Last year, Marvel Comics combined the powers of comic book art and music to create an impressive line of hip-hop inspired variant covers for its comics. The company's artists created covers inspired by those from classic hip-hop records like DMX's Flesh Of My Flesh, Notrious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die and Dr. Dre's The Chronic. And thankfully, Marvel recently announced another set of hip-hop variant covers including featuring fan favorite characters like Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Nova.
The concept is probably silly to some, because on the surface there aren't many similarities between comic books and hip-hop. But as a fan of both, I beg to differ.
I remember my cousin telling me that hip-hop wouldn't last past the '90s. He just couldn't understand it, and didn't even consider it music. At school, the kids thought it was weird that I could go from listening to Onyx, Scarface, and the Wu Tang Clan to reading Wolverine's adventures. People found it odd that someone could have tastes in two things that were completely different. But while they found the two different, I saw similarities. And Marvel's variant covers are the perfect encapsulation of the connection between comic book and hip-hop cultures.
Bridging The Gap Between Comics And Hip-Hop
Comic book fans and hip-hop lovers are used to having their passions prejudged by the masses. Some people think hip-hop is mostly gangster rap and exclusively talks about shaming women and making money while glorifying the dark side of life on the streets. And on the flip side, comic books have consistently been considered nothing but cartoon pictures for kids with little narrative substance. Both mediums are commonly misconceived by outsiders, because those thoughts are flat out false.
People who thought hip-hop wouldn't last are the same people who couldn't get past the "N" in N.W.A. to see the passion behind the words and their story. They couldn't perceive that the stories these men and women were telling were representations of the lives they lived every day, mostly because it didn't come from a place they knew much about or chose to engage with through the music. Just like people can't get past something because they can't understand and call it garbage, some people can't get past the art work of a comic book and call it childish because of their ignorance.
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Deeper Meanings Behind The Art
For fans of hip-hop and comics, there's a lot more to the art than just slick rhymes or colorful heroes. People who read comics understand that there is so much more to the book than the pictures. Take The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 2, Issue 36 as an example. The issue followed Spidey as he grappled with the emotional hardships of 9/11, looking at how everyday New Yorkers dealt with the aftermath of the event and its impact on the country as a whole. Marvel alone has featured plenty of stories dealing with weighty issues, from the prejudice repeatedly seen in the X-Men books to the racism Black Panther dealt with during his '70s battle with the Ku Klux Klan, and issues of equality and representation seen with the rise of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel. These stories might be accessible for kids, but they certainly aren't childish.
Similarly, hip-hop's greatest attribute has been artists that make an effort to discuss the problems of the world. Songs like "U.N.I.T.Y." by Queen Latifah, "Strange Ways" by Madvillain (who uses a lot of Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom references) and "Fight The Power" by Public Enemy all deal with real issues and hardships people face every day. Not all rappers and musicians deal with heavy subjects or social commentary, but that doesn't mean hip-hop as a whole is worthless. Just like comics, it's accessible for everyone because of its deeper messages.
Comics And Hip-Hop Are Connected
Another thing people probably never realized is how often we see hip-hop nods in comic books and vice versa. And no group illustrates this better than the Wu Tang Clan. The Wu has been one of hip-hops most popular and influential groups since the early '90s thanks to their unique style and aesthetic that blends urban rap culture with everything from karate movies to comic books.
Even the names of Wu Tang's most popular members take inspiration from comics. Ghostface Killah used to call himself "the Tony Stark of hip-hop." In fact, Ghostface Killah's first album was actually called Ironman, and he even ended up in a deleted scene from 2008's Iron Man movie. Method Man was another rapper who went by a comic book alias, calling himself Johnny Blaze after Marvel's Ghost Rider. Members have referenced everything from Ghost Rider to Spider-Man in their music, proving that even the most respected hip-hop artists have a nerdy side.
Marvel's Variant Covers Prove The Connection
Marvel Comics's line of variant covers serves to strengthen the already strong bonds between comic books and hip-hop culture. The variants not only promote new comics with cool art, but they also promote the album they pay homage to. You'll have comic book fans who don't know about these albums possibly seek them out, and hip-hop fans who want to grab some sweet art checking out some interesting comics.
Hip-hop fans and comic books fans have always been perceived as outcasts. People have always looked down on the art we love because it diverges from the norm. But we have a "love us or hate us" attitude when it comes to being looked down on, and that attitude unites both groups. We may have been scoffed at during the '80s and '90s for enjoying "childish" comics and "thuggish" music. Well, it's now 2016 and those two cultures that you thought would disappear are now flourishing more than anyone could have imagined.
Do you think there's a connection between comic books and hip-hop? Let us know in the comments below.