Rappin Max: A Brief History of Hip-Hop & Comic Books

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With a name like Birdman, I shouldn’t be surprised that he would eventually end up on a comic book cover, the moniker screams calculated crossover. Still, disbelief was my first reaction when I saw Cash Money’s CEO with the King Pin of Marvel’s universe on The Amazing Spider-Man #11 cover, throwing blogs into a frenzy. Stunna’s notorious hand rub, the infamous one-star dragonball tattooed to his bald flesh, likely a shady contract, he truly looks like the kingpin of music and corruption. And then, just a month ago, Rae Sremmurd unexpectedly appeared on the cover of Marvel’s new Captain American; they even incorporated “No Flex Zone” into the artwork. Hip-hop and comics have a noteworthy relationship, some of our most brilliant rappers – MF DOOM, Jean Grae, David Banner, and more obtained their names and image through comic book influence. But if you dig even deeper, looking at the allure of artists, hiding behind personas instead of mask, you notice our modern-day heroes are the ones dropping albums instead of fighting crime. Especially when you’re young, rappers are larger than life, we idolize the Goliaths that slung rocks to David.

Before televisions became a common household possession, comic books entertained the old and young, feeding their imaginations instead of stealing their souls like the reality shows of today. Sadly, comic books are associated with being for nerds and geeks, while hip-hop is the essence of cool and trendy. To my surprise, the cultures often overlap, in many ways that every fan of hip-hop should be familiar with. Did you know Darryl McDaniels from Run DMC has his own comic publishing house? Under the Darryl Makes Comics umbrella, he released a full-length graphic novel DMC #1. Based around the idea that Darryl never joins Run DMC, but moonlights as a tracksuit wearing crime fighter that spends his days teaching junior high English. One look at the vibrant cover, and you know it’s a hip-hop fictional fantasy. Can you imagine an Adidas shell toe wearing superhero? Fighting crime with a gold-plated, 4-finger DMC ring? He deserves his own Def Jam: Fight For NY spinoff game. I can appreciate Darryl blending his passions together, with only one issue released to the public, we hope that more will come and really leave an imprint on both cultures. You can learn more about DMC over at dmc-comics.com.

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Eric Orr also has to be mentioned, he is the man that created Rappin’ Max Robot – the first rappin’ comic. In 1986 New York, hip-hop culture was very different than it is today. Graffiti artist, break-dancers, DJ, MCs, really big Radio Raheem boomboxes dominated the scene. It was the definition of underground, but quickly gaining popularity. Eric understood that hip-hop had a connection with the spirit of comics, everything from fantastical identities to club flyers were inspired by the comic culture. His knowledge and love of both worlds inspired him to bridge the two, creating a 12 page, 500 copy, self-distributed comic that was placed in record stores and various comic shops around New York. He followed up issue #1 with two special editions, both folded 11×17″ zines that sold for 50¢ each. Even though Rappin’ Max was just a small project, it opened the door for bigger graphic projects with record labels and even a Maxwell Robot comic that ran in Rap Masters magazine. Eric announced in October that Cornell University has shown interest in purchasing the original source material for Rappin’ Max Robot for its hip-hop collection of rare books and manuscripts.The renowned Bronx artist is still around, creating art, and being a voice for hip-hop and comics.

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There’s a huge difference between American comics and Japanese comics. Japanese comics are called manga, and are a huge part of Japanese history, culture, and a major part of Japan’s publishing industry. If a series is popular enough in Japan, there’s a chance it’ll be published in volumes in other countries. One particular series, Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad has a worldwide acclaim. Even though the series is about a Japanese Rock Band trying to break into mainstream success, there’s plenty of hip-hop references that might surprise you. Manga artist, Harold Sakuishi pays tribute to Dr.Dre’s Chronic, Kanye’s College Dropout, Biggie’s Ready To Die, Common's Be, 8 Mile, The Fuugees, and various other album covers in the introduction pages, even Snoop Dogg has a gangster cameo in the series. In 2008, it was estimated to have sold over 12 million copies since its debut in 1998 - pretty cool to see how universal hip-hop was before the internet connected us all.

If you ever wondered about hip-hop’s ancient history, felt an urge for Golden Era nostalgia, or just wanted a different perspective on hip-hop, I highly recommend you look up Ed Piskor and his Hip Hop Family Tree Series. What started off as a weekly, passion project on boingboing.net has become one of the best documentations of hip-hop on the internet. Ed much like Eric is confident in his knowledge of hip-hop and how to connect the genre he loves with his art form. He started from the genesis, and has been chronicling the major moments that I’m far too young to remember like –  LL Cool J Makes a Demo, Russell Simmons Meets Rick Rubin, and Run-DMC invades MTV He’s released two volumes thus far, Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 1: 1970s-1981 and Hip Hop Family Tree Vol. 2: 1981-1983, the combined giftbox set would make a great Christmas gift for your hip-hop head boyfriend, ladies. I recommending listening to Ed's podcast with Word Balloon for a more in-depth detailing of the series, its progressing, and how hip-hop artist have reacted to him re-telling their stories. 

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Hip-hop can’t be boxed in, there’s just too much creative energy to have it wasted stuck in a prison of stereotypes. The culture is meant to mix and mingle with others, it’s the only way it will continue to expand and inspire. There's a few moments I didn't touch on, like Eminem being on the front cover with Iron Man, Wu-Tang’s Wu-Massacre comic, the Great Comics:That Never Were But Shoulda Been: Wu Tang Meets The Justice League, and Adam Wallenta fantastic Public Enemy Comic. There's plenty of notable crossovers, hopefully even more rappers will begin to see the possibilities of crossing into the comic culture, the streets need that Kendrick Lamar meets Bruce Wayne, or The Punisher and Freddie Gibbs. 

Support comics, support hip-hop, and support art that continues to shine positive light on this incredible genre.

[By Yoh, aka Captain Underpants Jr., aka @Yoh31

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