Keb returns from God-knows-where to give us some insight into five great hip hop albums that he believes would make great comics.
If you have ever taken the time to listen to hip hop, I mean REALLY listen to hip hop and none of this "I turn that rap crap off when I hear it" bullshit, you'll hear a raw energy that flows through the sound and into your head. It's the most unique aspect to hip hop and has been present since its inception. Hip hop, its artistic form and its evolution, has been a passion for me since I was 12 years old.
On the other hand, comic books have been an interest of mine for the last 10 years. I am intrigued the medium and how it conveys its narratives. There are many artists who are able to convey a "musicality" or musical quality (i.e. flow) in their art.
One of the masters of this technique is Jim Mahfood AKA FoodOne. Mahfood takes hip hop and marries it with comic books, translating the raw energy into his work to create dynamic art. His range allows him to also channel the aggressive energy of punk rock and the smooth flow of jazz onto a page. The limited series Kick Drum Comix showcases Mahfood's talent by placing unique characters into stories that exemplify the music.
The comic book character is, in my opinion, the most important element to comics. Without enduring characters, the comic book industry wouldn't be what it is today. Likewise, when an MC (rapper) picks up a microphone, they become characters themselves.
The combination of rap characters with comics is what brought me to create this list. Madlib, a great producer/MC/DJ from California has about 30 "character" aliases, the most prominent of these is Quasimoto (just Google him). My personal favourite hip-hop-to-comic creation is a Jim Mahfood-drawn FELT comic book that stars Slug and Murs and acts as a read-a-long companion to the duo's second album. This unification is not just exclusive to underground/independent hip hop; even in the mainstream, rappers like Redman and Snoop Dogg have had cartoon cover art. Unlike other music genres, hip hop does such a great job of taking the comic book medium and using it to its advantage.
And that brings me to this list. The following list consists of five hip hop albums that I think would make great comics. Whether they are in simple one-shot album companions or limited series or even on-going, it doesn't matter. What matters is that they should be comic books!
A quick note: I wanted to avoid any artist who had already been "cartoon" or "comic" adapted as that would make this no challenge at all.
Semi-Official – The Anti-Album
The Anti-Album is the best Rhymesayers releases that only the hardcore fans know about. The group consists of DJ Abilities producing while MC I Self Devine spins tales of crime and urban decay. This album can be considered a concept album as it paints a twisted, crime-infested picture of life in the bowels of America. The title itself and the group's name also present another complex layer of artifice that exists over top of everything. For me, this album exemplifies the exaggeration of violence in hip hop. An artistic style that is itself exaggerated and gritty would complement it. Some of the songs remind me of the urban elements of 100 Bullets. I would love to see this as a one-shot or graphic novel that presents vignettes with similar imagery to the song lyrics.
Action Bronson – Blue Chips
Action Bronson was my favourite new artist last year. The guy is a force to be reckoned with. All of that energy I was talking about at the beginning of the article? He's got it. Add to it the fact that he's also a trained chef and raps about food. This guy is a character like no other. His Blue Chips mixtape is his best to date and I really thought he established a persona on this album. One night I was listening to Action Bronson while reading Chew, and I thought: "Action Bronson would fit so perfectly as a character in this comic." I could definitely see an exaggerated character like Bronson drawn in panels eating roasted bone marrow on rosemary bread or poutine. I can't think of a definite plot, but Bronson's comic book-like persona is definitely worthy of his own book.
Also, the album is a free download. Grab it here.
Gravediggaz – Six Feet Deep
Gee Street 1994
The Gravediggaz themselves are characters played by rappers. The super-group features Prince Paul on production with the RZA, Poetic and Frukwan handling the rhymes. Considered to be the first big horrorcore album, Six Feet Deep deals with a lot of dark subject matter. However, at the heart of all of this darkness and despair, there is a playfulness that I believe exists in all horrorcore. For those who can't see it, the album's original title is "Niggamortis". Think about it for a second. I believe the dark and playful nature of the music could translate into a great comic. A lot of people seemed to like Lenore and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and I think the Gravediggaz are the same thing in music form. I believe that RZArector, Undertaker, Gatekeeper and Grym Reaper are all great characters and would make a great twisted, dark action-comedy.
Aesop Rock – Labor Days
Definitive Jux 2001
Like the Semi-Official album, I don't see this one as a funny graphic narrative. The album is abstract, dark and complex. Lyrically, Aesop Rock is different from other rappers and he doesn't apologize for it. Along with producer Blockhead, Aesop fashions a picturesque landscape on many of the songs and depicts a New York that has never been seen in Hip Hop. Unlike most MCs, Aesop doesn't describe the ghetto. Instead he describes an urban decay that in some ways seems like abstract homage to The Waste Land. I don't visualize beautiful imagery, but instead a grotesque society that exists in and around a narrator who is trying to escape it. Aesop Rock majored in fine arts at Boston University, and his artistry shines out on the album. A visual companion to the album would definitely enhance the listening experience.
De La Soul – De La Soul is Dead
Tommy Boy 1991
This album should be a staple for any hip hop fan (even those who hate De La). De La Soul has always been at the forefront of "different" rap. This album is a concept album that criticizes critics, and De La firmly rejects the "hippie" label placed on them from their debut. Prince Paul produces and assists Pos, Dove and Maseo with crafting an album that showcases the playfulness that has defined De La Soul's 20-odd year hip hop legacy. Prince Paul's brilliance really shines with his use of comical skits to weave the album into an overall narrative. The skits also enhance the "criticism of critics" concept and feature comical characters listening and critiquing an advanced tape of the album. Each song also has some sort of theme that would make a fantastic graphic narrative. If paired with an artist who is as playful as De La, this could be the perfect comic book adaptation of hip hop ever created.
Written or Contributed by: Keb Ellis