Marvel Entertainment is back to showing off its hip-hop credentials via a new partnership with Universal Music Enterprises that will see artwork created for the company’s Hip-Hop Variant cover program repurposed as actual album artwork for a number of reissues.
The first three releases from the combination of Marvel and UMe’s Urban Legends imprint will be 50 Cent’s 2003 debut Get Rich or Die Tryin’, LL Cool J’s 1990 album Mama Said Knock You Out and GZA’s second solo album, 1995’s Liquid Swords. (Artwork for the three come from, respectively, Brian Stelfreeze’s Invincible Iron Man No. 1 cover, Tim Bradstreet’s Punisher No. 1 and Denys Cowan’s Contest of Champions No. 1.)
Each release will be available in two editions: a double color vinyl Variant Cover Collector’s Edition that replaces the original artwork with the Marvel tribute, and a Deluxe Variant Cover Collector’s Edition, which includes both a limited edition of the comic book that originally featured the cover artwork as well as a 3D lenticular print of the Marvel art. Each deluxe edition will be limited to 3,000 copies.
In a statement accompanying the launch of the program, UMe president/CEO Bruce Resnikoff said, “Marvel comics have always occupied a special place in the hearts of hip-hop fans — both media continue to serve as source of expression, escapism and inspiration for generations of super fans around the world.”
Marvel initially launched its Hip-Hop Variant program in 2015, with the first issues of titles under the All-New All-Different Marvel banner receiving alternate cover artwork that recreated famous album covers with Marvel characters. The program was inspired by then-editor-in-chief Axel Alonso’s love of hip-hop, as well as retailer feedback for two covers from earlier that year featuring Marvel characters performing Run the Jewels’ fist-and-gun logo.
“Hip-hop and Marvel Comics are two vital threads of pop culture that have engaged in dialogue for at least a couple decades,” Alonso said in a contemporaneous interview. “A lot of people know that the Wu-Tang Clan reference Marvel characters in their rhymes, but few people know how many Marvel artists are deeply influenced by hip-hop music and its culture. These covers are an attempt to show that.”
The program was so successful that the covers were later released in two hardcover collections in 2016 and 2017, but faced criticism for cultural appropriation and the fact that independent artists Julian Lyle and Sean Causley had been creating artwork recreating album covers with Marvel characters for some time before Marvel’s program launched.
Marvel’s Hip-Hop Variant program continued through late 2017, ending just months before Alonso was replaced as editor-in-chief at the company by C.B. Cebulski.