As the 2016 John Cena ESPYs Press Saturation Extravaganza continues, we keep learning all sorts of new facts about The Face That Runs The Place: He picked Brock Lesnar for UFC 200! He has an opinion on who should be vice president! He really, really wants to wrestle a bear! But with the ESPYs themselves only one day away, we’ve finally gotten to the fireworks factory.
Billboard’s Ballin’ Out Podcast recently sat down with Cena to discuss, among other topics, the birth of his Doctor Of Thuganomics character and reminisce on the creation of his first — and currently only — hip-hop album, 2005’s You Can’t See Me, which peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200. Cena recalled the events which led to the birth of the album:
“At WWE, we have the opportunity to define your character as much as you want. When I got the opportunity to rap on television, they gave me some stock music that was so bad. You could tell that WWE, to its credit, does rock ’n’ roll very well. It did not understand hip-hop culture. I was like, ‘I’m not very good, but I can do better than this.’ I went into a friend’s studio and recorded my original theme music [“Basic Thuganomics”] and it was better than what they gave me… [Later,] I went to [Vince McMahon] and was like, ‘I’m gonna redo my theme music. If we make an album, would you be interested in putting it out?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.'”
People have poked fun at Cena for years over how he’s appropriated certain aspects of his character that he has no real-life connection with — dog tags and a crisp military salute, anyone? — but the man has no problem preaching his love of hip-hop, saying the first rap records he ever owned were Beastie Boys’ Licensed To Ill and Fat Boys’ Crushin‘, before going on to mention who lights up his stereo these days.
“The Doctor Of Thuganomics isn’t some phony tag I threw on myself. I enjoy hip-hop. I enjoy hip-hop culture. I really appreciate this stuff… I’ll play [Nas’] Illmatic till the tape breaks. Wu-Tang [Clan]… I love Jay Z. You listen to his evolution as a human being through his art. Kanye West makes great music. Drake is phenomenal.”