How Hit Row’s Authenticity Scared the WWE

Back at NXT TakeOver 31 in October 2020, we began to see the formation of what would become Hit Row. During a match between Isaiah “Swerve” Scott and Santos Escobar for the NXT Cruiserweight Championship, the rest of Legado del Fantasma tried to get involved. Ashante “Thee” Adonis ended up coming to try to save Scott, however, Santos came out victorious.

Fast forwarding to February, we saw Scott turn heel and attack Leon Ruff after losing a match to him. They continued to feud until the May 4 edition of NXT. Scott ended up defeating Ruff due to interference from AJ Francis. After the match, Swerve and Franics were joined by Ashante “Thee” Adonis and Briana Brandy. The next week, they were officially introduced as Top Dolla and B-Fab. In this episode, the group was also officially named ‘Hit Row’.

Adonis and Top Dolla debuted as a tag team, defeating Ariya Daivari and Tony Nese, on the May 18 episode of NXT. Scott defeated Bronson Reed for the NXT North American Championship on the June 29 episode of NXT. This was the stable’s first, and only, championship. 

The full Hit Row group was called up during the 2021 WWE Draft. They were the 11th pick in the third round of Night 1 that took place on the October 1 edition of SmackDown. At the time of the getting drafted, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott was the current NXT North American Champion. Before heading up to the main roster, Scott dropped the title to Carmelo Hayes. 

Despite being drafted, the group was beginning to get split up. WWE released B-Fab in the November 4 round of releases. 14 days later, the rest of the group Hit Row was released on November 18. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, AJ “Top Dolla” Francis, and Ashante “Thee” Adonis were released from their contracts along with other superstars like John Morrison, Drake Maverick, Tegan Nox, and etc.

The members of Hit Row were not the first to introduce a rap gimmick within WWE. Back in 2002, John Cena introduced himself as a Vanilla Ice character who performed freestyle raps. He ended up turning this into a character who was a rapper who cut promos while rhyming. He took on the nickname The Doctor of Thuganomics and eventually began to rap before his matches. The character practically assimilated Black hip-hop culture by wearing hats and sports jerseys as part of his ring gear. Cena even said in a 2020 WWE Network documentary that the character change saved his WWE career. Sadly, this wasn’t the case for the Black rap group Hit Row.

In April 2019, Shane Strickland signed to the WWE under the ring name Isaiah “Swerve” Scott. Strickland was signed in the same class as Angel Garza and Kushida. Shane performed in Lucha Underground under the name Killshot. He was also a part of Major League Wrestling from 2017 to 2019. Shane was one of the hottest members of the independent scene when he was signed to WWE. All Elite Wrestling was announced on January 1, 2019. Following the announcement, WWE signed many hot independent wrestlers to developmental deals in a possible attempt to keep them away from the new major player. We saw another signing spree happen early this year when the company signed more than 20 talents; a majority of them being high-profile indie stars. They ended up signing Eli Drake (LA Knight), Taya Valkyrie (Franky Monet), Christian Casanova (Carmelo Hayes), Blake Christian (Trey Baxter) and Harlem Bravado (Andre Chase).

All of the members of Hit Row have released freestyles outside of the company. During their time with WWE, Hit Row released short video clips of freestyle cyphers. This showed their fans and viewers that their group was true to their identities outside of wrestling. Shane Strickland and A.J. Francis have both released official tracks. The Hit Row members were always aiming to be authentic in their promos and their representation of the Black community.

When they were with WWE, the group had merchandise out on through the WWE Shop. On the WWE Shop site, there is a banner that is displayed when items are sold out. The banner was displayed for the Hit Row shirts. This shows that there was undeniable want for the group by the audience. It has happened time and time again where wrestlers the fans love are denied opportunities. This has also happened with Bray Wyatt when he was one of the main merchandise movers. 

The group was never afraid to represent Black culture with their flows and references. Many Black fans resonated with the characters and their identities. There was an outpouring of support from fans of the group when they were released. Many questioned how the group would still function without one of the key members B-Fab. B-Fab was a manager who was able to bring a new flavor to the company through her hairstyle, her language, and even her fashion sense. As a group, Hit Row was able to bring an authenticity to a rap gimmick that we hadn’t seen previously within the company. For the time they were in NXT, they were able to be authentic Black characters who were given the opportunity to translate their real life personalities into on screen personas. It seems as though since the company has been unable to understand Black characters, the group’s fate on the main roster was sealed.