Words: James Lang
Visuals: Howie Thompson
Hip-hop and comics have always enjoyed a relationship from afar, but that’s being taken to the next level by creators such as Ed Piskor and DMC.
CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN
Hip-hop has taken influence from comics ever since rappers first spoke in rhyme over breaks. Those pioneers on the microphone name checked superheroes and super-villains, either in comparison or implying their skills were inferior to their own – see Big Bad Hank talking dirt about Superman to Lois Lane in Rapper’s Delight for an early recorded example. Personas were taken on in the fashion of heroes taking on secret identities – being superhuman, larger than life, was, and still is, the goal.
Ed Piskor, in the first volume of his book Hip Hop Family Tree (NB, Bonafide uses hip-hop with a hyphen, but we respect the original title convention of Piskor’s comic throughout this article), sums up the parallels perfectly: “alter egos, cool costumes, epic battles and iconic groups.” Comics have occasionally paid back the favour over the years, but with the explosion in popularity of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes firing the essence of comics into people’s homes more directly than ever, households are becoming more curious about the direct link back to comic books.
“I listened to this interview with Q-Tip one time where he was talking about how hip-hop is a found art form that’s basically about kids that don’t have the money to afford instruments, figuring out how to make sounds and put songs together,” recalls Jason Latour, current writer of Spider-Gwen for Marvel and artist of Southern Bastards for Image Comics. He’s also a huge Outkast fan, something I noticed when flicking through one of his sketchbooks. “That’s how I feel about how I learned how to do comics. It’s a lot of reverse engineering, and lot of what’s interesting about it is you can make it at your kitchen table. I think in that regard, (hip-hop and comics) absolutely has a place together. Personally, I like watching the two things grow together.” While listening to Outkast? “I feel like everything they do has influenced my own aesthetic on some level, because there’s a real pop gun, bubblegummy, experimental fun vibe mixed with a real street, down to earth, concrete (element) – like pink bubblegum on pavement kind of thing.”
Comic characters such as Cheech Wizard, created by cartoonist Vaughn Bodé in the late fifties (and gaining popularity through monthly appearances in National Lampoon magazine in the early to mid seventies) certainly provided a bubblegum palette on the walls of the South Bronx at a key period. Cheech, usually found drunk or high in his comic strips, appeared in early graffiti from the likes of Dondi, one of the Bronx’s most influential writers of the seventies. Such influential artists using Bodé characters ensured their place in hip-hop culture as it gestated. The first hip-hop comic came from such an artist: Eric Orr migrated his robot imagery from the walls of the Bronx into a self-published and self-distributed comic book, Rappin’ Max Robot, documenting the adventures of the title character as he took trains around the neighbourhood with his boom box and got involved in microphone battles.
When I meet Breakbeat Lou, co-founder of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series and involved in hip-hop’s Bronx birth since the age of 9, he’s curiously flicking through an issue of Hip Hop Family Tree. He points out that comics were only one piece of the puzzle. “There’s a lot of unknown factors to our culture which were embedded from the beginning. Skateboarding was there from the beginning, comic books was there from the beginning, kung-fu flicks was there from the beginning, certain games that we played. We know the five elements which is the most visible, the writing, the emceeing, the DJing, the b-boying then the knowledge aspect of it that we do on a regular basis, but it’s a little more intricate. Like skateboarding, I was skateboarding back in ‘73 myself, so we all had those friends. Professional wrestling was a big aspect of hip-hop, listen to any guys coming up in the eighties or nineties, they know every freaking wrestler that was out there. I was the same. I was into comic books, baseball cards. Playing marbles, playing Topps, in those days it was all over the neighbourhood when we were growing up.”
By the early 1980s, rap was blowing up and the mainstream media was becoming more and more aware of the elements of the culture. Comics company DC first dipped their toes into the hip-hop pool with the character of Vibe, a Puerto Rican reformed gang member who sadly remained a one-dimensional jive talker in his brief two-year stint as a member of the Justice League of America. 1988 saw Marvel Comics establish the Wolfpack, a group of teens fighting to survive in the South Bronx, who over the course of a twelve-issue series saw the horrors of violence drive them to end their enemies with a shoot out – not the greatest aspect of the culture to be celebrating.
Brandon Graham is an independent writer and artist, creator of the crazily detailed King City and Multiple Warheads fantasy series, curator of Image Comics’ Island anthology, and originally a graffiti writer. A hip-hop head, he also creatively consulted for Kanye West on a GOOD Music project. “I feel like it’s been a mostly one sided relationship in the past. With a lot of nods to comics in hip-hop, but comics overall less interested in engaging with black culture. There’s certainly been some great work done with Milestone Media (a comics imprint founded by a group of African American creators in 1993, with the aim of increasing the representation of minorities in comic books) and books like Brotherman (created by Guy and Dawud Anyabwile, establishing a black superhero in a rich, detailed world). More recently Ron Wimberly’s Prince Of Cats, which retold Shakespeare in an eighties NYC. I thought was an amazing work, that unfortunately wasn’t pushed very hard by its publisher.” This was remedied in October, with a hardcover re-release of the book by Image, documenting a Blade Runner-esque New York where duelling evolved as a cultural phenomenon along with graffiti writing and music – in its typography, style and layout, Prince Of Cats seeps hip-hop influence without it being about hip-hop specifically. Wimberley also drew the critically acclaimed Sentences, chronicling the autobiographical tribulations of Percy Carey, better known as MF Doom collaborator MF Grimm.
In 1994, Marvel Music released Break The Chain by KRS-One, under the pseudonym Big Joe Krash. The comic came packaged with a cassette to follow as the comic was read. Acclaimed artist Kyle Baker designed and drew the characters, but nothing happened after the first issue. “I would’ve liked to see what could’ve happened with the book,” says Graham. “It was poorly marketed and although really fun, I would have loved to see Baker do (more). I do really love the song and the video Baker made for it. I love that the sound to turn the page was a character saying ‘WORD!’”
“Mainstream comics has been a very solid wall of white men for a very long time,” considers Jason Latour. “I’m speaking as one, you know. You’re finally starting to see a lot more diversity in the creator set of things, and I think the more voices that we have telling stories, the opportunity there is to reach different people. I have no hard data to prove this, but it feels like most comic creators up until maybe the last five years or so, there’s 90 per cent white guys behind the table, and I’m glad to see that change.”
Comics also fed directly into albums. De La Soul used a comic strip to tell their origin story in the liner notes of 3 Feet High And Rising (1989). Drawn by Michael Uman, the panels follow the narrative of the album, right down to those ‘dings’ to turn the page. 1993’s Doggystyle saw Snoop Doggy Dogg recruit his cousin and hype man Joe Cool to create the infamous characters and comic strip adorning that landmark album.
Established comic book artists also appeared on hip-hop albums. Marvel artist Bob Camp (who went on to co-found the studio Spümcø, creators of Ren and Stimpy), cast Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force as wall-smashing superheroes for Renegades Of Funk in 1983. A year later, he drew fellow electro space cadets Newcleus (for their album Jam On Revenge) playing instruments on a battered shuttlecraft, some members floating around while the guitarist sat on a winged dinosaur – about as far away from the rubble of the South Bronx as you could get. Bill Sienkewicz, probably best known for his work on Marvel’s Elektra, painted EPMD for the cover of Business As Usual in 1990, and RZA in full on superhero blaxploitation mode for 1998’s Bobby Digital In Stereo. Spider-Man artist Chris Bachalo created some dynamic illustrations for the Method Man / Ghostface Killah / Raekwon album Wu Massacre in 2010.
An effective collab’ of the two forms came in 2005 from comic book nut Murs, fellow MC Slug, and artist Jim Mahfood, aka Food One, with the book Felt, named after the group the duo formed. The feel of underground ‘comix’ but more widely distributed, published by independent company Image Comics, the single issue of Felt included strips created around tracks on their second album, Felt: A Tribute To Lisa Bonet. “That was a blast! Those guys are good dudes. They just gave me an advance of the record, I listened to it a bunch of times, and then made the comic book. I did a short comic story about each song. Those guys basically gave me complete freedom to do what I wanted. A great gig!” recalls Mahfood, whose recent Miami Vice Remix is a great example of his graf-influenced style. How does one make comics with a hip-hop aesthetic without casting rappers as superheroes? “Good question. I’ve only made two comic books about hip-hop. The first was the aforementioned Felt comic book for Murs and Slug. The second was a book called Ask For Janice, which is all about the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique record. For that one I did a bunch of research and based a lot of the information off of Dan Leroy’s 33 1/3 book about the record. Those are the only projects I’ve ever done specifically about hip-hop. When I started putting out my own comics in the mid-nineties people started referring to them as ‘hip-hop’ comics or to me as this ‘hip-hop’ comics guy. But I never felt that way. Like most artists, I don’t like labels. I think what people meant was that the drawing style may have had a hip-hop/graffiti vibe to it. If anything, I consider my work to be more psychedelic than anything else.”
In recent years, actual comic books have appeared in albums. British hip-hop outfit A State Of Mind delivered a gorgeous gatefold LP with a 40-page comic in 2015’s The Jade Amulet, appropriately featuring MF Doom on a track. Czarface, consisting of 7L and Esoteric together with the Wu’s Inspectah Deck, were heavily influenced by the legendary Jack Kirby when it came to their branding and artwork. Their second album, Every Hero Needs A Villain, also included a comic book vital to the narrative of the LP.
2013’s Twelve Reasons To Die was artistically and musically directed by Adrian Younge, and acted as Ghostface Killah’s tenth album. Centred around a sixties crime family, the narrative carried through both on wax and in a six-issue comic series published by Black Mask Studios. The first issue came within the vinyl edition of the record. “That was Adrian’s idea, with my man Bob Perry,” recalls Ghostface, keen to talk about his contribution to the culture. “The first Adrian record was based on lil’ mobster stuff, whatever, they wanted to carry it on, do it a comic book for it because it was all built like a story, nah mean? I wrote (the lyrics), but Adrian gave me the storyline to do it. He wanted me on it, but it was his record.” Ghost’s follow up album to Twelve Reasons was 36 Seasons, which included a multi-artist comic, each handling a different page and again following and enhancing the narrative of the album. “That was Bob Perry (too). He worked up at Sony and Tommy Boy and stuff like that, he the one that brought it to me and I agreed to it.” Bob Perry also co-owns Soul Temple Records, with RZA.
Ghostface has used Tony Starks, a variation on Tony Stark, the true identity of Marvel’s Iron Man, as an alias for a long time. But not because he was an Iron Man fan. “How the Tony Starks came in, I had a cousin that read mad comic books, when we was little. But, what people don’t really know, I had one shirt, I think in ‘95, when I put that shirt on, and had my collar stood up, I felt like Tony Stark. You nah mean? So I took on the name like that. I had Iron Man, I was trying to see which one I should drop first, I had Iron Man or Supreme Clientele to be the first album. A lot of ‘em said, do Iron Man – I think the Tony Starks came before Iron Man as far as the name. It wasn’t an Iron Man shirt, I felt like it. It was a regular shirt, with three buttons here, and it was red, and it was cream. A red and cream striped shirt. It just fit with my swag at that time. And I’m like, yo’, this is my Tony Starks shirt, and Tony Starks just stuck, stuck, stuck.”
“A red and cream striped shirt. It just fit with my swag at that time. And I’m like, ‘yo’, this is my Tony Starks shirt’, and Tony Starks just stuck.” Ghostface Killah
The Wu have always been thought of as comic book heads, what with their multiple aliases and lyrical allusions to the culture, but Ghost reveals they’re not as deep as you might think. And as Breakbeat Lou mentioned above, it was actually another aspect of the culture that drew a young Ghost in. “The cartoon, Super Friends all that. Spider-Man, Batman, it wasn’t even a cartoon, it was like a TV series. I used to love all that shit.” The Hanna-Barbera Super Friends series featured DC characters (so no Spidey), and ran from 1973 to 1985. Does comic culture and hip-hop have a place at each others’ table in his eyes? “Yeah, because it’s your mind. It’s your youth. Right now, I don’t know if these kids nowadays read comic books. Coming up, like I said the Super Friends and all the stuff like that, you woulda’ had to see the cartoon, because it was live, or you was reading the book. Or doing both. Now, it’s different. Everything’s online, but they don’t even make those cartoons like they used to make ‘em no before. They getting too animated and shit. I don’t even like the boxed off faces, I don’t like that. Back then, it grew with you as a youth, as a little kid. It grew with you before your teen years and all that. So you knew these people, nah mean. Nowadays, I don’t think the babies know it like how me and you did. That’s why when I put the shirt on, I felt like that. If I never knew about Tony Starks, I would never know to say that. It might be my best shirt in my life! I don’t even know what happened to that shirt. It might have been the best shirt of my life.” It was these same cartoons (but obviously leaning more towards the Marvel stable, given he’s named after the Fantastic Four’s arch enemy) that MF Doom would go on to sample to great effect on Operation: Doomsday in 1999, mostly recorded in the basement of executive producer MF Grimm.
“I wasn’t a big comic book fan, and I’m still not,” Ghost expands. “My cousin was, he was the one that had stacks, that’s how I know the names like Nova, Thor, Daredevil and Wolverine, he used to sit there and read them, and I’d see the whole fucking room just flooded with books. I wasn’t really like, on my own, going out buying mad comic books and stuff like that. Tony Starks started from that shirt. I knew about Iron Man, Aquaman and all that, but it started from that shirt.” There must be some strong undercurrent of comics nerdery in the Wu though, surely? Who’s the expert? “Method Man by a long shot. He goes to conventions, and gets books. Method Man, even before we got with this Wu Tang stuff, he always been witty. His rhyme styles, he had mad styles, his metaphors was just crazy, nah mean. When Deck said, ‘Swinging through your town, like your neighbourhood Spider-Man’, there you go right there, nah mean. He studied, I say he studied, but we knew… we was all on cartoons as a kid, it’s gone now. But Method Man is the leader – I don’t even think nobody else read comic books in the clan. He’ll educate the whole Wu on that shit. He’s number one on superheroes, hands down. Nobody else, RZA, Genius, Raekwon, U-God – nobody got Meth on comic books. This is what he do.”
In 2014, Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC launched his own comic book universe, DMC, standing for ‘Darryl Makes Comics’. “The whole presentation of DMC universe is a tribute and celebration of comic books, the thing that it does to all of us, past, present and future, and that’s what it’s about,” he explains. “You can’t do, ‘this is a hip-hop comic thing’ – it’s over, soon as you said that. Do a comic thing! If I’m Italian, and I’m writing a comic book, it’s not an Italian comic book because I’m an Italian artist, right? When you read it, man there’s so much hip-hop in here! That’s what you want people to say. I don’t want to call it a hip-hop comic book so only hip-hop people read it. I don’t want no hip-hop people to buy my comic book! I want the rest of the world to. The Muslims, the Catholics, the Greeks, the punks, the goths, the Bugs Bunny…” DMC slaps his fist onto his hand in emphasis. “I want everybody except hip-hop people to buy my comic book, so they can experience it. Now… I subliminally got them into hip-hop. Suge Knight had it right, he just went about it wrong, chokin’ everybody up. He said, ‘we make all this stuff, we don’t own nothin’, don’t control it.’ He had it right. Hip-hop ain’t just about great rappers. So now, in the DMC universe, you’ll see punk rock. Like the real universe that I came up in, when you came up in the city in the late seventies and early eighties and you went in the club, you would see Blondie, Lou Reed, The Ramones and Basquiat, you saw artists, journalists, and artists means musicians, you saw that whole creative entity. And that’s the presentation in the DMC universe.
“I want everybody except hip-hop people to buy my comic book, so they can experience it. Now… I subliminally got them into hip-hop!” Darryl “DMC” McDaniels
“I’m not gonna’ compromise any of the integrity of hip-hop by asking for permission or trying to be easy in my presentation of issues. So, what we’re doing here is what hip-hop should be doing musically right now. We’ve had two Gulf Wars, the white cops are shooting the black kids, that’s a big issue in the States, but what about the black kids shooting the black kids? My generation of hip-hop, every record that would be in hot rotation would be about the issues now.”
CHECK THE TECHNIQUE
The editor in chief at Marvel is a hip-hop head. Axel Alonso is the driving force behind 2015’s Marvel hip-hop covers project, where classic album covers were reinterpreted with Marvel heroes. Marvel first ran with two Run The Jewels covers (for Howard The Duck #2 and Deadpool #45), and the response was so positive they decided to expand the idea to incorporate album tributes. There was some negative backlash when the project was announced, accusations of appropriation of black culture by a white-dominated company hurled at Axel, half Latino himself. Since then, the initiative has drawn attention to the company’s concerted effort to employ more creators of diverse backgrounds. “The hip-hop covers (project) showed two things: the tremendous love for hip-hop culture and music amongst Marvel fans and the love for Marvel in the hip-hop community – and by that I mean, artists and fans,” says Axel. “A side bonus was that it got the attention of a lot of people who don’t read comics and a lot of them came into stores looking for them. That said, this initiative was always the head of the spear – the ‘spear’ being a behind-the-scenes initiative to diversify our publishing line: the characters in our series and the writers and artists working on them.”
A far cry from the company’s eighties exploitation approach, Axel seems to be all about the social change that hip-hop was created for. Hip-hop cannot be separated from black identity, particularly in 2016 when America’s social climate is on fire. “Hip-hop is the preferred soundtrack for so many of our writers, artists and editors – it already influences their work. I think this initiative just did a lot to show that. We hollered at hip-hop, it hollered back, and hopefully the cultural exchange will continue. Killer Mike [Run the Jewels], Posdnuos [De La Soul] and (infamous comics fan) Pete Rock were the first three hip-hop stars to give these covers a shout-out on social media, followed by DMC, Eminem, Ice Cube, Lil B – I lose count. That said, when Nas came out and said the (new, black and Latino Spider-Man) Miles Morales/Illmatic homage cover was ‘a dream in real life’, that made my knees buckle a little.”
“When Nas came out and said the (new, black and Latino Spider-Man) Miles Morales/Illmatic homage cover was ‘a dream in real life’, that made my knees buckle a little.” Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief, Marvel
Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 has been down since he was a little kid. A lifelong comic book head inspired by his father’s collection, one look at Chali’s recent tome, Against The Current (documenting the history of his own artwork), reveals he was ‘obsessed with creating his own world, under the influence of comic books’ as he recounts in his foreword. He likes the Marvel covers project, but is keen to give props to artist Kenny Keil, who had the same idea a while back. “He remade rap albums with Marvel themed comic covers. Straight Outta Compton was Straight Outta Asgard. I went to a comic con and he was giving a little pamphlet away, and that was easily five years ago.”
It’s a long-standing pet peeve of comic book fans that outsiders view their medium as little more than a perennial superhero factory. As those in the know will tell you, comics can be about anything – as a little dig in your local comic book store will reveal. It’s telling, then, that comics’ most critically successful crossover with hip-hop comes from a documentarian perspective. Ed Piskor is a cartoonist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and — thanks to his deal with publisher Fantagraphics Books — he has complete creative control over his baby: Hip Hop Family Tree.
It’s a long-standing pet peeve of comic book fans that outsiders view their medium as little more than a perennial superhero factory. As those in the know will tell you, comics can be about anything.
“Hip Hop Family Tree, man, is like the most brilliant thing in my opinion that has ever been put together in a comic book,” reflects Chali 2na. He’s a big supporter of the merits of the book series. “Especially from a scholastic perspective, in my opinion. What I’m noticing is these dudes that say they hip-hop but don’t even know the history, which entails the etiquette, which entails all of the things that we used to follow that was silent, the unwritten rules and what have you. Just looking at it from a historical perspective, it is just documented so well. (Ed) was telling me crazy little stories about talking to different people and I was like, ‘yo’, some of that stuff you pulling out is amazing!’ I like to be able to walk away from interviews or books with a sense of, I learned something. And every time I read them shits I’m like, ‘oh, I didn’t know that!’ And I been immersed in hip-hop since ‘81 dog! I think it’s great to be documented like that. As spoiled as the newer generation is as far as success, it’s easy for them to access that history like that, it ain’t threatening, it ain’t hard to swallow, it’s right in your face.”
Jim Mahfood agrees. “Hip Hop Family Tree by the homie Ed Piskor is basically all you need. Ed has become the undisputed heavyweight champion of hip-hop and comics and no one will ever be able to touch what he did with a ten-foot pole. It sort of begins and ends there for me.”
“Ed is a major talent,” adds Axel Alonso. “Hip Hop Family Tree is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the history of hip-hop. It’s meticulously researched and expertly rendered. A piece of art.
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels adds; “Ed Piskor is smart. He’s using the comic book to do what (other) media should have been doing.” Again, DMC knocks his fist on his hand to emphasise his frustration. “He’s doing what stupid ass corporate record company people that are getting hired to run these labels (should be doing). They don’t know anything about the culture. What Ed is doing is brill-i-ant.”
In fact, Ed seems to have kick started a journey into the history of hip-hop and made it easier for others to follow. On-set reports and actors’ Instagram accounts confirm the existence of Hip Hop Family Tree volumes being used as a visual reference on the set of Netflix series The Get Down. It’s indicative of the props the comic series has gotten in the three years since the first volume was published. As Ed explains; “My thing, I have full confidence in, is a good comic. So it works with the comic crowd and it works with the hip-hop crowd. I use tricks for the storytelling that comic book people can pick up on, and be into, and whether they’re into hip-hop or not they learn about the culture. That’s my scheme.” Big names started chipping in with their thoughts too. “I guess the coolest one is Fab Five Freddy just saying that, ‘being in an Ed Piskor comic is cool enough to freeze hot water’. That’s as good as it gets, because it’s hip-hop, man. You know there’s no dick riding in hip-hop. You can’t be kissing each others’ butt all like that, I know they dig it.”
He’s not so keen on how hip-hop and comics have worked together in the past, though. “They are very insulting. I’m a part of hip-hop culture, and a part of comics culture. I feel like the rappers who make these comics, who sign their name on it… they don’t respect comics for what it is. The best thing to come out besides Hip Hop Family Tree is Sentences with Ron Wimberly and MF Grimm, that’s the second best hip-hop comics thing in existence. (The rappers) are putting together these comics which are their vision of what they think comics is, and it’s an antiquated vision, and it’s cheesy, and it’s stupid. They’re just selling these things because of their name. Comics is such a great medium, it’s not a jerk-off medium.” Piskor scoffs; “all those comics are as good as my rap record would be.”
So do hip-hop and comics have a marriage set to last? From Ed Piskor’s standpoint, covering a couple of years per large volume, the history of the genre is going to take quite a while. “It’s a lot of fun. The thing is, I do have a lot of ideas outside of Hip Hop Family Tree. I’ll probably work on it for the rest of my life in some capacity, but I do have other ideas so I might put it down for a year here and there. It’s a perfect marriage, my entire comic is a thesis about the marriage. It’d be awesome to see more hip-hop inspired stuff that isn’t even involved in the music. Like the work of Jim Mahfood, and (current Power Man and Iron Fist penciller) Sanford Greene. There’s obvious hip-hop aesthetic (to their work). Somewhere I saw RZA say something about The Man With The Iron Fists, that movie he put together, is a hip-hop movie. I know what he means by that. It doesn’t have to have rapping and a DJ and shit. It’s more spiritual. I think there’s gonna be room for people to imbue comics with more of a hip-hop spirituality.
“I saw RZA say something about The Man With The Iron Fists…is a hip-hop movie. I know what he means by that. It doesn’t have to have rapping and a DJ and shit. It’s more spiritual. I think there’s gonna be room for people to imbue comics with more of a hip-hop spirituality.” Ed Piskor
“I could tell you for a fact that not only am I bringing hip-hop people into reading comics, but I’m just getting people to read in general because in the back of the volumes, there’s the index. People don’t even know what that is. They’re like, ‘Yo, I really like that part in the back of the book that’s like the phonebook, where I can just look and see what page a guy is on, and I can go to that page.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s the index, you don’t know what an index is?’. That’s happened over ten times in the past three years, so what I’m saying is I know that I’m creating just readers… of the written word! If I get a couple good young ones who are excited about this, and then they grow up and make hip-hop inspired comics, that are just spiritually hip-hop, but it’s not a rapper stopping a train with his hands or something like that…”
“It seems like tons of comic book artists and writers, especially from my generation, grew up loving hip-hop and will always have that as a source of inspiration in their work,” says Mahfood. “It also seems that tons of hip-hop artists… MCs, DJs, and producers, grew up reading comic books and were influenced by that whole aesthetic. So who knows what the future holds, but the fact that there has been this crossover in tastes, I think that’s always going to be a positive thing. It’s like sampling, you take the best of all these different sources, blend them together, and make something new and unique.”
Axel Alonso is in agreement about that future. “This isn’t about hip-hop stars writing or drawing our comics – it’s about a cultural exchange, it’s about one art forum influencing another and vice versa. Over the decades, comics have been influenced by jazz, pop, rock. The fact that they would reflect hip-hop was inevitable.” Here’s where we’re at as we begin 2017: as a follow-up to the hip hop covers, Marvel has been run a series of YouTube trailers with commentaries from writer Ta-Nehisi Coates for upcoming issues of Black Panther, soundtracked by the likes of comic aficionados Run The Jewels, Czarface and Jean Grae.
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest handled the score for Netflix/Marvel series Luke Cage, with each episode named after a Gang Starr track. This series lived and breathed nineties hip-hop (a portrait of The Notorious B.I.G. dominated the wall of the big baddie Cottonmouth’s’s crib) – showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker is a former rap journalist, and polished the script of the Straight Outta Compton movie. As Luke Cage featured a prominently black cast and team behind it, so too will 2018’s Black Panther movie, led by director Ryan Coogler.
Marvel are into their second ‘season’ of record sleeve-sampling covers, with tributes to modern artists seeping into the developing palette. Hip Hop Family Tree, now on its fourth volume, continues to gather fans from outside of hip-hop, as well as reassociate hip-hop artists to their own history, pulling all comers into the origins of the form like an illustrated vortex. The final monthly edition of the comic contained a playable record postcard containing a mix by DJ Jorun Bombay (with a download link, naturally).
As all this feeds into young and old minds alike, its influence can’t fail to be felt down the years… and the cycle continues.