The lasting impact that Stan Lee, one of the creative geniuses behind Marvel Comics, has had on the world of entertainment truly is immeasurable. He created or co-created some of the most revered and iconic characters in pop culture history who have long surpassed the original expectations that Lee and his partners Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko could have ever imagined. Let’s rattle off just a few of them: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Panther, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. He was also partly responsible for the reemergence of Captain America, “resurrecting” him in the 1960s following the character’s popularity during World War II.
The stories Lee helped craft not only spawned a fervent, extremely dedicated fan base but also spoke to the social issues of the time they were published; the X-Men as an allegory for marginalized peoples across the world and Black Panther becoming the first African American superhero in mainstream comics are just a few examples of Lee’s progressive mindset.
What you may not know about Lee and Marvel Comics is the enormous impact they’ve had on hip-hop and the culture that surrounds it. It shouldn’t be too surprising given that Lee’s stories and many hip-hop artists share the same attitude toward certain societal problems, particularly the struggles of the downtrodden. They may go about it in different manners—Lee through his storytelling, and hip-hop through its bars and lyrics—but the message is often the same. The X-Men fought prejudice and bigotry, and artists like Public Enemy followed suit, albeit by different means.
From the Wu-Tang Clan to MF Doom and beyond, hip-hop and comics found an intersection that few predicted and even fewer saw coming. Rappers found ways to inject the characters and mysticism of comics into their songs—some because they identified with the plot lines and stories, and others, well, simply because it sounded cool. Hip-hop and comics both served as an escape from and as a reflection of the issues of the day, and it is for perhaps this reason that they found such common ground.