Last April one of professional wrestling’s all-time greats finally got his just due. “Macho Man” Randy Savage (Randy Poffo) was a celebrated six-time world champion inside the squared circle, an iconic pitch man for spicy beef sticks Slim Jims and an instantly recognizable face in cameos across all media. Years after all his accomplishments and his untimely 2011 death due to cardiac arrhythmia, Savage was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. But while this honor and the release of his recent career retrospective DVD, Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story, have reminded fans of his storied career, one mysterious endeavor of Savage's conspicuously gets overlooked.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage made a rap album.
The year was 2003, and the music industry was still coasting off of the most profitable years it would ever see, allowing independent labels to not only find footing, but take certain risks with the types of projects they released. St. Petersburg, Fla.-based label Big3 Records, then home to classic rockers Cheap Trick and early-2000s female vocal group Mpress, surprised wrestling and hip-hop fans alike with the announcement of “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s forthcoming rap album, Be a Man. In a pre-iTunes era, celebrity music projects really weren’t as common and required an investment substantial enough to physically produce CDs and ship them across the globe. But, according to Savage’s brother, “The Genius” Lanny Poffo, this wasn’t some impulse cash grab.
“Randy liked it,” Poffo tells us of his brother’s interest in hip-hop, “One of the most annoying things about Randy, even though he was two years older than me at the time, he would call me up and always introduce a brand new word I didn’t know. He would say ‘true dat,’ and I would say ‘what is that?’ He kept up with the lingo.” An active rap fan, Savage took the challenge of making a rap album very seriously. “Randy put a lot of himself into it and practiced everything he possibly could to learn the craft. He was not a halfway kind of guy. He did something or did not do something, all or nothing. He was invested thoroughly in this.” Listening to the project with an experienced hip-hopper’s ear shows Savage had much more than just a passing interest in the genre. With sly references to early Ice Cube, Biz Markie, A Tribe Called Quest, and Slick Rick, it’s clear the 50-year-old Savage had a strong frame of reference for what rap should sound like and wouldn’t be content with just some “My name is Macho and I’m here to say”-type novelty record.
One of the most annoying things about Randy, even though he was two years older than me at the time, he would call me up and always introduce a brand new word I didn’t know. He would say ‘true dat,’ and I would say ‘what is that?’ He kept up with the lingo. —Lanny poffo
Big3 Records handled the entire project in-house at their St. Petersburg facilities. While the label declined to participate in this piece, we were told that many of the personnel who worked on the project are still with Big3. A look at the album’s liner notes shows plenty of their then-roster was involved, with the background vocals being provided either by girl duo Aja or R&B outfit Prymary Colorz. The only non-Big3 artist involved with the project is DJ Kool of “Let Me Clear My Throat” fame who joins Savage for “Hit the Floor,” the album’s second single, which legitimately sounds like an early-2000s club banger that just so happens to have “Macho Man” Randy Savage rapping on it. The majority of the production and co-writing work is credited to the Rascalz, a group who doesn’t seem to have released material outside of this project but accompanied Savage during the album’s promotional tours.
Given the effort Savage was putting in, he expected just as much success from the project. Poffo says, “He was also having a bit of delusions of grandeur. He thought he was going to sell 15 million CDs...and then, he was doing it as a comeback. He hadn’t been on television in years. It was like reinventing himself.” While Savage did make a memorable appearance in Spider-Man the previous year, wrestling Tobey Maguire as “Bone Saw McGraw,” it’s easy to forget the larger-than-life character was out of the public eye for almost four years before the album’s announced release date.
When it came time for Be a Man’s Oct. 7, 2003 release, Savage toured the country in an effort to make as big of a splash as possible. From local in-stores to the Mall of America, now that he had put his all into being behind the mic, he was channeling that same energy into making sure it got seen. One of the most remembered of these appearances was Savage’s day co-hosting Nickelodeon’s Slime Time Live with Dave Aizer. “I was always a big WWF kid growing-up,” Aizer says. “He was great. Everything we wanted to do or the kids wanted to do he would roll for. Sometimes you meet some people and you’re disappointed. This was not the case.” While Savage can be seen having fun with the kids, throwing pies, and making everyone feel “Macho Madness,” the day also included Savage invoking the album’s title, Be a Man, to directly call out fellow wrestling icon and former Mega Powers tag-team partner Hulk Hogan. While Aizer thought, given the easy-going and overall positivity Savage exuded in his appearances, that the tension with Hogan was all “part of the show,” Savage’s issues with the Hulkster were very real.
“Be a Man,” the album’s title track, which the project is perhaps best known for, was the product of Savage’s very real frustration with Hogan stemming from the Hulkster’s appearances on shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge’s radio show. Poffo says, “[Bubba] wouldn’t have a show unless he ragged on Randy, my father, my mother, myself. I’d never listen to it, but the Tampa Bay area is a real microcosm, and him and Hulk were buddies at the time, and Randy took a beating on the radio, and this was Randy’s way of getting back. It was a reaction, not proaction.”
Savage wanted his brother to support his project, putting Poffo in the unenviable position in the middle of a conflict between his brother and Hogan, the man who personally hand-selected Poffo’s “The Genius” character to feud with in main event prime time matches on NBC. “I don’t like being a part of a CD that insults Hulk Hogan. On the other hand, I love my brother, but I also love Hulk Hogan. In a 21-year career, the guy who gave me the best four months of it was Hulk Hogan, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to blaspheme him on some music.” But Savage and his brother reached something of a compromise as Poffo co-wrote the album’s closer “Perfect Friend,” a touching tribute to fellow wrestler Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, which displays Savage’s best technical rapping on the album.
The world didn’t seem quite ready for Randy Savage’s rap endeavor, and the reviews were unkind. According to Poffo, “Somebody gave him a review that criticized him for the album, and I think he took it to heart. It said the album was a ‘physiological impossibility,’ the explanation being ‘it sucked and blew at the same time,’ and I think he took offense to that.” The negative response made Savage feel like perhaps he’d stayed too long at the dance, leading to him finish out his entertainment career by only contributing voiceover work to animated films such as Bolt and cameos on shows like King of the Hill.
Fortunately, before Savage’s death he had the opportunity to bury old hatchets. “I think my brother either knew spiritually that he was dying or had an actual physical symptom that he was dying. Sometimes the person knows that there’s something wrong.” Within weeks before his death Savage was able to meet with Hogan, something Poffo was able to put into verse during his poetic acceptance speech for Savage’s Hall of Fame induction.
When the Mega Powers exploded
The storyline was real.
Life’s too short to hold a grudge.
It’s time for us to heal.
Chaz Kangas is a writer living in New York. Follow him @Chazraps.