Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has conquered the box office, the wrestling ring, TV ratings and tequila sales — now, is he about to dominate the charts?
In a history-making career move, Johnson is making his rap debut, featured on Tech N9ne’s new single, “Face Off.”
Speaking to Variety in an exclusive interview, Johnson says, “I love music. Anytime in my movies when I can implement some musical elements, I always love doing that.”
“Face Off,” the new single on Tech N9ne’s new album, “ASIN9NE” from Strange Music, also features Joey Cool and King Iso. The track marks a collaboration between the most successful independent rapper in hip hop and the biggest A-list actor in Hollywood.
Johnson has been courted by his famous friends in the hip hop community for decades, but when Tech N9ne DM’d him on Instagram, he knew this was finally the right fit.
“The biggest star in the world said something back to me! You know what I’m sayin? I am hyped. We are all hyped!” Tech N9ne raves on a recent phone call with Variety from his tour bus.
Tech N9ne and Johnson actually met a few years ago. A huge fan of the independent rapper, Johnson, who is the most followed American on the planet, on has been sharing Tech N9ne’s music on his social media for years. After a social media friendship, the two met in-person on the set of HBO’s “Ballers,” way before the pandemic.
“A lot of my friends who are hip hop artists — like big names — I’ve been asked a few times. But it just has to feel right,” Johnson says, noting that he appeared on his friend Wyclef Jean’s 2000 song, “It Doesn’t Matter,” shouting his titular catchphrase, but not rapping.
“When Tech texted me, I knew I would make this work. We’re aligned, just in terms of our work ethic and desire. When Tech and I first met years ago on the set of ‘Ballers,’ we were talking about this idea about being the hardest worker in the room. He said something that I really appreciated: basically, ‘There could never be enough food in this room or on this set that could make me full because I always want to be hungry.’ I just love that.”
That sense of work ethic is the message of “Face Off.” Dwayne’s verse — which he wrote himself — includes the lyrics, “It’s about drive. It’s about power. We stay hungry.”
Tech N9ne knew he wanted a fighter to be featured on the track because he envisioned the song as a hype-up anthem that can be played in stadiums or at the gym. “This is an energy song. This is going to get people pumped up to lift weights, pumped up for fights, pumped up for the game. Period,” he says. “And what better person? Not Conor McGregor. I don’t know him. I know The Rock.”
When Tech N9ne first reached out to Johnson, the idea wasn’t for him to actually rap. Tech N9ne’s initial ask was just to have Johnson recite spoken words to close out the song. But Johnson had a bigger vision.
“I said, ‘I just want you to talk some real motivational stuff at end,'” Tech N9ne shares. “We got on the phone and structured it. He’s so talented, man. To be able to get on a song with master MCs and be a master MC himself? Dwayne did his thing. He said he wanted to go fast like us. After what he did on ‘Moana,’ I could see he had the rhythm.”
The rapper is referring to the hit Disney film, which yes, showcased Johnson’s musical skills. The top-selling soundtrack has made its way into millions of families’ homes, but “Face Off” brings Johnson into a new genre.
After Johnson wrote his verse and structured it with Tech N9ne, he went into the studio with his wife, Lauren Hashian, and recorded during the pandemic.
“One take,” Johnson says. “I was drinking Teremana, so I had already been a bit lit and was ready to go. We sent it to Tech and his engineers and the text I got back from Tech, in all capital letters, was ‘Fuck yes!!!!'”
The rapper jokes that he’s not quite sure how Johnson, at 6’5 and over 250 pounds, even fit in the recording booth. “He’s even more big than when I first met him on ‘Ballers’ because he’s in his ‘Black Adam’ build. Have you seen him? Look how big he is in our video. Look how cut he is! He wasn’t that cut two years ago.”
Now that Johnson has made his rap debut, is a music career in his future?
“I never had the ambition to be a hip hop artist or a rapper, so the direct answer is no,” Johnson tells Variety. “But I did see an opportunity here to create a song that really inspired and motivated me to push for more and fight for more. I’ve always loved music. I love hip hop and blues and outlaw country music.”
But never say never. If Johnson has proved anything over the years through his varied career, it’s that if he puts his mind to something, it usually turns into gold.
“If the song is right and if the collaboration feels real and authentic, I would love that,” Johnson says. “I would love to do a repeat with Tech N9ne and Strange Music. If I had the opportunity to collaborate with another artist out there — hip hop artists, blues artists, outlaw country artists — then let’s talk and let’s figure it out. If I could rap about the right words that feel real and authentic to me, then I’ll be happy to break out that Teremana, take a few big swigs and jump back into the studio.”
Johnson adds, “The things that get my attention these days and get me out of bed have to be the things that I absolutely love and am absolutely passionate about. These days, the money is not the most important thing. The fame, no. That’s not the important thing. Honestly, it just comes down to passion, having fun — and are people going to enjoy it? That’s it. That’s the bottom line.”
If Johnson ever does decide to take on the rap world, Tech N9ne says he might take some credit for giving him his big break.
“He has bigger things to do. I’m just so blessed that he would want to do this with me,” Tech N9ne says, before adding, “But I think he’s going to be the president, so I don’t know.”
Watch the music video for “Face Off” here: