Long before hip-hop’s mightiest MCs took to the streets and traded rhymes in devastating rap battles, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes traded blows with super villains in the pages of Marvel comics. When rap as we know it began to emerge in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this underground movement shared outsider status with the likes of X-Men and Avengers. But the similarities don’t stop there.
Hip-hop pioneer Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels once told audiences at New York Comic Con that all of his artistic achievements come “from the same place as the comics.” Describing Iron Man and Spider-Man as “practically B-Boys,” McDaniels drew inspiration from these heroes and their larger than life exploits back when he co-founded Run–D.M.C., understanding the need to create his own secret identity in order to fully express his art.
As the hip-hop and comic book industries both grew in stature, the connections between rap and Marvel grew stronger too. Rap runs deep in the musclebound veins of Marvel’s Luke Cage television show and just recently the comic book giant published a range of variant covers based on iconic hip-hop artwork.
Numerous rap legends have long been fascinated by Marvel comics too, name dropping an infinite number of heroes across an equally infinite range of songs. To celebrate the very best Marvel references in hip-hop, we’re taking a look at the inspiration behind 10 of the best, sticking primarily to characters who populate the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"Slept On Tony" - Ghostface Killah
Lyric: "When they kidnapped your boy and forced me to do evil/I created an iron suit to protect my people/Escaped, bound to be Ironman the great/The billionare Tony Stark’ll renew your fate."
Long before Tony Stark became a household name thanks to the success of Marvel’s movie franchise, Wu-Tang Clan member, Ghostface Killah, named his debut album Ironman and has since incorporated the hero’s identity into his own rap persona.
Among his numerous references to the Marvel billionaire, Ghostface Killah named an entire song "Slept On Tony," which subsequently appeared in the first Iron Man film when it was released in 2008. As if that wasn’t meta enough, the man who often refers to himself as Tony Starks even appeared in an Iron Man deleted scene where he attends the same party as the fictional Tony Stark in Dubai.
"Dance on Glass" - Q-Tip
Lyric: "The Luke Cage of the loose leaf page/Run and hide, comin' out in the yard/Bona fide to be hard."
Like the aforementioned Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, Q-Tip also played a crucial role in shaping hip-hop thanks to his role in the group A Tribe Called Quest and like McDaniels, he too draws inspiration from the pages of Marvel comics.
On his second solo album, The Renaissance, Q-Tip name drops Luke Cage in the track "Dance on Glass,” boasting that he’s just as powerful as Power Man himself. Coincidentally, fellow Tribe member, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, signed on as the music supervisor for Marvel’s Netflix adaptation of Luke Cage a few years later in 2016. Longtime fans might also remember an early A Tribe Called Quest song called “Lyrics To Go” where Q-Tip compares himself to Kato, the Green Hornet sidekick who was once played by Bruce Lee.
"Superheroes" - Chief Keef Featuring A$AP Rocky
Lyric: "Spiderman, Peter Parker, I'm like Peter Pan/Treat my ops like Cyclops if I see the man/Wolverine in skinny jeans, diamonds Billy Jean/They tap dance, the Batman is a Black man."
Not since Marvel and DC collided in the ‘90s crossover event "DC vs. Marvel" have so many superheroes appeared in one place, but they’re not the only ones name dropped on Chief Keef’s song. Over a roaring trap beat, he and A$AP Rocky compare themselves to everyone from Superman to the Green Goblin, while also mentioning other characters from Mortal Kombat and The Walking Dead for good measure. Highlights include the line where A$AP Rocky describes himself as a “Wolverine in skinny jeans” and Chief Keef’s rather graphic description of “wetting shit up” like Spiderman.
“Raise The Roof” - Public Enemy
Lyric: “From the slammer swing a hammer like the mighty Thor/God of thunder, you’ll go under, then you’ll all applaud/And fathom that distance, the mad must reap/Meet Namor sea lord, Prince of the deep.”
It’s rather fitting that rap royalty Public Enemy made reference to two of Marvel’s own distinguished rulers in the song “Raise The Roof." Thor and Namor are two of the most cocky Avengers that the team have ever included in their ranks, so it makes sense that both would appear on the group’s debut album, Yo! Bum Rush The Show as the group still had something to prove.
The leader of Public Enemy, Chuck D, has a background in graphic design and even created the iconic logo depicted on the group’s album covers, but his love for comic books goes back even further than that. After his father passed away, Chuck D penned an open letter in tribute which repeatedly referred to the lost parental figure as his very own Superman.
"Rap God" - Eminem
Lyric: "So you'll be Thor and I'll be Odin/ You’re a rodent, I'm omnipotent"
Eminem revealed that he could “Leap tall hoes in a single bound” back when he released the single “Superman” and later on, he fought as a superhero in the video for “Without Me." Even that wasn’t enough for him though. Years later, Slim Shady’s power would grow to match that of a deity on “Rap God,” where he first compares himself to Superman’s arch nemesis, General Zod, before then claiming to be the ruler of Asgard. Think that’s extreme? Well you obviously haven’t read “Eminem/ Punisher #1,” a one-off comic book title that pits Slim Shady against Marvel’s most violent and deranged anti-hero. Don’t hold your breath for a sequel. The story ends with Eminem abandoned on an icy patch of ocean, left to die.
"Problems" - T.I. Featuring B.o.B, Problem, Trae Tha Truth
Lyric: "No lie on this mic, chillin' with habitual whores/Hit 'er with the hammer like Thor.”
Taken from Volume 1 of the G.D.O.D. (Get Dough or Die) mixtape series, the song “Problems” features another reference to the God of Thunder, this time taking note of his fearsome weapon, Mjölnir.
In the comics and the Marvel movies that followed, this hammer helps Thor channel his power and become one of the most formidable superheroes who ever lived. Here, B.o.B. likens the mystical weapon to his penis. If you’re going to compare yourself to an immortal deity of great strength, then you might as well go all the way, although we can’t help but wonder what actor Chris Hemsworth might have to say about the song.
"Not Going Back” - Childish Gambino
Lyric: “Couldn’t see me as Spider-Man, but now I’m spittin’ venom/Now you payin’ attention, pick your fucking face up/When I wanna be a superhero, I just wake up.”
Your friendly neighborhood rapper has had a long and tangled history with Spider-Man, lobbying to play the Wallcrawler as far back as 2010.
While a viral campaign backed by the hashtag #Donald4Spiderman didn’t net him the role, Glover later made good on the lyrics printed above, eventually voicing Miles Morales on Disney XD's Ultimate Spider-Man animated series.
Although he’s yet to play the Webslinger in real life, Glover subsequently starred in the Marvel movie Spider-Man: Homecoming as the uncle of Miles Morales, the future Spidey, and even began to script an animated series for his buddy, Deadpool, before FX cancelled it. An honorary mention also goes out to the mighty wordplay found in the song “Yaphet Kotto” where Glover spits the line “That OG, I might OD so Avengers keep it Loki (AHH)."
"Secret Wars Part One" and "Secret Wars II" - Last Emperor
Lyric: “Now the next fight was conducted in a rough like manner/Specifically between Reggie Noble and Dr. David Banner/Or should I say the Incredible Hulk when he's amped off the gamma?/But Reggie Noble soon became the Incredible Redman and slammed him”
If there’s one thing that comic book publishers love, it’s a big-ass crossover, pitting each of their heroes against each other to settle disputes and rake in money. “Secret Wars” remains one of the most influential examples of this and even inspired “Civil War," which later formed the basis of Marvel’s movie, Captain America: Civil War.
While crossovers of this nature reveal who the strongest heroes in the world of Marvel are, Last Emperor went one step further and imagined what would happen if these superheroes took on hip-hop’s mightiest MCs. The result is an epic two-part track that pits Hulk against Redman, RZA against Captain America and Nas against Spider-Man in the battle royale that you never knew you needed. Spoiler alert: The pen is definitely mightier than the sword.
“Kon Queso” - MF DOOM
Lyric: "(Doom!) In love with Mary Jane, she's my main thing/Pulled her right from that web head, what a lame brain"
No list of Marvel-loving hip-hop stars would be complete without MF DOOM, the London-born rapper who wears a metallic mask similar to the Fantastic Four supervillain Doctor Doom.
Through his metal mouthpiece, MF Doom has dropped countless references to Marvel over the past two decades, but one of his most memorable remains this double entendre taken from the food-themed album, Mm.. Food. Referring to both Spider-Man’s love interest and his own love of marijuana, this brief mention of Mary Jane is as clever as it is ridiculous and more than deserves its own spot on the list.
“Big Dogs” Featuring Redman - Method Man
Lyric: “Johnny Blaze the Ghost Rider (uhh)/Ghost stories by the campfire (uhh) We night breed (VAM-PIRE!)/Be duckin from the head rushin (uhh) Wu-Tang production (uhh)/Percussions bringin repercussions (uhh) I hold my mic sideways."
Just like fellow Wu-Tang Clan member, Ghostface Killah, Method Man has also drawn inspiration from Marvel comics for his own alter ego.
Often going by the name Johnny Blaze, the rap legend shares this moniker with the anti-hero Ghost Rider, something which he draws reference to on this track taken from his second album, Tical 2000: Judgement Day.
16 years later, Method Man’s love for the supernatural hero only grew further, to the point where Marvel even hired him to write a X-Mas special starring Ghost Rider in December 2016. For this issue, Method Man ignored iconic Ghost Rider villains like Nightmare or Black Heart in favor of Krampus, the Scandinavian demon who punishes naughty children at Xmas. While it’s a fun story, don’t hold your breath for a Hollywood adaptation of Method Man’s foray into Marvel comics.