Everything About Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s First Official Rap Verse With Tech N9ne Is Funny
I still remember hearing that Wyclef Jean was going to have Rock on his single. It was 21 years ago when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was on his fourth or fifth reign as WWF World Champion. The Rock wasn’t a movie star yet – he would make his debut as a terrible CGI effect in The return of the mummy a year later – but it already looked like he might be the coolest person on earth. The Rock had been a self-absorbed shit-talking heel who had become a crowd favorite simply because he was so good egocentric chatter. I would like to watch Monday night gross with a bunch of other dorm cafeteria workers, and everyone was yelling at the TV when the Rock wasn’t on. As in: “Put the rock back!” The man seemed to be able to do anything. Was the Rock going rap? Did Wyclef know something we didn’t? It seemed vaguely plausible. After all, talking self-centered shit is a pretty important skill for just about any rapper, and the Rock had this.
At this point, the Wyclef race was still on, and it looked like he might help usher in a new star. The whole Canibus experiment hadn’t quite worked out, but Destiny’s Child had its first hit with Wyclef’s “No, No, No” remix. The Fugees were still a fresh memory. Lauryn Hill had become a cultural phenomenon, and Wyclef himself wasn’t far behind; The carnival, his solo debut in 1997, had been a widely acclaimed hit. I could not expect to hear the song Rock on a Wyclef. But then “It Doesn’t Matter” came out, and “It Doesn’t Matter” was hilarious trash.
Turns out The Rock wasn’t going to rap; he was just going to shout some of his catchphrases, which seemed even more absurd in a non-struggle context. (“It does not matter if you have one Fresh Bentley!””) This is also the exact moment Wyclef Jean freaked out — the moment he thought it would be a good idea to put Kenny Rogers and Pharoahe Monch on the same track or use The eclectic: 2 sides II a book as the album title. The Rock didn’t lose any momentum by appearing on “It Doesn’t Matter,” but the Rock’s rap career dream just wasn’t to be.
In retrospect, I should have known it would go wrong. The Rock was not a rapper. He had swagger, but it wasn’t rapper swagger. It was a brawny, muscular swagger – a sporty swagger, more or less. I guess the Rock also had a song with Slick Rick on a 2001 CD of WWF entrance themes, but that song, “Pie”, isn’t really anything I would call a rap song. it’s also, for some reason, virulently offensive to Asians, and it includes “hermaphrodite” as a slur. Vince McMahon probably thought that shit was hilarious.
The thing is, The Rock never did anything effortlessly. Part of the fun of watching his wrestling career was how he turned the crowd’s utter disinterest, in a matter of years, into crackling love/hate intensity through the force of his will. The Rock yelped in front of the camera for minutes every week, and if he ever had the slightest interest in rap music, then he would have said some rap crap at some point. It never happened. Instead, around 2003, the Rock had an incredible heel singing rockabilly songs on acoustic guitar about how much he hated every town he visited and how ugly all the women were.
The Rock’s particular skill set proved to work outside of a wrestling context, but that context had nothing to do with music. Instead, the Rock became the highest-paid movie star in the world, a franchise that now seems to appear exclusively in film adaptations of things that shouldn’t be adapted into movies: Baywatch, Carnage, Jungle Cruise. The closest rock to rap in the last 20 years was when he played the voice of Maui in Disney’s Moana and sang “You’re Welcome” written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. My children had Moana constantly looping soundtrack for about three months, so I can tell you that Miranda’s demo for “You’re Welcome,” a truly delightful song, had a bridge that basically sounded like her Broadway-dork version of the rap. However, The Rock didn’t even really do a Miranda-style rap on this song. He pretty much just shouted Miranda’s words, as if they were wrestling slogans.
In fact, the mere idea of rock rap has become so ridiculous that Saturday Night Live basically made a joke of it. In a 2017 skit, the entire central motif of the dad joke is Kenan Thompson trying to make a group cut, but too many rappers show up. But the real absurdity was the Rock in a fur coat, calling himself King Keef. The mere idea that this guy would rap was supposed to make you laugh. Bobby Moynihan made a more plausible rapper.
So when Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, 49, appeared on a Tech N9ne track last week, rapping his first rap verse, I was do not ready. Tech N9ne is a fascinating figure, an indie success story who has spent decades carving out his own hugely lucrative fast-paced rap empire in the Midwest and all while interacting only casually with mainstream rap. Tech N9ne is the same age as the Rock, and when the Rock was making a name for himself in wrestling, Tech N9ne was tearing up clubs and establishing himself as a regional figurehead with his own cult following of Juggalo-adjacent fans. (The Rock tells Billboard, “Not many people know this, but I’ve been friends with Tech for many, many years now.”) If you’re not from the Midwest, chances are you’ve never heard a Tech N9ne song. in your life. If you are of the Midwest, chances are you’ll consider him a towering figure. Personally, I don’t take anything away from Tech N9ne’s music, but I’m glad he’s there, making things weirder.
On Friday, Tech N9ne posted ASIN9NE, his 23rd album. The LP has guest appearances from rappers like Lil Wayne and E-40, as well as various Strange Music associates of Tech. Somehow, for reasons I can’t begin to imagine, Tech also has the Rock’s first-ever rap verse on his song “Face Off.” (Presumably, “Face Off” is named after John Woo’s 1997 film, which features a wonderful performance by the Rock’s Be cool co-starring John Travolta. The other Front/Off The star is Nicolas Cage. As far as I know, Cage has never been in a movie with the Rock, but he was in a movie called The rock.)
The Rock comes at the end of “Face Off,” after a few panting quick rap verses. Tech N9ne says he’s got hell and you’re sweeter than a Yoplait thing. Joey Cool says he’s around their necks like he’s Malcolm X, like he’s Dr. King, like he’s Cornel West. King Iso raps fast enough that I can catch maybe every third word he says. It’s all loud and bombastic and sweaty, like so many Tech N9 songs are loud and bombastic and sweaty. And then the Rock, a man who made a name for himself by being loud and pompous and sweaty, comes along, and he finally spits out the rap verse that I thought he might do on “It doesn’t have to importance” 21 years ago.
The Rock’s verse is fine I guess? He definitely put to work in it. Someone trained him. But The Rock says he wrote his verse, at Tech’s request, and Tech then helped him polish it: “I wrote it all the best I could, then I hooked up with Tech. . And that’s where his mastery really shined, because he was then able to help me with word structure, cadence, and overall thinking. Either way, you can’t teach someone to stay on the beat, and Rock does.
On “Face Off”, the Rock gives the impression that he is having fun. He says some catchphrases from the wrestling era. He says Black and Samoan is in his veins and his culture bumps into Strange. He uses the word “motherfucking”, which is funny. (The Rock hasn’t been in an R-rated movie since Baywatch in 2017, and I haven’t seen that one. It’s been a while since I’ve heard the Rock swear.) Mostly, the Rock sounds like a motivational speaker coach type. In the video, he looks like an impossible ball of muscle, and his Strange Music tank top looks like it’s about to explode into shreds of fabric. In any case, we now know how it sounds when Rock raps. Decades of vague and vain curiosity have brought us there. Now we know it, and the Rock will never have to rap again.
1. Nardo Wick – “Who Wants Smoke?? (Remix)” (featuring Lil Durk, 21 Savage & G Herbo)
When Jacksonville rookie teen Nardo Wick released the original “Who Want Smoke” in January, I didn’t notice, maybe because Nardo spends the whole song sounding like he’s trying to rapping without fully opening your mouth. But Nardo had the good idea, mid-verse, to go”[STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP] what’s that?” This part is so much fun that all of the most famous guests on this remix do their own variations on it. The remix is an instant hit, in part because of this track and in part partly because Cole Bennett is using the video as his audition for an action filmmaking gig straight to Redbox. I love everything about it.
2. Russian Million – “6:30”
Russ Millions is on a mission to turn British exercise into shameless party music, and now he’s here dressed as a Baseball Fury in his new video. I support him.
3. The Alchemist – “Flying Spirit” (Feat. Bruiser Brigade)
The Alchemist is brand new This thing of ours EP is worth your time, but my favorite song is the one where he recruits Danny Brown’s entire Bruiser Squad to rap over eerie sci-fi keyboard beeps. I love that Brown has dedicated his entire 2021 to building his ultra-talented crew, and I love that his crew is good enough to warrant that work. murderous wolf murders this.
4. Glock Key – “Ambition for Money”
Tay Keith went all The Legend of Zelda at this pace.
5. Artz & Bugy – “Wartime” (Feat. Freddie Gibbs)
Artz & Bugy is a production due to Turkey which is currently making an international breakthrough. If you’re trying to put one of your beats in the best possible light, it’s always a good idea to ask Freddie Gibbs to rap over it.