For as long as I can remember, my favorite hip-hop has shared my love of comic books. Whether it's Pete Rock digging for old issues like he does for old vinyl, Method Man and Ghostface Killah taking on the aliases of Marvel's Ghost Rider and Iron Man (respectively), or the emergence of MF DOOM, superhero comics and their vibrant images have long found their way into the grooves of your favorite lyricists and producers. Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso shared his affinity for rap with us back in March, and it resulted in some amazing Hip-Hop Variant covers, which blend classic rap album covers with new #1 issues for a cavalcade of Marvel comics.
Despite all that though, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hadn't really dipped into the hip-hop world — until last week, when the sounds of Ol' Dirty Bastard soundtracked actor Mike Colter wrecking shop on a project full of thugs in the latest teaser for Netflix's Luke Cage.
For heads like myself, this made perfect sense. Luke Cage's executive producer showrunner is none other than Cheo Hodari Coker, a certifiable legend in the hip-hop journalism game. In the '90s, he cut his teeth writing about hip-hop and pop culture for the L.A. Times, and in 1997 he penned that May Vibe cover story on the death of The Notorious B.I.G.; he'd go on to not only publish the book Unbelievable: The Lift, Death, and Afterlife of The Notorious B.I.G. but also receive a writing credit on the Biggie biopic Notorious. His hip-hop pedigree is certified, and so are his Hollywood writing and producing chops: He's worked on Southland, NCIS: Los Angeles, and Ray Donovan. And now it's clear that Luke Cage, the story of a bulletproof black man cleaning up violence and corruption in modern-day Harlem, will combine all of Coker's strengths into one amazing series. And each episode in that series will be named after a Gang Starr song.
#LukeCage . One "Moment of Truth." Two: "Code of The Streets". Three: "Who's Gonna Take The Weight?— Cheo Hodari Coker (@cheo_coker) July 29, 2016
Which might be, well, the MOST HIP-HOP THING EVER. Gang Starr consisted of the late Guru, a rapper from Boston, and and DJ Premier, the now legendary producer hailing from Texas, but they formed in Brooklyn and went on to become the best representation of what New York hip-hop was, is, and always will be. They weren't suckers, but they also didn't inject murder raps into every bar. If anything, Guru and Preemo were two grown-ass men who'd seen some shit, and while they knew how things in the street got dealt with, they preferred to educate those who chose that way of life rather than getting violent. But if it had to get taken there, they were ready. In other words, they're a lot like Luke Cage.
While Coker's calling Luke Cage "the Wu Tang-ification of the Marvel Universe," that Gang Starr is also an influence speaks volumes. It's bigger than just adding a respected name to guide the program; it's proof that Marvel Studios is allowing the show to be as hip-hop and as Harlem as it needs to be—just like how Marvel made sure Jessica Jones was perfectly representative of the female experience by tapping screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg to lead the series. This concern about authorship is also why people were so up in arms when Marvel introduced Riri Williams, the hyper-smart young black woman taking over as Iron Man, but had Brian Michael Bendis writing the series. Sure, he can tell the story, and will probably kill it just like he has with Miles Morales, but there are certain tones, voices, and IRL beats that you just don't get if you haven't lived in those shoes.
The most important thing for this show, which is essentially about the struggle of black characters, is that it feels authentic and represents the people and the culture it's depicting. That's why it's so important that Cheo Hodari Coker is in the driver's seat; that's why it's so important that every episode of Luke Cage will embody the ethos of Gang Starr. And the fact that Coker was allowed to go there, to make that reference, should have you feeling very enthusiastic about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.