Superheroes and the World of Hip-Hop

todayMarch 31, 2023 72 4 5

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By Adrianna Elias
Rap/Hip-Hop Journalist

June 2, mark your calendar for an Avenger-level threat: Spider-Man and music fans are being fed! As one of the Spider-Man fans you should fear, I am excited to tell you that it is rumored that Metro Boomin is making music for the upcoming film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Considering this news, allow me to remind you of a harmonious relationship between rap/hip-hop and Marvel throughout time.

Take yourself back. It’s the beginning of 2018, and you’ve been anticipating “Black Panther” to hit theaters. You’ve just sat down in a crowded theater after a 30-minute wait in line. After watching “Black Panther,” you are taken aback. A movie this good cannot be that short. Like any good Marvel fan, you stay for the end credits scene, and as the credits roll, you hear it: Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” featuring SZA. Not only am I transported back to this exact moment when I listen to the song, but I’m also overcome by the emotions it brings with it.

All the Stars” was the first single from the album Black Panther: The Album, released in January. A young Ryan Coogler approached Kendrick Lamar to collaborate on a theatrical album to accompany his film. After its approval by Disney, the music industry began buzzing and, upon seeing the movie, the album takes on a whole new meaning and goes on to win a Grammy. From that moment forward, I was listening to “King’s Dead” and “Paramedic!” on repeat.

Metal sharp claw necklace on a black background
Black Panther the Album by Kendrick Lamar | Image Credit: Album Cover by Nikolas A. Draper-Ivey

Stay in 2018 with me; it’s early December, and you’ve been holding onto the little bit of Spider-Man you saw in 2017, anticipating “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” to be an extension of that. Throughout the movie, you are doing a little shoulder shimmy because every aspect of the film has a perfectly curated song to go along with it, yet another incredibly well-done album to accompany the world and characters of the Marvel universe.

I am almost 99% sure there isn’t a single person who doesn’t know the song “Sunflower,” which played in the iconic intro scene of the movie. There are big names like Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Wayne, Denzel Curry, Jaden Smith and Vince Staples credited on the accompanying Spider-Verse album, which introduced me to Duckwrth and sent me into a binge of his whole discography.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Album Cover

Now, let’s go way back. Why do rappers often identify with superheroes and talk about them in their projects? Rap and hip-hop have long used the idea of “heroes” as a point of reference and have a framework that includes comics. For instance, the entire persona of MF DOOM is named after the Marvel villain Doctor Doom, also sporting a metal mask like the one worn by the antagonist in comic books. 90s group Wu-Tang Clan frequently makes references to heroes and uses comic book imagery for their album artwork.

Rappers’ understanding of superheroes and their larger-than-life personalities requires them to create their own secret identities to fully express their art. Just as comic books and superheroes are influences on culture, rappers have the power to help people build community and showcase how they’ve transformed tragedy into triumph.

There are plenty of East Coast rappers who live in the home of many superheroes’ fictional world, New York. In that case, the relationship between hip-hop and mainstream comics is based on closeness, as when they were young and poor, they both called New York home. Hip-hop and popular comic books have a geographical, as well as a spiritual connection, with one of the best examples being arguably the Wu-Tang Clan, a supergroup of rappers.

As mentioned before, the Wu-Tang Clan is one of the most influential hip-hop collectives of all time. They broke through the music scene when they curated the perfect multicultural influences, telling stories with the use of all things comic book, science fiction and kung-fu related. While a lot of the music themes in America dealt with American experiences and ideals, Wu-Tang went international, combining the gritty daily life of poverty in Staten Island with the fantastical elements of martial arts and superheroes.

The alternative sound of the 80s and 90s was disrupted by the “Wu-Tang style,” with the crew at its loudest and most aggressive, letting everyone know who they were: a force not to be reckoned with.

In the same way, rappers love superheroes for the way they can see themselves in them, and fans of rap can identify with different artists in the same way. Having a piece of media represent your everyday life, like growing up in poverty or simply being interested in the same nerdy themes underlining the music, actively builds a cult following and a collective to be a part of.

Featured Image from Bachalo and Haldi 

Written by: Amaya Lewis

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