In today’s rap scene, it doesn’t take much more than a hot beat and a catchy hook to score a hit. However, if upcoming MCs feels they need something more to put them over the top, they can always pull out their entire jewelry bag and start flossing like a mug. On his debut single, Atlanta rapper Ca$h Out hit a home run with the the beautifully simplistic couplet “Got a condo on my wrist, girl, I’m cashin’ out / got a condo round my neck, girl, I’m cashin’ out”. In the video for the song, Ca$h Out shows off his extensive collection of bling, presumably acquired from his bird-flipping days.
If there’s one thing rappers love to do, it’s flex their wares. Just ask Sir Tity Two Necklace. But back in the early days of rap, this was by no means the norm. If you look back to the mid-1980s, when LL Cool J and Run-DMC were in the midst of their legendary careers, the most they would rock was a dookie rope and, if they were feeling froggy, a four-finger ring. So how did we go from minimalist gold chains to extravagant diamond-studded pharoah heads or BIG ASS CHAINS? When did it become cool to have an ego the size of Mount Rushmore?
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the Dirtiest Player in the Game, Space Mountain himself, the Nature Boy, Ric Flair.
For the six of you reading this who don’t know about Naitch, I’ll give you a quick and dirty summary. Ric Flair is arguably the greatest professional wrestler of all time. Since 1972, Flair has wrestled the best in the world, accomplished more than anyone in history, won the adoration and hatred of millions, and did it all with the greatest of ease. His signature move, the figure-four leglock, could render even the mightiest of men powerless, and his record-breaking 16 world title reigns are the stuff of legend.
However, the reason Ric Flair is so popular has nothing to do with his vaunted in-ring abilities; quite simply, Ric Flair was at one point the coolest dude on the planet, and the entire population was a distant second. If you need evidence to back this statement, look no further than this:
That right there is a man that could sell water to a whale well before Jay-Z was out of grade school. Look at the clean suit, the feathered hair, the bling, the sunglasses, the honeys in the audience swooning over him, the absolute arrogance. Ric Flair was pimpin’ before pimpin’ was cool.
Before he would even set foot in the arena, the opening strains of Dawn from “Also sprach Zarathustra” by Strauss would blare from the loudspeakers, and the crowd would explode. That bigger-than-life fanfare is the most appropriate entrance music ever, because to wrestling fans, Ric Flair was God. He could do no wrong. And rappers took notice.
Now stereotypically viewed as a crude form of entertainment, professional wrestling was once as mainstream as basketball. Icons like Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and Ric Flair were as relevant as Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan. Sure, they could ball, but they weren’t ballers like pro wrestlers. Before, during and after Hogan’s reign, Flair remained the flyest dude to ever lace up the boots.
They Lovin’ the Woo
In 1986, Ric joined forces with Tully Blanchard and Arn and Ole Anderson, forming a group known as the Four Horsemen. The group experienced some flux in its members, but what stands out is the absolute havoc they wreaked on their opponents. With Ric at the helm, the stable won pretty much every national championship that the National Wrestling Alliance had to offer. Even when in different promotions, the Horsemen came together like Voltron with new members and a revamped gimmick and unleashed hell. The OG team was inducted into the Hall of Fame 20 years after its creation, an indication of its legacy and impact.
In the music world, and especially in the rap game, artists seem to gravitate towards each other at the pinnacle of their success. Putting together a catalog of solo material can be incredibly daunting, and artists will reach out to each other to get a boost. This mirrors the purpose of the Four Horsemen: powerful apart, unstoppable together.
Look at the supergroups created in the rap game: from NWA, The Firm and the Soulquarians to the Roc-a-Fella team, GOOD Music and YMCMB, artists recognize that success and impact can be sustained when affiliating with other likeminded artists. (Okay, so it didn’t work out for The Firm, the point remains.) Just like Arn and Tully might have been languishing in purgatory without a strong mouthpiece, where would Kanye be without a Jay cosign? Would Drake be managing a Rite Aid in Toronto without some Wayne guest spots on “So Far Gone”? Thankfully for them, they’ll never have to deal in hypotheticals.
Woo Tang Clan (or, Naitch’s Calling)
In hip-hop, a common calling card is the ad-lib. From Mike Will Made It’s ethereal whisper to 2 Chainz’ eponymous drop to Wiz Khalifa’s hyena cackle, you know exactly who the artist is. Lil Wayne’s lighter flick is instantly recognizable and forces me to hit the “seek” on my car stereo like Pavlov’s dog. But one guy figured out the power of all-purpose catchnoises a long time ago:
Now I’m not saying Ric Flair is the originator of the ad-lib. But from coast to coast, from England to Japan and back again, whenever a wrestler unleashes a knife-edge chop in the dinkiest of bingo halls or biggest of stadiums, the crowd erupts in a chorus of “WOOOO!” Now that’s brand recognition.
If you don’t buy what I’m selling, let’s just ask this guy:
EEYUGH. Pusha digs Ric so much, he’s adopted the “WOO!” as his ad-lib, referenced him numerous times, and even sampled one of his classic promos for the beginning of “What Dreams Are Made Of”. What’s more, when Ric Flair caught wind of this, he simply responded “I haven’t got a check from him.” He’s all about that scrilla, because A) he’s got multiple alimonies, and B) fuck you, he’s Ric Flair. Case closed. All you Soundcloud rappers better practice your Flair Flop. You may never beat the man, but you’d better try to be the man.