Don’t get me wrong – that is truly what I love. But I’m not too big on rolling around with another dude in spandex. There is a place for that. This is not only a sport, but it’s sports entertainment. It’s sports with personality. This is my personality. When people think of wrestling, they automatically stereotype it as a bunch of big dudes rolling around in tights. This is just my way of saying we’ve got everything else going on too."
Cena, a West Newberry, Massachusetts, native who grew up on hip-hop music, began rapping on WWE television programs in 2003. Cena said the wrestling fans were less than receptive.
"For almost two years they wanted me killed!" Cena said. "But I didn’t say I was going to stop if they didn’t accept it. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like me. I’m going out there to do my thing anyway."
It was a challenge at first to gain the respect of traditional wrestling fans and non hip-hop fans alike, but Cena stayed the course and the fans eventually accepted him.
"That is a personal victory that I have been planning for, for the past two years," Cena said. "Not only is it a victory for hip-hop culture that we got to the WWE, but it’s also a chance for people who aren’t used to the culture to be like, man, you know … that hip-hop stuff ain’t so bad.’ It’s an introduction to a different market. And the way people respond – albeit negative or positive – is a fact that they’re entertained."
Using professional wrestler Steve Williams AKA "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as an example, Cena pointed out how fans who were used to seeing and liking things a certain way changed and opened up to something new and different. He said Austin is 100% redneck but was accepted by the urban community. The fans did not like him because of what he was; they liked him because he was just being himself.
"I love the fact that [hip-hop is] spreading," Cena said. "The fact that a kid from West Newberry, like me, can go out and breathe hip-hop life into a culture that doesn’t have any is fantastic. And I can still go in the hood and get rep! I walk in Jamaica Queens where I buy my jewelry and cats is like, ‘Yo that’s Cena, man! That’s the kid!’ That’s hip-hop. It’s not about your color; it’s about the culture."
And on May 10th, Cena made another contribution to the 30-year life of hip-hop culture. His debut album titled "You Can’t See Me," which had been in the works for three years, was finally released from Sony/Columbia.
"I put forth my own money; I signed all my rights over to WWE. I’m not making a penny off of this [album]. I’m doing this because I love hip-hop," Cena said.
Featuring fellow solo rapper Tha Trademarc and production by various underground hip-hop producers including the legendary Freddy Foxxx, Cena said his love for the culture came full circle. The album debuted at #15 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums Chart.
"I know Sony and Columbia are thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to sell to wrestling fans … and nothing more than that.’ But here is what we’re doing man … the fact is the music on the album, I had total control over," Cena said. "I didn’t have an A&R breathing down my neck about, ‘This is what type of music that’s selling, so you have to make this kind of music!’ It is what I want it to be, and that’s what I can say about it.
"It’s not somebody else’s’ music; it’s all written by me, it’s all produced by people I hooked up with – it’s mine. It’s from my money, my money made this record. So if Sony doesn’t want to push it at all and they just want to let WWE push it – which at the end of the day probably will happen – I’m content with that because I got my product on the shelf. And if it sells to just WWE fans, so be it. But if we get a little bit of a buzz and a few people from the hood cop it and a few people from the hood like it … then that’s success."