Veteran WWE Superstar John Cena recently spoke to Buzzfeed and revealed how the “You Can’t See Me!” taunt came to be, and how his original gimmicks happened.
Cena talked about how he grew up a fan of the hip-hop culture, and while that didn’t make him the most popular kid in West Newbury, Massachusetts, it led to him getting into weightlifting.
“This all started for me back in 1989, as Chuck D would say,” Cena said. “You wouldn’t guess it by how I’m dressed now, but I dressed a little different as a kid. Rap music was becoming extremely popular – Beastie Boys and Run DMC, NWA, I was from another area of the world (Massachusetts) that didn’t care about that, but I did. I loved the rebellious nature of the message. I wasn’t going through any of that struggle but I really liked this loud, brash approach and the music just spoke to me.
“So I began to be immersed in rap and hip-hop culture, and for that, in an area of the world that wasn’t so immersed, I got my ass kicked every single day, and the core of the abuse was just, ‘Hey, dress like all of us!’ And I think at a young age, instead of folding, I doubled down and went even more ridiculous to get even more of my ass kicked. So, as a way to defend myself, I asked my father for a home gym. This was at 12 or 13. My grandfather convinced him, and I got it for Christmas, began working out Christmas Day and here we are 32 years later, and I haven’t stopped.”
Cena continued and talked about how he got into pro wrestling, and eventually incorporated his love of hip-hop into his WWE character.
“I followed WWF in the 80s and as a young kid and I did not get into sports entertainment with any idea that I would ever make it to the WWE,” Cena revealed. “I just really wanted to do it, so even doing small shows at flea markets, in Los Angeles, in Northern California, Tijuana, if there were 5 people there and a ring, I was probably there. It was a way for me to justify my 9-to-5 existence so I could enjoy a weekend hobby. The toughest thing for anyone in entertainment is to somehow find a way to captivate an audience. You have to create a personality for yourself and invest in that personality, and hope that people get it. And my character was The Prototype – half man, half machine, and 100% fucking rotten. It was so bad, but I was invested in it and it was enough to catch the eye of a scout to send me to Kentucky, so I got to be an understudy of one of their prominent performers, and then I made it to WWE and the first thing they said was drop The Prototype, cut your hair, and be a good guy.
“So, I debuted as John Cena – the most stale, un-entertaining character you could imagine, and was just about to be fired after a year and a half of me trying to connect with the audience, and on what was supposed to be one of my last tours… when we go overseas we all travel together, and in the back of the bus people were freestyle battling, and I remember, I just went back and joined in, and in the front of the bus, the WWE Creative department. A few people were like, ‘Hey, how did you remember all that?’ I’m like, ‘Well, the concept behind freestyle rap is, you just kinda think on your feet,’ And they’re like, ‘Well, would you want to do that on TV?’ Yes I would, and it really gave me a chance to invest in my costuming, mannerisms, delivery, personality. I’m not the most technically proficient guy, I’m not the biggest aerial performer, but I really love the make-believe aspect, really genuinely do, and the story-telling aspect.”
He continued, “And being the rap guy, I bought in, all in. I mean, like, I did rap battles in the parking lots of arenas, and they’d bring in rappers for me to have freestyle battles with, and I didn’t win them all, I did get burned, did get scorched, and there were some that I would win, and it was fun, and interactive. Imagine this, the one thing that I got my ass kicked for as a teenager, dressing different and embracing hip-hop culture, was the catalyst to me connecting with a global WWE audience.”
Cena then talked about how he went into the studio for WWE and mentioned recording 85 hip-hop songs, which is notable because there were only 17 tracks on the “You Can’t See Me” album he released in May 2005. Cena also told the story of the “You Can’t See Me” taunt and how it became a meme online. He also commented on how the gesture was inspired by G-Unit rapper Tony Yayo.
“We were in production for new theme music for the John Cena rap identity, so we recorded about like 85 songs, and keep in mind their are only like 16 on the ‘You Can’t See Me’ album,” Cena revealed. “And I remember hearing this one beat, and it was that beat for ‘My Time Is Now’ – the build to the crescendo, and the horns, and the brass, and that heavy hit of the bass, like it had everything, and we would always use my little brother as kind of our Litmus Test because he was a really harsh critic, and if he enjoyed it, I knew we were OK, and I remembered him just going like this [You Can’t See Me gesture], and like, getting lost in it, and I think he was doing what was, I think, the Tony Yayo Dance at the time, where Tony Yayo would do this hand in front of his face and shake his head, and I was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ It was ridiculous. And he’s like, ‘I’m doing the Yayo Dance.
“I’m like, OK, I’ll do that on TV to pay homage to you liking the beat because I’m gonna go with this for the song. And he dared me, and on a dare I was like, yo, I’m definitely doing it. So instead of doing the Yayo Dance, I kind of did this reverse… because I figured it would be more visible to show my brother on TV, like, ‘Hey I’m doing the thing that you dared me to do!’ And ‘You can’t see me!’ is kind of a way to talk smack in hip-hop culture, like you’re not on my level, so I kind of put the two and two together, just really trying to make one person in West Newbury, Massachusetts laugh.”
He continued, “Now we come to the internet and the internet was like, ‘We can’t see this guy.’ I don’t know why… I became like invisible and the cool joke was either if I was in a picture I wasn’t, they’d be like OK, this is just a chair talking to you, or people would take their picture with John Cena, which was simply like, pointing at nothing, or if nothing was there, they’d be like, yo I can’t believe John Cena crashed our party. I did an interview before this where the audio technician pinned the mic on me and when he’s pinning the mic on me he’s like, ‘I didn’t know how to see where to put it.’ And I never get offended, I love hearing it, I think it’s extremely creative, it’s something that’s been in the internet cycle for so long, but it still never gets old.”