Rolling Loud Partnership Cements WWE’s Pivot to Hip Hop Synergy

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Hard rock and pro wrestling have a long history. A theme by storied metal legends AC/DC still intones the beginning of each installment of Friday Night SmackDown. Rock acts like Alter Bridge, Metallica, Motorhead, and Living Colour have provided entrance themes for World Wrestling Entertainment Superstars Edge, Undertaker, Triple H, and CM Punk, respectively.

However, the hip-hop music medium also has its stake in the history of WWE. Rapper Snoop Dogg, cousin of WWE superstar Sasha Banks, has made many appearances on WWE television, and is a 2016 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. Female rap pioneers Salt N Pepa performed their staple “Whatta Man” at WrestleMania 11, and a frequently circulated gif and meme captures them being quite smitten with Bret Hart.

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Hart and fellow Hall of Famer Ric Flair have both capitalized on their popularity with the hip hop crowd by lending their trademarks to flashy tracksuits any, or perhaps only, a rapper could love issued by pop culture-inspired athleisure brand Chalk Line Apparel. Both hip hop and pro wrestling were reaching new and unprecedented global audiences throughout the 80s and 90s. The larger than life, ‘stylin’ profilin’, limousine ridin’ ” lifestyle Flair boasted of in promos made him an early template for the lux life rappers aspired to, and he’s paid it forward with appearances in music videos with hip hop artists like “Ric Flair Drip” by Metro Boomin and Offset. While not known for his “drip”, Hart’s earnest promos, inspired by his real-life background, had a compelling realism, not unlike the stripped bare testimonials of gangster rap anthems about hustling hard to succeed.

However, it is not just retired Hall of Famers like Hart and Flair who are pivoting toward this overlapping demographic. In 2021, WWE played host to Grammy-winning rapper Bad Bunny, who acquitted himself admirably in the ring and scored the 24/7 championship. They have also made overtures towards reality star turned rap phenom Cardi B, and her recent single “Up” can be heard in commercials for 2021’s SummerSlam. The theme for WrestleMania 37 was not a sonorous arena rock anthem as in years past, but the seminal 2020 Hip Hop/R&B single “Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd.

WWE’s television programming is returning to live tapings from venues across the country. On July 23, SmackDown will be coming to audiences live from a music festival that markets itself as the biggest hip-hop music festival in the world.  Rolling Loud Music Festival, to be held in Miami, is the first music festival that the WWE’s main brands have collaborated with. The CEO and co-founder of Rolling Loud, Tariq Cherif, stated in the press release announcing the partnership that he grew up on “Sweet chin music,” a reference to Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels’s formidable kick. Cherif went on to state that he had long been “mesmerized by the spectacle that Vince McMahon and co have built at WWE,” and is eager about, “weaving our two storylines into one world.”

The possibilities of celebrity cameos while the WWE is in residence are tantalizing, and right in line with WWE President and Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan’s stated desire to draw more celebrity names to appearances on WWE products. The opportunity for celebrity appearances is ripe, with Rolling Loud being headlined by A$ap Rocky, Post Malone, and rapper/producer Travis Scott who, like WWE legend Mick Foley, refers to one of his alter egos as Cactus Jack.

Although the move to broadcast from a hip hop music festival is unprecedented, it will no doubt seem like a homecoming to many fans of both pro wrestling and hip hop, who have long found common links in the hustle, grind, guts, glory, and larger than life personalities of both worlds.

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