World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar John Cena is without peer. Not only has he been the Champion of the most dominant professional wrestling circuit in the world, he’s also a bonafide rap artist whose freestyle disses before fights have earned him the respect and adulation of millions of fans. To top it all off, his first album, You Can’t See Me (Sony, 2005), debuted No. 15 on the Billboard charts, and continues to earn the admiration of anybody who thinks that the Italian American’s rapping is just a gimmick.
However, becoming the WWE Champ and a respected rap artist were never career choices for Cena when he was growing up. “You talk to a lot of the guys, and it’s never a case of ‘This is what I was born to do,’” said Cena during a phone interview in mid-December. “I got my education. I went to college and worked a regular job. I was into sports, and I was heavy into wrestling. Then I found out you could go train somewhere. It was for fun. Well, even today, it’s pretty much a business, but it’s still fun. It was just a right fit for me.”
The music thing? Well, that was a lot different. Cena first heard hip-hop music when he was 13 and instantly fell in love with it. “Me and my buddies, we were as far from the stereotype as possible, but we would freestyle. And, I’ll tell you, when you had to put up or shut up, I would put up,” he said. “At that point it was actually very similar to the wrestling thing. I took my wrestling career very seriously, but I didn’t think I would take it to WWE.”
When Cena began in WWE, he was a typical “face” (good guy) and an underdog in each match, which at first did not get much reaction from the fans. After losing with another face, Billy Kidman, in a tournament match for the new WWE Tag Team Championships, Cena turned “heel” (bad guy), blaming Kidman for the loss. Shortly after his heel turn, on a Halloween episode of “SmackDown!” he performed a freestyle rap in a Vanilla Ice costume, and his gimmick was changed to that of a white rapper.
At first, this gimmick got him a lot of heel heat (booing) from the fans. Eventually, however, they began cheering him due to the delivery of his freestyle raps about other wrestlers. During his run as a heel, Cena feuded with WWE legend The Undertaker, which led to a memorable rap in which he dissed The Undertaker and Chicago:
...Yeah, he’s a big dog and I’m a pup, but I bought this!/For him to beat me tonight, he needs an army full of darkness! ... I’m strong as a muscle car, and this ain’t my last ride/I’ll leave you like Chicago when Jordan left... stripped of your pride!
While the Vanilla Ice bit was a gimmick, John Cena’s for real. “A lot of people wouldn’t have done that, but it was a chance for me to bring hip-hop to WWE, which had never been done,” he said. “I had to wear the Vanilla Ice outfit and dress in outlandish clothing. I did it enough until I was able to earn the respect to do my own thing.”