One of the more intriguing professional wrestling figures over the last few years has been Lio Rush. The Maryland-based performer is currently signed to the WWE but hasn't been seen on television since their marquee event, WrestleMania. There have been dirtsheet reports for some time about supposed backstage friction between Lio and others, along with talk about some of his moves within the WWE's massive infrastructure. Lio's not given any official reasoning behind his hiatus, but that doesn't mean the self-professed "Man of the Hour" hasn't been totally silent.
After kicking his social pages back into high gear back in June, Rush recently dropped his debut single, "Scenic Lullaby," which finds him detailing his personal issues and life story on the lyrical tip. The response has been wholly positive and showcases that the magnificent work he's done as Bobby Lashley's mouthpiece wasn't a fluke.
Complex recently hopped on the phone with Lio, who was getting his day started at home. Their conversation veered from his past writing poetry and his relationship with fellow DMV star Wale to how he got the gig with Bobby Lashley and his thoughts on the one question everyone has about his current situation as a WWE Superstar.
Talk about the process of you working on "Scenic Lullaby," from start to finish.
The reactions from it have been absolutely incredible. It's pretty overwhelming, but definitely in a good way. The process for this was, I don't know... At first, it started off as a spoken word poem. I've always been interested in poetry and I've been working on this one for a while now because I felt like I've been pretty open to the public about my struggles and my growing up and the current struggles that I go through at my everyday life. But I wanted to merge the two. And I wanted to be able to talk about it while also putting it into song form because personally, music speaks to me so much. And, it changes my life. It changes my mood. It changes everything. So I wanted to tell my story in a way where it will [connect with] people just a little bit more.
You'd been working on poetry longer than you'd been trying to rap? Was that how the transition went?
Oh yeah, definitely. Even when I was younger, I would say about 10 to 12 years old, I would wake up in the middle of the night. My mom would always be in the kitchen, and I remember I would wake up in the middle of the night and I would just write. I could meet my mom in the kitchen and ask her what she thought about this. [They] weren't always the best poems in the world, but writing started off at a very young age. Even if it was horrible, I just always had an interest in doing it.
Where did your love of poetry come from?
I don't ever remember having a love for poetry or reading a certain thing in saying, "Man, that's so cool." I've always been a really expressive individual and creative and artistic. And not just in my words. Whether it came from in my style of wrestling or the way that I portrayed myself, I just always felt like I was different from everybody else. I always liked artists that were lyricists. I remember Mos Def sticking out to me the most when I was younger and listening to rap music. I remember Mos Def. I remember guys like Common. I remember guys like Eminem. And just listening to their music, it made me feel a certain kind of way. It almost didn't feel like a song. It just felt like they were speaking to me. And I was always attracted to that style of music.
I saw you recently mentioned that you're also a fan of a YBN Cordae. Are you feeling his album?
Oh yeah. Man, it was incredible. And it's so crazy. It's so crazy looking at the way that the rap game is growing. Especially with so many people coming out of the area that I grew up in. Guys like Wale, guys like YBN Cordae, people like Rico Nasty. It's insane the amount of talent that is coming out of the DMV area. Those people inspire me so much.
Coming from the DMV area, and having similar interest in really lyric-driven music, I have to ask, what's your relationship with Wale like?
I met Wale a few years back ago, maybe three years ago. He was the first person outside of the wrestling world, a celebrity, to show me love and tell me that he enjoyed my work inside the ring. And of course, he took notice that I was from the DMV area as well. So we linked that way and we just hit it off ever since. We always talked about meeting up someday and collaborating. I think the relationship started to grow a little more once I went to his WaleMania party that he throws every year. And, I always tried to make it out to it, but I always had different wrestling obligations, that I never could make it. This past year's WaleMania, he invited me out and it was amazing. He let me have a Q&A on stage, and it was absolutely amazing. Then we got that opportunity to work together on a Fuse TV interview. And the relationship kept growing and growing from there.
I did talk to Wale about someday being in the music industry and dipping my toes in that and seeing what can come of it. He's always been super supportive and he is definitely a huge inspiration to me. In a world where there's so much competition and everybody's trying to make it and everybody's trying to be at that top level, it's so cool to have somebody in the game that's from the same area as you that's saying, "Go after the thing that you believe in. Chase your dreams. Don't settle for anything less. And just be the best thing that you can be." I've kind of preached that a lot lately about having more than one goal and having more than one dream and that it's okay to go after one and go after another at the same time. I never wanted to limit myself. He made it pretty clear that he thought that I was a talented individual and that I can succeed outside the wrestling world.
I've never been to a WaleMania before. I wasn't able to make it when it was in New York. On the outside, it felt like whether you're a black professional wrestler or just a black fan of professional wrestling, it felt like a really interesting moment. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like, what the energy was in that building?
It was definitely one that is unforgettable. Just talking about it, it's kind of crazy, it's giving me goosebumps. That night was incredible. I was on the stage with guys on the WWE that I didn't even really talk to backstage, that I didn't feel like I had that bond. And I felt like we all came together that one night for Kofi. It was surreal. You could just feel something special was going on, and not only was something special going on, but something special was going to happen after that night. The energy in the building was crazy.
Do you have plans for working on an EP or an album in the near future? And if so, is Wale someone you're trying to work with?
I would definitely say so, just because he's got such influence to me. And I just think that people love and enjoy seeing collaborative projects with people that come from the same area because it shows unity and love and comradery. And I definitely would want something like that to happen.
In the future I would want to come out with an EP or one album. I'm always writing, so I feel like I have books, lots of stuff that I could lay down right now. But the release of the single was so surprising to me. I wasn't even really thinking too much down the line. I was so worried about, how is this song going to be, how are people going to perceive it, are people going like it, are people going to think that I actually have talent or have potential on the rap game. And seeing all of the positive responses so far, man, it opened my eyes so much to just a new world of possibilities for me. And I definitely feel after this one I'm going to continue to put out music and show people what I'm passionate about.
It feels like it's an experiment, but it's one of those experiments that had a much bigger success than anybody would have even imagined. Is that fair to say?
It definitely threw me off guard. It's been incredible. An incredible, I guess you would say, an experiment. That's the best way to put it. And I definitely, I'm so grateful that it turned out the way that it did.
The last year for you working on Raw with Bobby Lashley mostly cutting promos was really dope to see. For you, as a guy whose in-ring work is so athletic and more what you're known for, how did it feel to get over on the mic? What was that like for you with that one run with Lashley over the last year?
It was incredible. I remember on the independent scene, when I was with my buddy Patrick Clark—Velveteen Dream for anybody who didn't know who—and I remember... We felt like the perfect duo . I felt like, even though we both had athleticism and we stuck out in that sense, I felt like Patrick was more of the promo guy and I was more of the in-ring spectacle guy, doing all the flips and tricks and all the other stuff. And I would always look at Patrick and say, "Man, he's so talented. I wish that I had what he had." And not in an envious way, but because Patrick is like my brother, he just inspired me to be better.
I wanted to be good on the mic like he was. I practiced [and] I never got to that point where I could hear myself or look at myself and say, "Yeah, I think I got it down." I was always displeased with my promo ability. And when I got that opportunity with Bobby, and I'd gotten a chance to talk on a mic, it was so nerve-wracking because I didn't know what I was going to do with Bobby when I got the call. I didn't know if I was going to be his manager, or if I was going to be his tag team partner or whatever. And then when I got word that I was going to be his mouthpiece, I was shaking in my boots because I was never a promo guy.
I was never comfortable with how I talked or the way that I say certain things. And just the fact that I got an opportunity to, not only showcase what I've been practicing, but also get an opportunity to work on what I was never comfortable with, it was amazing. And to get the response that it did, and get the reactions that it did, and people dubbing me as a promo guy, I was, "Oh, shit. This is pretty cool." I never thought that I would be considered a "promo guy." So, with that opportunity I felt I had the God-given chance to not only be a good in-ring performer but also develop my skills on the microphone, to have that full package that I've been looking for.
Before you made the jump to the main roster there was a lot of stuff you were doing on social media. Was that you getting in preparation for your work with Lashley or was that just you working on your character at the time?
No. That was me working on my character. The whole thing with Lashley was so last minute. I can't even remember when exactly I got that. It wasn't like I got the call a week or two ago and I had an opportunity to do that. I remember already being on the road, being on the live shows, and about to go to 205 [Live], and then getting that call and say, "Hey, we need you for Monday." I'm like, "Oh shit."
But all of those promos that I was doing on social media, that was all me. That was me just wanting to be an all-around better performer. I also had a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I had a lot to prove and I felt like I had a lot to offer. I wanted to show a lot of people at that time that I can be a main character, I can be a promo guy and I can cut promos and draw people in. And I heard a lot of people at the time who kind of clowned me for doing it, because all the promos that I was doing, I wasn't on NXT. I was literally just on the live shows. And this was all the 205. So, I felt all the promos that I did on social media gave me that opportunity and gave me that look that I needed, to say, "Hey, maybe we should put this guy on TV because he has gone out of his way to cut these promos and do what needed to be done all over social media." So I definitely felt like that was a good pay off.
You said that at that time you had a chip on your shoulder. Do you still feel that way?
No, not necessarily. I wouldn't say that I have a chip on my shoulder. I always feel, and I feel like that's just my nature, I feel that's how I grew up. I feel that's how I was raised, to always go out there and put on your best show and show everybody what you can do every single night. Make sure people remember your name, and get people talking and stuff like that.
I always had that drive even when there wasn't anything to drive me, even when I didn't have a chip on my shoulder. I just always had that mental attitude about me that "I'm going to go out here and I'm going to show everybody that I'm the best. I'm going to prove to the world why I'm in the position that I'm in today." And, I'm always just pushing myself every single day. I'm my absolute worst critic. And I feel like that chip on my shoulder, it is because of me. I'm always telling myself, "Oh man, that sucked. You need to go out there and you need to do it better next time." So it's definitely not a normal chip. It's one that I created because of just the way that I am.
You've not really spoken about it, but I thought it was interesting that recently you made sure to put WWE SUPERSTAR in all caps on your social media. Were you getting tired of being asked about why you're on what could be on hiatus or what your status is with the WWE?
That's the reason. I get asked all the time. Whether that's in person, whether that's on social media if I'm even posting anything that doesn't have to do anything with wrestling. Everybody's always trying to get the scoop and nobody is ever being genuine about it. I feel like WWE superstars, they can never just live their lives. I know that we're always on the road and we're always on shows and entertaining the fans worldwide, 24/7, 365 days a year. But I feel we can never turn that off. And I've been feeling like that for the past couple of weeks or months, where I've been just wanting to sit back, relax, be with my family, my wife, my kids. Work on projects that I've always wanted to work on and accomplish other things that I've always wanted to accomplish without somebody asking me, "Oh, are you still with the WWE?" Or, "Are you fired?" Or, "Are you doing this? Are you doing that?"
It's for everybody, and honestly, it's for me too. I've struggled with a lot of mental health issues and sometimes I do get discouraged and sometimes we get down on myself and a little depressed. And I start to forget who I am and what I've accomplished to get to where I am. And that was just a reminder to me. That was just like, "You know what, I am a WWE Superstar. I worked hard for that title. I worked for that position. I worked hard for where I am right now." And regardless of the situations and circumstances, at the end of the day, I still am a WWE Superstar.
That answers everybody's question, If I got fired or not. And, I fucking miss wrestling. I love wrestling. I still do. It was my dream. It's my goal since I was five years old. And I honestly can't even remember the last time I had a wrestling match. And to be completely honest, I definitely do miss wrestling. I miss the fans. I miss the adrenaline rush. I love everything about it.