Ettore Ewen, a.k.a WWE Superstar Big E, is a lot of things. He’s a 10-time WWE tag team champion, the current intercontinental champion, a podcaster, a voice actor, an author, and in my brief time talking to him, I learned he’s also a man with a sincere passion for Black history.
Like many of us, Ewen was deeply shaken after seeing the George Floyd video and had a desire to do something positive that could uplift the community. Our Heroes Rock!, an animated series about the heroes of Black history created by Ewen, Jonathan Davenport, and Andreas Hale, was born out of that desire. Ewen sat down with The Root to discuss the origins of the project, the initial response to the project’s Kickstarter, the talent they’ve got behind it, and the current trend of rapper/wrestler beef we’ve seen hit Twitter in recent months.
The Root: What was the initial inspiration for Our Heroes Rock!?
Ettore Ewen: So I sat down with Jonathan Davenport who has designed the New Day gear since 2015, he’s an incredible artist. During the pandemic, I would go on these walks and I came up with the idea of “Hey, what if we did Schoolhouse Rock-themed wrestling gear but with Black history figures?”
That was my thought; maybe it won’t fundamentally change the world overnight, [but] if we can use our platform as The New Day, me, Kofi [Kingston], [Xavier] Woods, wear this gear, and maybe there are people who aren’t affected by it, but maybe there are people who will see the gear and pause, look in closer, and they’ll look up Ida B. Wells, the Big 6, or figures we didn’t really get introduced to until later in life, or some of us have never really learned about. Andreas Hale, he’s been a friend of mine for years, he actually saw the gear and was like “Man, this should be way more than just wrestling gear.”
So we put our three heads together and we talked and then eventually said doing an animated short using hip-hop much in the same way Schoolhouse Rock used rock and used music to teach people. It’s wild to me, I would go backstage when I was wearing the gear and I remember there was this crew member in his 50s and we had a [production assistant] who was in her 20s and they both still knew the Schoolhouse Rock jingle.
With hip-hop, there are songs I think of from 20 years ago and those lyrics still ring in our heads. We can use hip-hop, we can use music, animation, sci-fi, and if you make it fun and engaging for kids, I think that’s one incredible way to learn about all these, just a litany of Black heroes who aren’t talked about enough in schools and in homes. I think this would be a tremendous way to teach Black history. Which it’s not just Black history, don’t confine it to Black history, it’s American history. It’s our culture, our country’s culture.
TR: I know the first episode of the series is going to be about Ruby Bridges, what are some of the other heroes of Black history that you would like to do episodes on?
EE: Like you said, our concentration is definitely on Ruby Bridges, but there’s definitely Ida B. Wells. There’s Bass Reeves, you know a lot of people don’t talk about the fact that I believe one in four cowboys were Black. Like it blew my mind the first time I ever heard about Black cowboys a few years ago. But man, the list is so long.
We chose Ruby Bridges because her story is so easy to be engaged with. The fact that she was born the same year as Brown v. The Board of Education, that in 1960 she was just 6-years -old. And to be thrown into this situation with all this vitriol, and people who absolutely did not want to see this Black child integrate a school in New Orleans. Her story is so poignant and relatable.
And the fact that she’s younger than my mom, she’s still alive. She’s in her sixties, you see those old black and white pictures and it makes you think “this was from many moons ago, and things are better now.” But when you realize 1960 wasn’t that long ago, so many of our parents were born before then, we just felt like that was the story to really delve into.
TR: I saw you guys hit your Kickstarter goal. What are some of your other goals going forward?
EE: Well, because of the nature of Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing so we actually set our goal pretty low because we thought we definitely need to hit our goal. To say $75,000 is low feels like a slap in the face, but we set our goal there to make sure we get something. And thankfully man, we’ve been lucky that the response so far has been incredible, it’s been very humbling. But honestly, we would need double that to do this the right way. So setting the stretch goal will allow us to make a longer episode. We were probably in that three-minute window with $75,000.
With the stretch goal that will allow us to breathe a little bit and tell the story the right way. We also talked about, if we really blow this thing out of the water, doing a second episode as well. But right now, hitting $150,000 will allow us to properly tell the story. We aim to have an announcement real soon to talk in more specific terms about what we plan to do with the stretch goal.
TR: How did Rapsody get involved in the project?
EE: That’s all Andreas Hale, not only is he a friend of mine, he’s worked in sporting news, combat sports for a long time, but he’s also worked in music as well. He connected with Rapsody years ago, he sparked up a relationship with her and reached out to her. Honestly, if I could pick any emcee on the earth right now to tell the story of Ruby Bridges, she’d be the one. Her voice is so powerful, she’s a two-time Grammy nominee, and she has a real weight, a real gravitas. She speaks powerfully, her music is powerful, and she was right up our alley. We’re so excited to have Rapsody be a part of this, I can’t imagine a better voice for Ruby Bridges.
TR: Do you have any other artists that you would like to work with on the series?
EE: Oh, of course! I’m friends with Flatbush Zombies, so I reached out to Eric [Elliot], I talked to [Zombie] Juice, they are super excited about it. We wanted them to be in this project too but we didn’t want it to be too cluttered. I’ve also reached out to Wale, he’s a really good friend of mine, an incredible dude and to me one of the best emcees of our time. He’s expressed interest. We’ve talked to D-Smoke. These are people I’m a big fan of and I’m geeking out just to talk to them. We also reached out to 9th Wonder, which again, one of the greatest producers in hip-hop history. We’re hoping to have 9th joining this project and other projects. We’ve reached out to a lot of heavy hitters in the industry, but again, not just because of their name value but because of their ability to connect with a project like this.
TR: Last question, we getting Randy Orton vs. Soulja Boy for Fastlane? Is that what’s happening?
EE: Let’s not shotgun this for Fastlane! We have WrestleMania 37 coming up, in my backyard, in Tampa. Two days, April 10 and 11, let’s build it! We got time to build it, maybe their first interaction can be at Fastlane and then at WrestleMania we payoff the program. This whole burgeoning, like, Bow Wow was beefing with some of my co-workers? We got Bad Bunny, who’s been killing it! He’s been training at the performance center, he’s really taken to this. I did not expect this to be a thing, if you asked me about these two months ago, I would not have expected to see all these rapper/WWE superstar beefs. But here we are, and I’m entertained by it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.