No other comic book company has embraced hip hop culture quite like #Marvel. Over the years, they have done everything from releasing rapper biography comics to promotional comics where #Eminem beats up The Punisher. Unless Image had a Walking Dead/Big KRIT crossover I am unaware of, I think it's safe to say Marvel has represented rap regularly. Of everything the comic company has done, one of the most critically praised has been the series of hip hop-inspired variant covers they have been doing for the past two years.
After some experimenting with hip hop-based covers in 2014 Marvel Comics went all in and began a series of cover variants based on album covers. Showing a knowledge for the culture, artists like Humberto Ramos and Adam Hughes have cherry picked from all kinds of hip hop. We've seen riffs on everything from modern classics like Drake's Nothing Was The Same to classic albums like Eric B. and Rakim's Paid in Full. They've even shown some serious street cred referencing underground rappers like MF Doom and Kool Keith. With a new set announced on October 30th and nearly 100 to choose from, now seems like a great time to look back at the 10 Dopest Marvel Hip Hop Variant Covers.
10. Old Man Logan
Album: Ice Cube's Death Certificate
Things have been rough for everyone's favorite X-Man. With his healing factor gone, Wolverine died destroying the Weapon X program in 2014's "Death of Wolverine." Since then, he has been replaced by Old Man #Logan, a time-displaced #Wolverine similar to the one featured in the upcoming Logan.
This is what makes using Ice Cube's Death Certificate so great. Perhaps best known for including the diss track "No Vaseline," it is actually a fairly political album dealing with issues happening around the the time of the LA riots. Replacing Uncle Sam on the cover with Wolverine is not only a fun gag, but a nice way of showing the switch to #OldManLogan.
9. Luke Cage
Album: LL Cool J's Bigger and Deffer
A product of the '70s Blaxploitation boom, Luke Cage has since become one of Marvel's best representations of street culture. This can most easily be seen in the recent #Netflix show. From the appearances from Method Man and Jidenna to the funky Adrian Younge soundtrack, a #LukeCage cover feels like a no-brainer. There is no one better to take inspiration from than a fellow New York-native — LL Cool J.
Going with a Cage's original look, it features the Hero for Hire on the hood of a car in front of an apartment building mimicking LL's stance. What makes it stand out are the little details; the coolest of which is Cage bending the fence he is holding onto. Touches like that make it stand above the other variant covers for this Defender.
8. All New Inhumans
Album: Future's DS2
By 2015, Future was one of the biggest stars in rap thanks to his original use of auto-tune, fire beats from Metro Boomin and a rapping style nobody has been able to quite duplicate. After a consistent string of successful mixtapes he released his first hit album, DS2. One of the coolest parts of the album is the cover.
Taken from Shutterstock, it is a stock photo of a drop of ink in water. As abstract as the cover is, it somehow feels right for The Inhumans. Keeping the original's general shape, it features several of the Inhumans appear in the plume of color. Something so weird and unusual feels totally appropriate for some of Marvel's OTHER Merry Mutants.
Album: DMX's Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood
There are few Marvel characters with as tragic a backstory as the other Wolverine, X-23. A clone of Logan, she was born to be a living weapon for Weapon X. After being forced to kill her mother, she went looking to the X-Men for redemption.
As on the nose as using Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood may be, it is the perfect choice thanks to rapper DMX. He came on the scene with a gruff style and rawness few other rappers possess. Like X-23, his personal demons have caught up with him time and again. Still, every now and then he makes an appearance and it looks like redemption is in reach for Dark Man X.
Album: Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book
Over the past few years there has been a youth movement in the Marvel Universe — a second generation of heroes taking the mantle from their predecessors. One of the first characters to do this was Sam Alexander as Nova. The same is happening in rap and one of the rappers leading the charge is Chance The Rapper. Breaking out with 2013's Acid Rap, he has done the impossible, successfully navigated the music industry as an independent artist.
His latest mixtape, Coloring Book, has propelled him to the next level, charting on Billboard 200, an amazing performance on Ellen and several endorsement deals. More importantly, it has the perfect cover for a young, space-faring hero. Slightly recolored, it features a smirking Nova against a spacey purple backdrop. His Nova helmet a suitable replacement for Chance's "3" snapback. With a cooler color palate and a more relaxed look, this Nova color is one of the low-key best looking Marvel variants.
5. Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows
Album: Nas's Life Is Good
Fans of #SpiderMan and Mary Jane have been through the ringer for the past decade. With their marriage broken up in the controversial "One More Day" arc, the two have been friends and confidants, but not much past that. Luckily for fans of this couple, Marvel is launching Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. A Secret Wars spin-off, it stars a more Peter Parker, Mary Jane and their daughter Annie as they fight crime together in New York City.
This family element is what makes the choice of Life Is Good so inspired. The latest album from prolific rapper Nas, it saw him step away politics and took listeners on a more introspective journey. Approaching 40 at the time, the former Nas Escobar discussed things like aging in hip hop, his divorce from Kelis and trying to be a good father. Beautifully illustrated by Sam Spratt, it's the perfect choice for a comic about one of Marvel's most prolific young adults growing up.
4. Contest Of Champions
Album: GZA's Liquid Swords
Another Secret Wars spin-off, Contest of Champions is about cosmic beings The Collector and The Grandmaster pitting heroes against each other. Featuring characters from across the multiverse, we got everyone from Iron Man and Venom to Daredevil's mentor Stick and Maestro, the evil Hulk. Who better to soundtrack this epic battle than the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA and his album Liquid Swords?
Considered one of the best rap albums of all time, Liquid Swords is best remembered for GZA's sharp lyricism, flawless execution and some amazing Rza production. Making it even more original is its comic book style album cover. Drawn by Densys Cowan, it is one of the earliest rap albums to use a comic book artist for the album art. Even cooler, Marvel hired Cowan to draw the cover for Contest of Champions. Attention to detail like this is what makes Marvel's variant covers such a success.
Album: NWA's Straight Outta Compton
At this point NWA needs no introduction. With anthems like "F*ck The Police" and "Gangsta Gangsta," their brash, unapologetic style has made them names to fans, outsiders and even the US government. Thanks to 2015's #StraightOuttaCompton, these rap revolutionaries have become household names all over again. It was only natural for Marvel to do a take on Straight Outta Compton.
What I am most impressed by is how accurate this cover is to the actual cover. Artist Adam Hughes pretty much nails every detail. MC Ren's aggressive stance, check. Nico Minoru pointing her staff like Eazy-E, check. He even got someone to stand in for Arabian Prince, which the movie forgot to do. The best variant covers are a mix of the musicians and traits from the superhero and this A-Force cover does exactly that.
2. Black Panther
Album: Jay Z's The Black Album
If there were a king in hip hop it would have to be Jay Z. One of the best to grace the mic, his story is the stuff of legend. Starting as a drug dealer who happened to rap, he took over for a fallen king (Notorious BIG), is married to one of the biggest names in the world, and after decades putting in work, he is still one of the biggest names in the game. Does this sound similar to a certain Wakandan ruler?
If you still aren’t convinced check out Brian Stelfreeze's reimagining of Jay Z's The Black Album. Keeping it mostly the same as the original, the only really big change is that #BlackPanther wearing his mask as opposed to Jay's fitted cap. Despite its simplicity, it is a striking image of a king about to get things done. It is a clever design choice that does right by the kings of New York and Wakanda.
1. Miles Morales / Illmatic
Album: Nas's Illmatic
If Jay Z is the king of hip hop then Nas is the soul. A Queensbridge native, Nas had been one of the best MCs since his 1994 debut Illmatic. This classic album dealt with urban decay, life in the projects and the very human elements of being young and the grimy parts of New York.
Across the Brooklyn Bridge is a similar young man, Miles Morales. One of the current Spider-Men, he is a teenager who grew up around criminals, most notably his uncle Aaron. Even with this culture of crime around him, Miles is the first to stand up and fight evil. Despite a mixed reception, Morales has grown to be one of the most popular young heroes Marvel has right now. With the cover getting the seal of approval from Nas himself, it's easy to understand why this can be considered Marvel's best hip hop variant cover yet.
What More Can I Say?
Marvel doesn't seem to be done with these covers. In fact, they seem to be digging even deeper with covers inspired by less mainstream artists like Consequence and Masta Ace. With Marvel looking to change after Civil War II and countless classic album covers, it will be exciting to see what the comic juggernaut has planned next.
Did I miss your favorite cover? Is there an album you would like to see featured? Hit up the comments and let me know.