For the past few months, Marvel Comics has been covering some of its comics in images that reference album art from old- and new-school hip-hop classics. This week, you can get a bunch of those variant covers for free. The new Hip-Hop Variant Guide doesn't have all of the boom-bap/House of Ideas mash-ups on its rap pages. But you can still see artwork that pays homage to beloved releases from artists like Dr. Dre., Tupac and De La Soul. The initiative came about after an enthusiastic response to a Run the Jewels variant program last January. The Variant Guide has an introduction from Killer Mike, the MC who's one half of the popular rap duo.
It hasn't been all good with the rap-centric homages, though. Some fans thought Marvel's use of iconic rap album cover art was at odds with their spotty relationship with black culture and black creative talent. Writer David Brothers offered commentary in that vein in a widely read essay:
...you can't celebrate and profit off something without also including the group that you're profiting off the back of. Marvel has made a lot of money off brown faces. A portion of X-Men's juice is from the struggle for civil rights, and we all know what the phrase "black Spider-Man" has done for the perception of your company. (He's Puerto Rican too, tho.) So to see Marvel continue to profit off something very dear to black people without actually giving black people a seat at the table…I was going to say it "stings," but in actuality it sucks. It makes Marvel look clueless and it makes black people wonder why they bother with your comics.
You can get a free digital version of the Variant Guide here.