When I was in elementary school, my dream was to become a comic book artist. I would spend hours drawing my favorite Marvel or DC superheroes. My Superman had to virtually fly off the paper and my Wolverine wasn’t complete without his trademark scowl. Naturally, like most kids my age, I dreamed of having powers. In my mind, it was actually possible if I just focused hard enough. To get closer to my goal, I begged my grandmother, a seamstress by trade, to make me a realistic Spider-Man costume. She agreed. I became the envy of all my friends since it was a hundred times better than the cheap plastic version sold in stores at the time. Then one day, just like Peter Parker, I was bitten, not by a spider but by Hip Hop. And it gave me my very own powers.
Superheroes and mythical characters have influenced Hip Hop culture ever since Clive Campbell, Joseph Sadler, and Theodore Livingston became Kool Herc (short for Hercules) Grandmaster Flash and Grandwizard Theodore. 70’s Kung Fu movies like the Mystery of Chess Boxing and Five Deadly Venoms introduced bizarre yet powerful characters whose physical prowess and mystical wisdom were integrated into Hip Hop’s elements and foundational philosophies. At a time, and in an environment where life’s hardships were common, the ability to imagine alternative realities where good triumphs over evil was an important, maybe even life-saving skill to possess.
For many of us, these fictional superheroes gave us the imagination, motivation and confidence to become real-life superheroes. Our shell toe Adidas, sweat suits, Kangols, gold chains, and Cazals became our costume
; an air brushed logo
on a sweatshirt, our emblem. Through our mics, our spray cans, our cardboard pieces, and our Technics 1200, we fought against our archenemies like crooked cops, corrupt governments, racism, and a shady music industry. We belonged to crews or organizations such as the Universal Zulu Nation which acted as our very own Justice League. We felt invincible.
Groups like Wu-Tang Clan created an entire image and genre based around superheroes and martial arts. They named themselves and their home base after classic Shaw Brothers films and took on superhero titles like Ghostface Killah aka Iron Man and Method Man aka Johnny Blaze. With their trademark emblem, the famous W
, resembling Batman’s logo
, forever engrained into our collective consciousness, they managed to become the closest thing to real superheroes Hip Hop has ever had.
Hip Hop has always been about strength, heroism and at times, dominance, whether it is the B-Boy/Girl who defies gravity while battling rivals, the graffiti artist who creates new dimensions through the magic of paint, the MC who defeats competitors with razor-sharp verbal darts or the beatboxer who manipulates sounds waves and frequencies. To that point, back in 1998, rapper Last Emperor exemplified this idea with the release of “Secret Wars”
, a song inspired by Marvel Comics’ legendary 1984 series, Secret Wars
, which finds the Avengers and X-Men up against villains like Dr. Doom, Dr. Octopus and Ultron. No different than an MC battle where each contender must fight for their reputation, the song pits superheroes like Professor X and Storm against MC’s such as KRS-One and Lauryn Hill in an all-out battle. The concept is genius. And in the end, Hip Hop wins.
Ironically, like a real-world secret war, unseen forces have been cleverly manipulating Hip Hop in hopes of fulfilling some nefarious agenda. But at its roots, Hip Hop culture is about conquering adversity. So while it may seem that “super-villains” have hijacked and infiltrated the culture, rest assured that Hip Hop’s defenders are hard at work, using their powers to stop the “Green Goblins” of the industry from destroying the culture that gave us the strength to change the world. In the end, good will triumph over evil.