The newest offering from Marvel Studios, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, hit cinemas earlier this month. It’s an animated feature telling a story parallel to the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spidey has always been a proud New Yorker, and Into The Spider-Verse takes the opportunity to weave another quintessential NYC element into the Spider-Man narrative: hip-hop. Echoing the success of the Black Panther soundtrack earlier this year, Marvel enlisted the help of hip-hop’s finest young talent to provide the musical backdrop to the story of Miles Morales and his Spider-compatriots that complements and helps build the story.
The film follows the story of Miles Morales in an alternate reality where Peter Parker as Spider-Man has died. Morales is an Afro-Latino teen from Brooklyn caught in the pressures of attending a private boarding school and a father’s high expectations. This Brooklyn flavor is different from the traditional story of Peter Parker in suburban Queens, and music is quickly established as a core component of Into The Spider-Verse.
We are introduced to Miles singing along to the Post Malone and Swae Lee collab “Sunflower.” The song becomes a character theme for Miles, who sings it again later in the film when advised to relax and manage his newfound Spider abilities:
Then you’re left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya You’re the sunflower, I think your love would be too much Or you’ll be left in the dust, unless I stuck by ya You’re the sunflower, you’re the sunflower
The film’s soundtrack frequently features lyrics referencing heroic feats, overcoming fears, and Spider-Man’s abilities, with web-slinging in particular getting several references. In a pivotal moment of the film, “What’s Up Danger”by Ghanaian-American rapper Blackway plays as Miles embraces his new role as a superhero:
‘Cause I like high chances that I might lose (Lose) I like it all on the edge just like you, ayy I like tall buildings so I can leap off of ’em I go hard wit’ it no matter how dark it is
The high-flying, risky behavior of a masked vigilante mirrors the ambition of many rappers. Already fond of superhero references, Jaden Smith builds “Way Up” revolves around the need for a saviour:
Winnin’, we winnin’, we winnin’ (Winnin’) We put a world on a wave (Wave) And every time you swinging through the city, you are saving the day (Let’s go) We had to fight for the town (Town) Now there’s no villains allowed (‘Lowed) Everyone cheer in the crowd, but I’m still way up, I’m over the clouds (Clouds)
One of the central themes of the film is belief in one’s self despite overwhelming odds, reflecting Morales’ statement that “anyone can wear the mask.” On “Save The Day,” Coi Leray raps about overcoming these fears to become the hero the city needs:
Got no fear in my heart ‘cause I know that I’m brave (Nah, nah) Never gave up, kept my head in the game You gotta just trust me and lemme come guide you If you ever get lost, then I’ll come back and find you I think they forgot so I had to remind ’em Climb all the way to the top like a spider (Yeah)
Into the Spider-Verse has been praised for building on this theme of universal heroism. With Miles as an Afro-Latino central character, Marvel continues its winning streak in portraying diversity on the screen. The bilingual “Familia,” by Nicki Minaj and Puerto Rican artist Anuel AA, adds to this multi-cultural portrayal.
The original Spider-Man was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962 during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. Mild-mannered Peter Parker was an archetype of every teenager’s awkward transition into adulthood and “great responsibility,“ and wasn’t conceived as a symbol of racial acceptance. However, the masked nature of Spider-Man meant that anyone could see themselves in the character.
As The Hollywood Reporter noted, “Part of the appeal, as it is for so many other children of color, is that you can’t see behind the mask. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have Superman’s blue eyes or Batman’s superior chin… In our minds, we could be Spider-Man.”
This idea isn’t lost on artists such as Aminé. On “Invincible,” he poignantly remarks on the lack of genuine representation in the entertainment industry:
All my people gather ‘round, I’m here to inspire (True) If you runnin’ on E, I’ll put the fire in your lighter (Yeah) Black Hollywood never started and it’s over People only care when you’re Denzel or Oprah (Yeah)
There are more tender moments too, used to complement the hardships faced by Miles during the film. Songs such as “Let Go” by Beau Young Prince, “Memories”by Thutmose, “Hide” by Juice WRLD, and “Scared of the Dark” by Lil Wayne, Ty Dolla $ign, and XXXTentacion create a counterpoint to the energy and bombast of the more action-packed moments.
Into The Spider-Verse and Miles Morales embody a new spirit of the mainstream culture celebrating diverse portrayals of classic characters. The film’s embrace of its New York setting means hip-hop music and culture is a natural fit. From the stunning visuals inspired by graffiti art to the integration of the music into the film’s overarching themes, Into The Spider-Verse uses its rap-focused soundtrack to become much more than a run-of-the-mill superhero cartoon about a kid from Brooklyn.
This article originally appeared on Genius.com on December 19th, 2018