The worlds of hip-hop and comic books collide a lot more than you may realize; whether it's a rapper like Zev Love X needing a new start and being inspired by a major Marvel villain to become MF Doom, the use (and influence) of the massive Power Records catalog on the likes of The Beatnuts, Esoteric, and Eminem, or even this snippet from Years of Future Past, taken from Marvel's massive Secret Wars event:
As you should have seen, Marvel has been remixing some of your favorite hip-hop album covers with some of your favorite Marvel characters for their Marvel Hip-Hop Variants series, which are set to to drop in October. Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso says, “For years, Marvel Comics and Hip-Hop culture have been engaged in an ongoing dialogue. Beginning this October, we will shine a spotlight on the seamless relationship between those two unique forces.”
We got a chance to speak with Damion Scott, a writer and artist who's worked on numerous books for DC Comics (Batman, Robin, Batgirl) and Marvel (Web of Spider-Man, Ghost Rider), and has also linked up with Daryl McDaniels, a.k.a. the DMC from Run-DMC, on his "Daryl Makes Comics" project. Scott was commissioned to flip the cover art from Outkast's 1998 album Aquemini album with Black Bolt and Medusa from the Uncanny Inhumans series. He breaks down what it was like to work on the Marvel Hip-Hop Variants series, his lifelong love of hip-hop, and much more.
I guess the first—and most obvious—question is how did the Hip-Hop Variants series come about?
I think the idea may be Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso’s brain child. Axel is a big hip-hop fan. I can only guess that he put in the push to get this in play.
The covers span a pretty wide range, from The Roots to 50 Cent. Did Marvel have any input on the covers that were used, or was that all your choice?
That was Marvel's choice. They had to cover a few different bases in figuring out what Marvel titles to use and what records could be represented. If it were left up to the artists, we all would have chosen our favorite characters and albums, which may have lead to some doubling up of ideas. I know a few of the other artists and we probably would have fought over who would do Ready to Die, Illmatic, and 36 Chambers.
Were there any deeper reasons behind matching the different Marvel characters to the covers they were being re-imagined in?
I think matching the covers up came through a variety of reasons. In some cases there are humorous associations—like with the Howard the Duck/ODB cover. In some its just phonetic like with the Doctor Strange/Dr. Dre cover. With my cover it was the other-worldly vibe of both the Aquemini cover and the Uncanny Inhumans. That’s what’s kinda fresh about these covers—it's finding the connection between the Marvel characters and the hip-hop artists/albums; it's different in each case.
You’ve had quite the background in comics as well, with your work being featured in everything from Batman to Spider-Man books, as well as working on "Darryl Makes Comics" with the legendary DMC. How important was it to you to be involved with Marvel’s Hip-Hop Variants project?
It was very important to me to be a part of this project. I’ve seen the potential for a bridge between hip-hop and comics since the beginning of my career. It was an honor to work on a hip-hop/comic project that also paid homage to the real recording artist and records that I grew up with. Also, a bunch of the artists that Marvel selected are guys that I felt shared the same passion for hip-hop. We’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time—it's great to see it come into fruition.
We’ve seen your aforementioned Outkast/Uncanny Inhumans cover; can you talk about the process behind transforming the Aquemini cover to highlight Inhumans like Black Bolt and Medusa?
It was a bit tricky at first. Aquemini was one of my all-time favorite albums—the thought of doing something that kinda represented Big Boi and Andre 3000 as well was a bit intimidating. I fell into it when I started to see the correlation between the characters and the rappers—Black Bolt's power can destroy worlds with his speech—that's very Andre 3000. Big Boi is a really smooth dude with the potential to sneak up on you with some gangster wit—I felt that with Medusa and her hair—smooth and flowing, but can attack and strangle the enemy. I wanted the cover to have the same kind of "out of this world" ancient/astrological vibe that the Aquemini cover had. Fortunately the Inhumans already carry that intergalactic feel. The juxtaposition of the different character types did a lot of the work for me.
Are there any Hip-Hop Variants that you didn’t work on that you find especially amazing?
My favorites were the Howard the Duck /Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the Eric B and Rakim/Spider-man and Deadpool, and I really liked Keron Grant's execution of the DMX, It's Dark and Hell is Hot/All-New Wolverine cover. They were all fun to see, but those stood out to me the most.
What’s on the horizon for you as an artist–do you have any projects with Marvel on the horizon?
More comics that bridge hip-hop and pop culture. Marvel has supported my career for years, I pretty much always have something cooking with them. Unfortunately in terms of publishing that's all I can give away at the moment, you’re just gonna have to keep a look out. I’m also working with a collective of graffiti/street artists from around the world called The Uber Shoppe. We collaborate on murals, art shows, and other art projects within our respective communities.
What are you listening to these days? What are some of your favorite hip-hop albums from 2015, or just any classic rap albums you loved?
A good friend of mine put me on to Vince Staples. I’ve been listening to his stuff a lot lately. His Hell Can Wait EP is FIRE! Vince carries that old feeling but takes it to some new places. Earl Sweatshirt, Chance the Rapper, Ratking. I like my hip-hop more creative than clubby. I thought Kendrick's new album To Pimp a Butterfly was very thoughtful—we need more of that. All-time favorites include Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers, Nas' Illmatic, Erik B and Rakim's Don’t Sweat the Technique, Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein, and I’m a Brooklyn head, so of course anything Biggie Smalls or Jay Z.