The influence of comic books on hip-hop reflects the similarities between both art forms— both constantly changing and highly influential in the culture at large. The perfect symbiotic nature of these creative forces have been firmly entrenched in my life from a young age. This week on The Comic Lounge will be a celebration of these 2 amazing art forms and how much they intertwine with one another.
From the moment Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck rapped about “swinging through your town like your neighborhood Spider-Man.” to rapper MF Doom assumed, as his lyrical identity, the notorious Marvel villain Doctor Doom. Comics are in the DNA of rap
Hip-Hop and comic books are easily accessible mediums for anyone to get into. All you need to write a rap or create a comic strip is a pencil and a notepad. The similarities rappers, DJs & graff artists share with the characters in comics is uncanny. Much like superheroes after discovering their superpowers, would select an alter-ego complete with a matching style that reflected their everyday wardrobe and personality, you see Hip-Hop head embody those same ideas. In both hip-hop and comic books, creators and creations turn trauma into triumph.
In regards to mainstream comics, the connection to hip-hop is directly linked to proximity. Both called New York home, in their humble beginnings. Not only do Hip-Hop and mainstream comic books share a spiritual bond but a geographic one as well. Perhaps one of the biggest examples is with rap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan. Like I said earlier, their lyrics are littered with comic book references and some of their alter egos even reference comic book characters such as Method Man (Johnny Blaze) or Ghostface Killah (Tony Stark).
Like RZA has said, "Both Hip-Hop and comics are about styles and personalities. Comics are about special powers. An they're about teams of n****s united in one life-or-death cause. To me, hip-hop is about the same shit".
"There's no place to hide once I step inside the room
Dr. Doom, prepare for the boom"
-RZA, "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthin To F' Wit"
The evidence is there, just look at the countless album covers by comic book artists. Bill Sienkiewicz, revolutionary comic artist on books like The New Mutants and Moon Knight, illustrated the artwork for EPMD’s Business as Usual, and to date has done the same for RZA, Kid Cudi, and T.I. Jim Mahfood would do the same for MF Grimm’s You Only Live Twice: The Graphic Novel and Felt’s A Tribute to Lisa Bonet. An my personal favorite GZA's Liquid Swords album art by the great Denys Cowan. These are just a sample of how often the two worlds mesh.
Speaking of album art, in 2015 Marvel produced a series of hip-hop variant covers, under the guidance of Axel Alonso, Editor in Chief of Marvel at the time. Comic artists recreated famous hip-hop album art re-imagined with Marvel characters. These covers served as an homage to the culture and music that influenced a generation of creators in the comic book industry.
“This variant program is an opportunity to show not only my love for hip-hop culture, but also the love of so many in Marvel's freelance community. Hip-hop inspires a lot of us. It is the musical score for a lot of our lives. This comes from a place of love.” —Axel Alonso to CBR
The intertwining of hip-hop continues to grow. In 2016, Luke Cage was set in Harlem and boasted a mostly African-American and Latin-American cast. They even had each episode named after a Gang Starr song. Then we saw the release of Black Panther which came complete with a Kendrick Lamar-curated and executive produced soundtrack.
I would be remiss if I didn't touch on Hip-Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor. I complete love letter to the history and culture of hip-hop. I'll dive further into that in another article though.
So you see, hip-hop and comics go way back and the relationship just continues to grow exponentially. It's easy to see how these two things have held such importance in my life as they have so many other. So if your'e like me, don't just go out and #ReadMoreComics, #ListenToMoreHipHop also.