Straight Outta Gotham: When Hip-Hop and Geek Culture Collide
Our friends at Straight Outta Gotham are back with another dope playlist in time for this weekend’s Comic Con International in San Diego.
The hip-hop game is filled with fans of comics, anime, video games, sci-fi, fantasy and more. So listen close for all the geeky references you can find.
If you’re not in the know, Straight Outta Gotham is a geek x hip-hop culture project started by Jamila Rowser in 2013. The Tumblr blog curates and shares geek references in hip-hop lyrics, as gifs and memes produced by her and her Robin-in-crime, Jemar Souza. It started off as a simple, fun project, but through publishing and larger endeavors, the duo aims to showcase the links between hip-hop and geek culture that have already existed, document the growing bond and create a brand for the otaku hip-hop heads to express themselves and connect with each other.
I’d heard Straight Outta Gotham is working on a few other big things, including a sweepstakes to win art by Dotnova (the artist behind the above image), so I decided to get to know the dynamic duo behind the project and discuss the surprising amount of crossover between hip-hop and geek culture. (Be sure to check out the original Straight Outta Gotham playlist here.)
* * *
So, who are you guys? What’s your origin story?
Jamila: I’m a writer, fangirl and newish South Florida resident. My mom was in the Air Force so I grew up around the world, but I rep The Bronx as my hometown. It makes intros much easier.
I’ve liked hip-hop since as long as I can remember. I think JAY Z’s Hard Knock Life Vol. 2 was my first hip-hop album. I come from a family of anime fans, comic book fanboys and gamers so it was natural for me to fall in love with geek culture.
My love for geeky things led me to create the blog Girl Gone Geek six years ago. I co-founded an international meetup group for geek girls called Geek Girl Brunch and also created Straight Outta Gotham, which I’ve been running with Jemar the last few years. Oh, and behind-the-scenes I’m working on my first comic book!
Jemar: I’m not as poppin as Jamila, but I’m also a writer and all around creative type. I self -published a “dynamically designed” poetry book called “My Decade” a few years ago.
I ran a small music slash personal writing blog around 2010 and 2012, interviewed a couple of upcoming artists at the time. WAS SO CLOSE TO GETTING KENDRICK! I’m also in South Florida of course, but born and raised in the Bronx, NY. Jamila and I never met until like what? 2011? 12?
Jamila: 2012. We worked together at a social media agency.
Jemar: Yeah, and it’s crazy that we didn’t meet until then because we lived so close to each other at one point and were into all the same things. We even had mutual friends. I’ve been into hip-hop since probably the 3rd grade, really paying attention when the Biggie and Tupac deaths started to happen. I have somewhat of a vivid memory of everyone talking about it at lunch one day. Same for anime, Star Wars, cartoons, and all that. I’ve loved it all for as long as I can remember and decided to never grow out of it. So it’s really dope to have found a partner that’s on the same wave. And by partner, I also mean girlfriend.
Jamila: Yeah, we’re a couple. It’s not a secret but it’s not the first thing we tell people when discussing Straight Outta Gotham.
So how did Straight Outta Gotham start?
Jamila: Well, Straight Outta Gotham may not have existed if it weren’t for Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck.” I have a deep love for this song, so I’ve heard it countless times. But for some reason, on one fateful day in October 2013…
Jemar: When she was supposed to be cleaning her room.
Jamila: …the line “Jumpin’ off from on the stage/ throwin’ bows like Johnny Cage” inspired SOG. I figured I wasn’t the only one who loved hearing rappers reference geeky things, so I took to Photoshop and created memes and gifs of these references and posted them on Tumblr. But, managing Girl Gone Geek, Geek Girl Brunch, Straight Outta Gotham and “regular life” was pretty tough, so I kinda sorta stopped updating SOG for awhile… but then Jemar swooped in and saved it!
Jemar: Haha, yeah. Back then Jamila would tell me a new idea every once in awhile and I’d be like “Yeah babe, that’s cool. Go do it.” Then she really started this one and I was like “Wow, this is doper than I thought.” I wanna say she was already getting submissions from some friends, peeps on the Internet, and of course myself within the first hour or so. At one point I was of course sending in the most submissions. And when she started to slow down on posting, I began to make my own graphics and send them to her to help.
Jamila: Yes, there was definitely a time where most of the blog was Jemar’s submissions. He was pretty much a ghostwriter.
Jemar: Ha, pretty much. So “we” stopped giving myself submission credit and the next thing you know, I was an official SOG partner and not just an obsessed boyfriend.
Haha. I wouldn’t think there was a huge crossover audience shared between hip-hop and geek culture. How wrong am I?
Jamila: We literally have over a thousand references logged. SOG is becoming a digital archive for geeky references in hip-hop.
Jemar: Yep, and we’ve barely scratched the surface with the Wu-Tang Clan.
Jamila: It’ll probably double once we dive deeper into their albums.
Jemar: Definitely. And the thing is of course our blog has some bias in terms of hearing lyrics from the people we personally listen to the most. That’s why we love getting submissions from other people. It helps keep the blog going and sometimes puts us on to new artists we’ve never heard of.
Where can people send submissions?
Jemar: They can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jamila: Or send carrier pigeon, raven, or owl.
Jemar: Priority of course to those from Hogwarts.
You guys are definitely geeks.
Who are some of hip-hop’s biggest geeks?
Jemar: So obviously, Lupe. And Wu-Tang, as far as very popular artists go. I think JAY Z might be a bigger geek on the low because he has a solid collection of geeky references himself. But we’d have to set up an interview to dive deeper.
Jamila: Shoot your shot!
Jemar: You know I had to.
Jamila: Kanye West is geekier than JAY Z, though. He references Star Wars, a lot! There’s also Eminem. And then there’s Odd Future, Sir Michael Rocks…
Jemar: Yeah, definitely Sir Michael Rocks and MF Doom.
Jamila: Sammus and Jean Grae’s names show their gamer and geek pride immediately.
Jemar: Lady of Rage, Uncle Snoop, Pharoahe Monch and Talib.
Jamila: Robb Banks, Le1f and Denzel Curry could have probably started an anime club in school. Childish Gambino definitely infuses his love of comics and sci-fi into his lyrics. There was even a Twitter campaign to cast him as Spider-Man a few years ago.
Jemar: Del the Funky Homosapien. We definitely can’t not mention him.
Jamila: Migos gotta be huge gamers by the sheer amount of times they reference Mortal Kombat and Pikachu. Jme too. He loooooves Pokémon.
Jemar: I love hearing references from Migos. Their style doesn’t scream “Yo, yo, we’re into geek stuff.” But if you’re listening closely, you’ll definitely know.
So, did Straight Outta Gotham grow into something bigger than you initially anticipated?
Jamila: Yeah, it just started out as a fun project and I was only thinking I’d have maybe what? 50 or so post? But here we are now with 500+ posted on Tumblr, the 1,000+ references in the log.
Jamila: Yeah, the more I worked on SOG, the more I realized how deep the connection is between geek culture and hip-hop. I found it fascinating that negative geek stereotypes are often about being weak, uncool and introverted, while rappers stereotypes are pretty much the opposite. Yet here are so many hip-hop artists rapping about geek culture. So as SOG grew, I wanted it to break down those stereotypes and show the natural connection between the two cultures.
Jemar: Word, I didn’t think we’d find so many references. Our ears are so trained for them now that they perk up and we instantly look at each other when we hear one.
So how would you like to see it grow in the future?
Jamila: The SOG demographic is a culture within a culture, and I won’t lie that it’s been tough breaking into our core demo. So that’s something I hope we accomplish in the future. They’re out there, I know they are because we’re a part of the demo.
Jemar: Fo’ sho. I mean, no matter how big or small the niche may be, we want Straight Outta Gotham to be a premier voice when it comes to the blend of geek and hip-hop culture. Right now, we’re just trying to grow the social platforms and build our audience. But we’re also working on a book to hopefully come out late next year. And beyond that it would be dope to have a fashion lifestyle brand.
Cool. So what are a few of your favorite geek references on your latest Straight Outta Gotham playlist.
Jamila: I’m a sucker for anime references, so I really like Duckwrth’s song “Naruto”. I could see Naruto references growing to the point of Dragon Ball Z references. Which is a lot.
Jemar: I really, really, really love the “Laputa” remix on there by Hiatus Kaiyote with Anderson .Paak. That song is sooo beautiful and dope. Taylor McFerrin really did his thing. But if we’re talking a specific lyrical reference, I’d have to say when Vince Staple says “Ho, this shit ain’t Gryffindor, we really killin’, kickin’ doors” on “Lift Me Up.”
Jamila: Oooh, speaking of Harry Potter, oh my god. I love when Chance says, “Any petty Peter Pettigrew could get the pesticide.”
Jemar: Hell yeah. Levels, yo.
Harry Potter seems to be a favorite of yours. What are some of the most popular references you hear from rappers? Have you found a difference in the type of references you’ve logged over the years?
Jamila: Yup! I love Harry Potter. But as far as popular references, I’d have to say anything mainstream comics related. Especially Batman, Superman…
Jemar: Yeah, something about the ’90s had rappers mostly mentioning comics. And since the later 2000s, it seems that anime and video game mentions started to increase. That’s all just based on feeling and what we’re seeing so far though.
Jamila: Yeah, lots of Dragon Ball Z references. I think it could be due to popularity and accessibility. Video game consoles are in more households now and people can watch anime and read comics on their phones.
Jemar: Yeah, and a lot of artists today grew up watching Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, et cetera. So of course once it became cool to be yourself in hip-hop and not force a “gangsta” persona, I guess it became easier to just speak on what you love and connect to from your youth or current obsessions.
Jamila: Yup, but like you said, right now everything we’re finding and sharing is mostly from “organic discoveries”. We haven’t done a lot of official “research” yet, but I’m really fascinated by which references become trendy and what they say about current hip-hop and pop culture.
Jemar: Word. Look out for a book, y’all.
You said that’s something you’re working on, right? What’s it going to be like?
Jamila: We’ll have to wait and see. And that’s if we can really get it off the ground. Like Jemar said, we’d love to have something out late next year, but we’re still exploring what it can really be. I can say we’ve spoken to a lot of amazing visual artists, though. Including Dotnova, who made the art for our playlist.
Jemar: Yep. Shout out to him.
Jamila: So we’re working on it, we’re just not promising anything to the world yet.
That’s fair. So are there any references you hope to hear in the future?
Jemar: Yes, Steven Universe for sure. And Space Dandy! Come on y’all! Where are the Space Dandy references?!
Jamila: Yes! How about you, though?
With the explosion of Pokémon Go, I foresee a whole lot more of those references in the near future.
Jemar: We have some great Pokémon references but I’d bet there’ll be a lot more.
Jamila: Also, Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle?
Jemar: Ah, come on! You gotta pick Charmander. Fire Pokemon all the way.
Jamila: I love Squirtle! He’s so cute!
Jemar: I mean, yeah. I respect it. At least you didn’t pick Bulbasaur.
Haha. Thanks. And which superhero, comic book character, etc. best represents you? Describe your alter ego.
Jamila: Probably fangirl Laura from the comic The Wicked + The Divine. The connection is a bit deeper than her just being a fangirl of the pantheon, but I don’t want to spoil the comic.
Jemar: Word. And by the way, I really can’t wait for Wicked + Divine to become a TV Show or something. It’s sooooo perfect for the culture we’re living in right now. I highly recommend checking it out. But dang, I don’t know. I wanna say Marko from Saga, but that’s not based on much. I just like the way he dresses sometimes and how hard he fights for his family. I’m on my grind like Ash Ketchum though, tryna catch these blessings.
Wow, I should probably rap that.
Jamila: You tryin’ to be on the blog?
Jemar: Just shooting my shot again.
* * *
The Straight Outta Gotham Vol 2 Playlist is now playing exclusively on TIDAL. Think you have a sharp ear for geek references? Enter their Sweepstakes here for a chance to win art prizes by Dotnova. But hurry, the sweeps ends this Sunday, July 24th!
TIDAL is proud to announce the world's first music service with High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly curated Editorial.