To the surprise of many, the relationship between hip-hop culture and comic books has been a bastion for creativity ever since the boom and bap first emerged from the South Bronx back in 1973. Back in October, Allhiphop.com’s Chuck Creekmur moderated a panel of rap illuminated ones who have been at the pinnacle of rhyme and beat excellence at the second annual “Boom! Bap! Hip-Hop & Comics! 2014”. In attendance were Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of the legendary Run DMC and publisher of the new illustrated hip-hop action hero DMC, Q-Unique of the legendary Arsonists, hit-making producer Young Guru, DMC editor-in-chief and famed graphic artist Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and former hip-hop artist turned producer and proprietor of "Geek Mode" Kwame Holland. To me, a lifetime lover of both hip-hop and comic books, the gathering was indeed a sight to see. Though the New York Comic Con took place almost two months ago, the words of comic book knowledge and hip-hop wisdom dropped by the collective further cemented my belief that comic books could quite possibly be the ethereal sixth pillar of hip-hop.
First up on the microphone was Mr. DMC himself. Peep game on how hip-hop was inspired by comic books.
“My favorite character has always been the Hulk, which some people think is weird. Even with Run,” DMC explained. “He would be like ‘You’re the nice guy. Go over there and tell those people they can’t come in. The reason why it’s the Hulk is because I identified with him because he was misunderstood. The reason I love the Hulk is because I’m a real, real, real….sometimes I’m too soft. But you don’t want to get me mad. Crash through walls, knock down doors! My whole delivery, my whole presentation, my whole rhyme style was from comic books.”
“I tell kids they only have two gangs, Crips and Bloods. We had 50 of them. Get your money taken, get your fresh Adidas taken. Life was crazy,” he explained. “Comic books gave me confidence, they educated me and they also taught me how to deal with the world.”
Though many of us have been inspired by this beautiful illustrated medium of communications, a great deal of individuals who enjoyed the genre in their youths fell off the comic book aficionado map for one reason or another. DMC told those in attendance that he owes a great deal of his musical success to comic books as well and why his allegiance of comic books is unceasing.
“Joseph Simmons, Rev. Run, DJ Run, he knew ‘That kid Darryl McDaniels that goes to my school. He’s a smart mother******. He’s got a great imagination from these comic books and he can write.’ So we went to go make the first record, he calls me up. ‘Yo, D. Russell’s going to let me do this record. Grab your rhyme book.’ True story, we go to the Green Street Recording Studios and we’re going down the stairs and the only things I knew from hip-hop were techniques, mixers, turntables, microphones, Cold Crush, Fantastic Five and all of that. So we go into the studio with the gold plaques on the wall, I’m pretending I’m in a comic book. We walk into the studio and I’m like ‘I’m entering the boom box.’ So every time he would bring me a beat I would be like ‘What would the Hulk do to this beat?’ Naturally, crash through walls. When I heard ‘Hit it Run’ I thought, what would Spider-man do?’ I wasn’t the kid that wanted to make ‘King of Rock’, but because I had comic books I could create the alter ego.”
Indeed, while that may be history from a musical perspective, Darryl McDaniels continues to make history with his relationship with comic books through his Darryl Makes Comics publishing company. Moderator Check Creekmur acknowledged his astonishment at the participation of some of the panel’s participants and their emersion as dual citizens in the hip-hop and comic book cultures as well.
“The one person on this panel who I would have never thought would be into comics would be Guru,” said Creekmur. “For those that don’t know, he’s a world famous producer, engineer. Cool dude, activist and now comic book head.”
“Not just now,” responded Guru. “I’ve been one forever. My father was a heavy, heavy collector. If you go in my son’s grandparents’ garage right now, you’ll see a Conan #1, you’ll see a Spider-man #1, you’ll see a Black Panther #1, you’ll see a Thor #1…”
“What’s that address?” Q-Unique joked.
Guru, whose list of collaborators include some of the greatest artists of the past two decades like Jay Z, Beyonce, Rihanna, Ludacris, Ghostface Killah and Mariah Carey tp name a few. One would think that such an accomplished producer simply wouldn’t have the time to hone his craft and become immersed in the comic book culture as well. But one would be wrong. Let Young Guru tell it, he’s a comic book lifer.
“It wasn’t until my junior high school years that I started taking it seriously as far as making sure everything was preserved,” he explained. “I bought a new vacuum for my father’s collection, and I just started getting more into comic books. I think comic books really grew up at that point. It was less about action all the time. It was about some really good stories. The first time I read Akira I really didn’t understand it. But as I grew up and got a little more mature I got it. I just got bit by the bug early. For me, it’s not all about the art but more about the stories and the development of characters. Really, in comics you learn about the human experience. That’s absolutely what it is.”
For those that may not know, the Arsonists have carved out a niche for themselves as one of the last remaining practitioners of hip-hop in its unpolluted or diluted incarnation. Q-Unique told those in attendance of his lifelong connection with the genre as well. Similar to Young Guru, it was a family affair.
“It’s interesting how I got into comics,” said Q-Unique. “What was interesting about it is my Dad was real strict about it. He would make me put them in order and make sure everything was neat and clean, and learn all the artists’ names. And I was like ‘You do want me to do good in school, right? Where am I going to work at? Midtown Comics?’ So, what I did was, after becoming a part of that world, I always kept it part of my repertoire. Even today, I have a picture of the Arsonists and I convinced them all to put on superhero shirts. We all had them underneath button down shirts. So, when we got to the stage I was Batman, one was the Flash, one was the Punisher. So, I would keep that influence going even now to this latest release, Marvels Team-Up where I had a graphic artists design this cover and he made all the rappers look like different superheroes and stuff like that. So, it’s always been a part of who I am. And, I still geek out. I love this world and I think I’m always going to love it. I was geeking out yesterday with Chris Claremont. I was like ‘It’s Claremont’ and my son is like ‘A’ight, can we go to the merchandise table now?’”
With such a creativity dependent musical genre as hip-hop, everyone involved in a respect project has to really be on the top of their respective games in order to make a hit that just might out live them. DMC (Darryl Makes Comics) editor-in-chief Eduardo Martinez explained how this ragtag group of hip-hop lifers came to be involved in comic book publishing.
“It actually started about eight years ago at a Hip-Hop Theater Festival. I was talking to my friend Sucio and we were just kicking it. I was actually wearing a full body screen print t-shirt of Amazing Spider-man. And, the guy standing next to Sucio was gawking me hard. He literally wasn’t even giving me eye contact. I’m talking to Sucio like ‘What’s up with this guy? He’s bugging.’ He was like ‘Hey, I’m sorry, my name is Riggs. That started this geek friendship between me and Riggs. Riggs is who he is in the music industry, and I got mad love and respect for that, but when it comes to our friendship we never talk music. We always talk comic, sci-fi and what not. So, At that time I had already curated my first art exhibition with Marvel. It was actually Joe Quesada’s first solo art show ever. And I was playing around with the idea of doing another exhibition and I pitched it to Riggs. What was dope about that exhibition was not so much the art, mad props to the artists, but what was dope about it was the audience. It was who came out to the show. Riggs was like ‘I’m going to go into my contact list. It was the first time that people in the Hip-Hop industry sat in a gathering space or in a room in general with people from the comic industry. You had people like Pete Rock show up with a stack of comic books because he wanted to get them autographed. You had Axel Alonso, the senior editor of Marvel geeking out, coming up to me with his iPhone like ‘Yo, I got Mecca and the Soul Brother on my phone right now.’ It was an amazing union of these two worlds. When people in the comic book industry got of work, a lot of them talked about hip-hop. When people in the music industry got off work, we talked about comics. That was the first time that these universes collided.”
“He opened up the door and DMC was standing right there. What came after that was a three hour conversation about our love for comics, our heartbreaks over comics and these different things. What culminated out of that was this one question that I asked Darryl ‘If you were going to start your own publishing company, what would you call it?’ and he was like ‘Uh…DMC…Darryl Makes Comics.’ If you want a comic book, don’t wait for somebody to make the comic book. It’s kind of like when Ghandi said if you want to see change in the world, be the change yourself. So I felt like ‘We need to make this comic book. Whether you work with me or not. It has nothing to do with me, it has nothing to do with Riggs, just talk this over with your partner Eric and when you’re ready come back to me.”
And DMC did get back to him and the rest was almost history at that point. As the testimony continued, Riggs Morales explained how he managed to get involved as well.
“I was a music journalist who transitioned to the executive side of things working for Eminem for 10 wonderful years. Throughout the course of my career I’ve always incorporated how comic books have inspired this thing that we do. When I look at this panel; DMC being inspired by comics and becoming this legend rapper, or whether it’s Guru convincing Jay Z to use the Kingdom Come theme, one of the greatest graphic novels in modern comic book times, as a song and an album title and you start to see these little things. When you connect the dots you realize we’re not spoken for. So I’ve been on a relentless pursuit to acknowledge both in a way that is legit. Like the Rock Steady Crew. If you’ve ever seen Rock Steady at work it’s like a group of ninja infiltrators kind of thing. It’s been this way for a long time, but this thing is only the beginning. But, I started coming across people that were inspired by comic books in their work and it just became way too obvious.”
“Quiet as was kept, Em was always a comic book head,” he continued. “He would start coming out of the closet in a very expensive way. He’d call and say ‘Hey, can you get me Spider-man #1?’ He didn’t want the Spider-man from 1991. He wanted the original in mint condition. So, he’s got a pretty extensive collection now. It’s really cool. This mission to connect both had started with the DMC comic brand, but it’s going to evolve into something else as time goes on. I think it’s our time. Just look at the movies now, everyone in this room can say ‘I told you so.’”
With the refreshingly sincere testimony given by all who participated in “Boom! Bap! Hip-Hop & Comics! 2014” panel we hope our readership understands why we saw it fit to publish part one of this eye-opening information about the heretofore unseen symbiosis between hip-hop and comic books.
Read Part 2 of our series here as Young Guru explains how his knowledge of comic books helped Jay Z craft a classic album and much more.