Marvel’s relaunch titles have been a major hit this year and, in combination with the Star Wars titles, has made Marvel dominate other publishers in 2015. Their Hip Hop variant covers where one of their most popular promotions in recent years, even when they generated controversy for highlighting the lack of diversity in both character and creator demographics. The covers came out in several runs, re-creating classic covers from albums by artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, and Busta Rhymes, using Marvel characters in the known image of the album cover. These sold almost as quickly as the Skottie Young Baby variant covers, and now a special issue has been released by Marvel on January 6th, which collects all of these issues. Known rapper and activist Killer Mike, who has made recent headlines for appearances on places like Real Time with Bill Maher and having lunch with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, has written the introduction for the special edition that outlines his lover for comics growing up.
I have two dads, both of whom played a significant role in raising me: my biological father—a conservative, pro-gun cop—and my mom’s husband—my “dad,” a liberal man of the arts with an amazing collection of records and comics. He was the one that introduced me to comics. I still remember when he gave me first copy of Uncanny X-Men. Seeing Storm for the first time—a beautiful, powerful, dark-skinned woman that looked like my mother with a Mohawk—I was instantly drawn to her.
Comics became that thing for my dad and I that was ours. Going to Atlanta’s West End Mall with him became the highlight of my week. We’d get donuts at the Krispy Kreme, chill at the comic book store next door for hours, then catch a movie at the dollar theater. So when I first got news of Marvel Comics’ Run The Jewels variant covers, my dad was the first person I thought of and the second person I told (wives, bruh). To go from sharing comics with your dad to seeing something you’re a part of actually on a comic, to seeing those covers lay the groundwork for something as big as Marvel’s Hip-Hop cover initiative is unreal. Two things I love combined? It doesn’t get any cooler.
Without question, Marvel’s Hip-Hop variants are cool because they show how far-reaching Hip-Hop’s influences has grown, but they’re even cooler when you how perfect the pairings for the covers are. Choosing Nas’ Illmatic cover for Miles Morales’ debut in the Marvel Universe proper couldn’t have been more on point. The two Wolverine covers that flip DMX’s Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood and Ice Cube’s Death Certificate—awesome! Kamala Khan taking cue fromThe Miseducation of Lauryn Hill—fitting. Outkast’s Aquemini for the Inhumans—next level. I mean, think about that last one: In the Marvel Universe there used to be two basic players: traditional super heroes (Avengers, Spider-Man) and mutants (X-Men, Wolverine); in Rap, the conversation was originally dominated by East Coast and West Coast, then Outkast came along and cemented the South as a legitimate third force to be reckoned with. Just like the Inhumans are doing this year.
Another impressive thing about these covers is the range of artists/albums chosen. Lil B’s Blue Flame cover?! Says it all. The Sugar Hill Gang, Tupac, A$AP, Kendrick, ScHoolboy, De La, Wu Tang, Wiz, Public Enemy—hell, they even figured out how to use Vanilla Ice’s cover in a way that made perfect sense! The age of Internet lists has shows us how difficult it is to please everyone, but Marvel manages to represent Hip-Hop in every one of its various incarnations since its glorious inception. This was no small feat. This was clearly done with love and the type of responsibility we could only hope more people take cue from when representing such an influential art form in my life. Not to mention they look cool as $#!#!