Throughout his 23-year career as a professional wrestler, Ron “R-Truth” Killings has racked up a considerable amount of accolades: He’s one of only a handful of current WWE employees who can say he wrestled under the WWF banner (as K-Kwik); he was the first-ever black NWA World Champion in 2002; and his current WWE run, 12 years long and counting, has included countless memorable moments, from the extremely comedic to the extremely serious.
But Killings isn’t just a sports entertainer: He’s been making music off and on since 2003, and in recent years has spent more and more time in the studio laying down tracks. His latest single, “Set It Off,” drops today, just in time to be the soundtrack to your Valentine’s Day outing — provided you want to get a little rowdy. We caught up with Killings during a rare moment of downtime to discuss everything from his music career to his thoughts on AEW and plenty more.
First question: Obviously, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you what’s up.
R-TRUTH: [Laughs.] Hey man, I’m not going to get away from that, am I?
Probably not. But there are worse gimmicks to carry with you. So what are you up to right now?
I’m just trying to bridge that gap between music entertainment and wrestling entertainment. My slogan right now, Scott, is “your favorite wrestler is your favorite rapper.” I got a hot new single coming out February 14 called “Set It Off.” And that’s just the beginning of the slew of music that I’m going to be dropping. We’re going to be dropping a single every four to six weeks.
Let’s talk about “Set It Off.” What intrigued me about it was that, looking at the past couple of singles you put out, including this one, your music’s kind of been skewing a little bit more EDM influenced in terms of the actual beat and production of the song, even though they’re still firmly rooted in hip-hop. Are you a big fan of that kind of EDM style or are you working with somebody else that’s providing you with those?
Oh, it’s just a variety. It’s me and my manager/producer, J-Trx. We are just putting all types of music out, man. I got a country song I’ve done, a country rap. Yes, I’ve got a rock song I’ve done. I’ve got an R&B song I’ve done for my kids. So now we’re going to get into the phase where now you’re going to get a lot more urban music from me now. I got different genres of music, man. I want to be able to hit every audience.
You are not the first wrestler to also pursue music. But someone like Chris Jericho, for example, plays as many concerts as he has wrestling dates now. You are still very much a wrestler. Are you trying to pivot into doing more live concerts as a rapper?
Oh, all that is coming. All of that is coming. I’m at the pinnacle of my career, I’m at the highest point right now, especially with the 24/7 Championship and what WWE is doing with that as far as bringing in different celebrities, crossing brands together. So I think it matters. It’s just heating up right now. I’m going to be doing a tour, I’m going to be doing concerts… It’s going to be a lot.
When you’re making music, are you thinking about how it fits in with the greater picture of hip-hop? Or are you hyper-focused on what you’re doing?
I don’t worry about nobody else. I just worry about me pretty much. You know that I do the music that I love to do, that I think people love to hear. I already have my own built-in audience. If I get more? Welcome aboard. But I’m shooting for the stars.
The Carolinas have a huge hip-hop history, with everyone from J Cole and DaBaby to legends like Jermiane Dupri. There’s a lot that came out of where you came from. Who do you pull from as your inspirations from that area, and who do you view as your contemporaries?
I’m floating between Atlanta and Charlotte, man. So of course the DaBaby, guys like Petey Pablo. But then you’ve got Future, Yo Gotti, a lot of guys I listen to influence me as well. You know, it’s the sound of the music that’s out now.
I’ve heard that you performed with Tupac Shakur before. Is that true?
I didn’t perform with Tupac; when I first started doing my music, getting involved with music, this was back when the Jack The Rapper [Music Convention] was out. You’d go and meet people, and I was also a show opener. I opened up for rappers like Chubb Rock and Kwamé. I met Pac when he was with Digital Underground back then, seeing him at these concerts at these conventions, and then he blew up. Once he did Juice, he was outta here.
A few years ago, Tupac went to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and the Notorious B.I.G. just went into the Rock Hall this year. Who in your mind is the next rapper that should get that kind of acknowledgement to go into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame?
Oh man. You know, Weezy should get that, Lil Wayne. Drake should get that. I honestly think Nipsey Hussle should get it too.
Talking about “What’s Up”: That song has lasted for 15 years and has been your defining track in terms of the WWE audience. It still gets the crowd fired up. Why do you think that song has stuck with you?
I think the audience relates to me because that song relates to me. “What’s up?” We think we use it in everyday conversation,. It’s just something that’s so relatable to people. My character is relatable to people, man. And it’s just like when you hear before the Rock come out, when you hear that, “Can you smellllll?” You know that’s Rock. When you hear the glass break, you know it’s Stone Cold Steve Austin. When you hear that dong, you know it’s the Undertaker. So What’s Up is just like… that’s my shtick. I invented that.
Over the years you’ve changed the lyrics to the song too. I can remember three or four different versions of it, specifically the one with Goldust. How often do you tell yourself to freshen it up? Does anyone come to you and say, “Hey, maybe change this?”
I’ll just be in the back and I’ll just rewrite it. They know what’s going on with me depending on my mood. And I had started refreshing the lyrics up. I asked Triple H one time about re-mixing it or doing another song, and he’s like, “Man, if it’s not broke,” you know what I’m saying? Why mess with it? It’s still fresh to some people. I don’t think it’s broke, man. So depending on what I’m doing, like with Carmella or with Goldust, I’ll change the lyrics up. Or like, I’m wearing shorts now, so I’ll change the lyrics up.
The best thing about it too is that when you want your character to turn, just take the song away. It’s the easiest way to communicate your alignment.
That was a Vince McMahon idea. He’s like, “We’re turning you heel. I don’t think you should rap at all. Just come out to no music.” And people really booed me for that.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an angrier crowd than when you smoked a cigarette during Raw. I’ve never seen a guy get booed worse than that.
There actually was a time of me really getting the Little Jimmy thing hot, and Vince McMahon was paying $20,000 fines so I could smoke in the arena. It was just a crazy time.
A big part of your arc the past year has been when you had the U.S. Championship and were talking a lot about John Cena being your childhood hero, which is just consistently hilarious. Where did that come from? Is there going to be a John Cena/R-Truth WrestleMania match in the future?
You never know with this business. That was a Vince McMahon idea. Just for the fact that people were like, “Man, you look like you’re in your twenties,” and Vince pops every time somebody says it. He laughs every time. He’s the one that came up with that idea: “So you’ve been watching John since you were a young kid, huh?” He said that one time and we went with it. The people took to it.
Do you have a lot of freedom in those bits when you’re doing that or your 24/7 Championship segments? How much of that is scripted out for you, and how much of it is you to saying, “Hey, I got this, let me handle it”?
They just tell me what Vince wants and I pretty much do it. Or they have something that’s already done and I’ll say, “I don’t think I would do it that way.” “Okay, do it how you want to do it.” Or sometimes Vince will tell them, “Hey, let Truth come up with it.” It varies.
A lot of the best moments in that whole 24/7 Championship run were with Drake Maverick. What were some of your favorite moments of working with him?
Oh man. Drake is a hell of a guy. He will always come to me with a couple ideas. He was was very hungry, man. The wedding and the honeymoon were my favorite ones with him. The wedding was awesome, and the honeymoon probably the top of the cake for me.
Last year was a huge year for Kofi Kingston, your former tag team partner, who became the first African-American champion to win the WWE Championship. You had a similar milestone way back in 2002 when you became the first black NWA Champion. Did you have any words of wisdom for him when he was embarking on that ride?
Me and Kofi have always been close and cool with each other. I didn’t have any advice on that. I just gave him support. He’s doing the right thing. He’s smart, he’s talented, he’s hungry. Only thing a man like that needs is support.
We’re approaching WrestleMania 36, and unfortunately, you’ve never had a victory at WrestleMania before. If you could call your shot this year, who do you want to face at Mania? Who’s your dream dance partner?
Ooooh, my dream dance partner? Probably be Rock or Cena, my childhood hero.
If we keep talking about it, it will happen, right? Keep his name in your mouth.
We can speak it into existence!
Your recent bit with Brock Lesnar was huge — people loved that whole segment. It made people realize that you’ve had a pretty impressive career throughout WWE for the past 20 years. Granted, right now there are no actual criteria for being a WWE Hall Of Famer. But do you feel your career warrants a Hall Of Fame induction?
I don’t think it’s time yet. I don’t think it’s time yet. I’m still sitting in the saddle, Scott. You know what I’m saying? Brock actually has been pitching ideas. He wants to work with me doing something because of that segment. He pitched a couple ideas. He and I talked afterwards. The sky’s the limit. This business is always changing, and I’m always changing with things.
So if it’s not time for you yet, who would you put in the WWE Hall Of Fame that’s not there yet?
Oh man, you got me thinking now. I would put in Hurricane Helms.
So who in the locker room can hold up against you in a battle rap? Who would you want to go against?
I’ll be straight up with you, Scott. I actually don’t do battle rap.
Never liked battle rap. It’s one thing we would do on the tour buses, me, Cena, and the guys… I’ll tell you who was good at it: The Usos, Jimmy and Jay. Oh my God. Yeah, they’re good. Yeah. I just never got into the battle rap. My rap is more about the message I’m delivering. I ain’t got no problems with nobody, man.
One last question: A lot of former coworkers of yours have gone over to AEW. Have you watched any of that product yet? Do you have any thoughts about AEW?
Oh man. None at all. None at all, man. I wish them luck. You know what I’m saying. I wasn’t involved in nothing. I haven’t watched one show. If it’s not me doing R-Truth, it’s Ron Killings. I really ain’t got time for no other show, you know what I’m saying?
Ron Killings’ “Set It Off” is available now through all digital retailers and streaming services.