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Comics Rule Everything Around Me: Rap and Superheroes

Pop quiz, hot shot. Who said this? “I got it mastered, man. In the hood I’m like Plastic Man… stretch!” No idea? What about this one: “I got Spider-Man high, I made Batman fly”? Still no idea?

It was rap superstar 50 Cent, on the song “Stretch” from his long-awaited and just-released fourth studio album “Before I Self Destruct.” As part of his continued focus on bringing true “aggressive content” back to rap, he uses superheroes as a metaphor to show just how good he is at dealing drugs. Like Plastic Man, 50 knows how to stretch. Unlike Plas, 50 stretches dope, rather than limbs.

Are you surprised that 50′s dropping comic book references? Don’t be. This isn’t a Megan Fox thing, where rappers are pretending to like comics now to be cool. Just the opposite, in fact — rap and comics have had a long, and surprisingly in-depth relationship, ever since Big Bank Hank rapped about wooing a young reporter named Lois Lane on “Rapper’s Delight.”I Can Be Your Superhero
Rap shares one very important thing with superheroes: it’s all about building a larger than life persona and entertaining people. What better way to do that than to take on a heroic persona? Dozens of rappers, if not more, have taken names directly from superheroes. Jean Grae, Big Pun, David Banner, and MF DOOM all took their names from comics, with Jean Grey, Frank Castle, The Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Doom, respectively, lending their names to the cause.

DJ Clark Kent and DJ Green Lantern may not be emcees, but as DJs and producers, they’re probably responsible for some of your favorite songs. DJ Green Lantern hosted Royce da 5’9″‘s “Bar Exam 2″ mixtape, and mixtapes with Eminem, Ludacris, The Lox, and Immortal Technique. DJ Clark Kent produced Junior Mafia’s “Player’s Anthem” and “Get Money,” instant classics both. Don’t forget about the X-Cutioners, either. They were originally known as the X-Men, and rivals to DJ Clark Kent, but a legal letter from Marvel Comics put a stop to the name, but not the music.

No One On the Corner Fanboys Like Us
Naming names is one thing. Everyone can, and has, done that. Showing off your fandom, though, is where the real gets separated from the fake. Last Emperor’s “Secret Wars Part One” and “Secret Wars II” take the classic Marvel Comics concept and flips it. Instead of heroes versus villains, Last Emp pitted rappers vs superheroes in a lyrical battle royale. Wondering who’d win in a fight between Blade and DMX, Nas and Spider-Man, or Wolverine and Method Man? Last Emp has the in-depth color commentary.

But undoubtedly the most popular group of comic book fans in rap is The Wu-Tang Clan. Though the Clan’s fondness for kung-fu samples is well-documented, their comic book influence is a serious one. Meth’s main alias is Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider. Ghostface Killah’s album “Ironman” is a rap classic, and he not only uses the alias Toney Starks, he also appeared in a deleted scene of last year’s blockbuster film “Iron Man.” Worth mentioning, though it isn’t strictly comics, is the video for Ghostface’s “Daytona 500,” which is composed entirely of clips from the original “Speed Racer” cartoon.

I’m leaving out the Wu-Tang comic book, as that’s better left in the past, Method Man’s recent graphic novel (featuring art by Sanford Greene), Denys Cowan’s cover to GZA’s “Liquid Swords,” Bill Sienkiewicz’s cover to RZA’s “Bobby Digital… In Stereo,” and the fact that the RZA has admitted to having spent part of 1998 as Bobby Digital, his superhero persona, and went looking for crime to fight. No, really. He tricked out a car, had a bulletproof suit, turned a Suburban bomb-proof, and had a butler ready to be his Alfred. Beat that, fanboys.

Comics Rule Everything Around Me
So, you’ve got the name, you’ve got the comics cred, what do you do next? Well, you’re a rapper, so you make a song about it. 50 Cent’s “Stretch” is just the latest in a long line of songs that use comics as a foundation for metaphorical manliness. Method Man contributed “The Riddler” to the “Batman Forever” soundtrack, a song and video that’s just as off-kilter as the movie it came from. Meth spends half the video pretending to be Don Corleone and the other half wearing a pilot’s helmet, goggles, and a “Batman Forever” t-shirt.

Another bizarro musical misstep were Snoop Dogg’s “Batman & Robin,” featuring Lady of Rage, who traded in rocking rough and tough with her afro puffs to rapping “Holy mackerel, Batman! I think these clowns need a backhand!” The only thing worse is Timbaland and Magoo’s “Here We Go,” a song that borrowed the melody from the theme song to the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon to create something that must be seen and heard to be believed, but really shouldn’t be heard at all.

Occasionally, there are comic references in rap that turn out actually being pretty good. Lil’ Mo’s R&B song “Superwoman” was blessed by the presence of Fabolous, who delivered a couple of clever Superman-based punchlines. The music video features a super-powered Lil’ Mo looking for the man of her dreams and more S-shields than you can shake a kryptonite stick at.

Jay-Z’s ninth album was named “Kingdom Come” in light of the fact that the retired Jay-Z was coming back to save rap. You’ve read Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s “Kingdom Come,” right? I’m sure you know of it. It was the story where a retired Superman comes back to save the world one last time. Jay’s not very subtle, but he knows how to deliver a good reference. Someone cornier than I am would say that he’s got 99 problems, but back issues ain’t one. (Sorry.)

I Know You Got Taste
So — that’s names, cred, and music down. What’s next? Oh, of course. Actually reading comics. Method Man was recently photographed with a copy of Ultimate X-Men volume 1 on his way out of court. But, if you want some really solid recommendations, you want to talk to Murs, a Los Angeles emcee.

In between making classic collaboration albums with producer 9th Wonder or Slug from Atmosphere (their latest collaboration, “Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez,” comes out this week, in fact), Murs is a comics fan. Not a closeted one, either. He hosted a party at the 2009 Comic-con International. That’s not all: Paul Pope was the opening DJ, Devil’s Due co-sponsored it, and Josh Blaylock and Jim Mahfood (creator of a special tie-in comic for the Slug and Murs collabo album “Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet”) did live art. If you missed him at the show, you probably saw him walking around the convention itself.

Murs’s album “Murs Rules the World” featured a song called “All Day,” where he shouts out LA’s Golden Apple Comics and says that he buys “Grrl Scouts, Transmetro, and Invisibles.” Jim Mahfood, Warren Ellis, and Grant Morrison? You can’t deny that the man’s got taste.

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