Forget the Justice League or Avengers, this is the most ambitious crossover of all time.
The turn of the millennium was a very different era. Music and movies explored various space-age and retro-futuristic concepts, as many pondered what the new century would hold in store for us. Looking back on the early 2000s, pop culture staples like Pokémon, MTV and wrestling come to mind.
The World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) was arguably its most popular in the late 90s into the early 2000s. With star power like Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker and Steve Austin, wrestling managed to shed its boisterous and stigmatised perception into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Outside of matches, merchandising was a big part of wrestling culture. The WWF produced many video games, toys, lunch boxes and of course, music. ‘WWF Aggression’, released on March 21, 2000, was the first rap-centric outing for wrestling.
WWF Aggression is a 13-track compilation album featuring a who’s who of in-demand rappers from the early 2000s. Notable features include; Wu-Tang’s Method Man, Snoop Dogg, Mack 10, MC Eiht, Ice-T and Run-DMC. Each track on the album is a rap revision of each respective wrestler’s theme song. For example, R.A. the Rugged Man’s ‘Break Down the Walls’ is Chris Jericho’s theme.
The album was likely made in response to the rising popularity of hip hop in the mainstream. Wrestlers and rappers had been crossing paths for years before Aggression’s release. The motivating factor behind its inception was likely WWF trying to reinvent their sound by injected some much-needed oomph and cool factor. In reality, wrestling and rap have many similarities. Both have been questioned on their authenticity, both have angered parents, and both feature violent and hyper-masculine symbolism.
Aggression kicks off with Run-DMC’s ‘The Kings’. This track sees Run-DMC call back to their Rick Rubin and rap-rock days with captivating electronic production. The seemingly live drums and electric guitar fire off while Rev Run’s raps serve as the perfect middle ground between 80s golden age hip hop flows and 2000s rap-rock.
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WelO_uwadw
Track two, ‘Wreck’ (Mankind’s theme), is undoubtfully an album highlight. The song features the odd couple and unlikely pairing of former Ultramagnetic MC and occasional eight-sided doctor Kool Keith and Wu-Tang’s lead attack dog Ol’ Dirty Dastard. With production from Greg Danylyshyn, Wreck is high energy and sounds overproduced in the best way possible. Wreck has combat-themed ad-libs throughout. ODB shouts “punch, kick, fight" frequently through the song, reminding you of its wrestling ties. Kool Keith’s flows are as left-field and weird as to be expected. The contrast between the two emcees is a welcome addition to the project.
The lead single on the album ‘Know Your Role’ is a collaboration between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Method Man. In contrast to the other songs, this song features actual vocals from The Rock. Johnson used this theme in battle, but it was retired after one match.
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXo9Jf_ZXPk
‘No Chance’ (Vince McMahon’s theme) is home to premier verses from Redman and Heltah Skeltah member Rock. With assistance from DJ, producer and indie rap label Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf, this track has aged surpassingly well. PBW’s DJ cutting adds a 90s boom-bap aesthetic to the song, separating it from the others.
Triple H’s theme ‘Game’ is also a notable cut on the album. Featuring west coast wordsmith Ras Kass and Louisiana native Mystikal, this track sprinkles in elements of horrorcore. Game follows a similar formula to Wreck but has a distinct west-coast tinge to its sound on top of Ras and Mystikal’s vocal bravado.
The critic and fan reception to the album was relatively positive. As Aggression marks the only straight-up rap album in the WWE compilation discography, many fans have made their own mock-up sequels to the project. This is a sheer testament to its staying power despite not being on any major streaming platforms.
The commercial success and impact of WWF Aggression led to other hip hop themed wrestling collabs, notably John Cena’s 2005 album ‘You Can’t See Me’.WWF Aggression is best remembered as a relic of a bygone era. The album is a time capsule of noughties nostalgia and 2000s cross-platform marketing. Listening to the album today, a majority of the tracks have aged surpassingly well. Even if someone is not a wrestling fan per se, there are capable and noteworthy rappers on every song. If you’re interested in checking out the project, you can listen in full on YouTube here.