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Catch Def Jam’s Dallas Artists In the Pages of Marvel’s Black Panther

Bobby Sessions, Kaash Paige, and Saint Bodhi use the popular comic to explore mental health and resiliency while lifting up the city.
Tyler Clinton, c/o High Standardz.

Bobby Sessions, Kaash Paige, and Saint Bodhi are joining the Marvel Universe. The three Dallas musicians contributed short stories to The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda series, a 25-issue anthology written by the author, essayist, and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. The project is part of the label’s Def Jam Forward initiative, which provides social, economic and educational opportunities for the record label’s Black artists, colleagues, and staff.

The partnership between Def Jam and Marvel originated at the label’s highest levels. Jonathan Rheingold, a partnership consultant at Def Jam who previously worked with Marvel, approached Rich Isaacson, the label’s executive vice president, with the idea of having the label’s newest signees write the final three issues of the series.

“The project flourished from there,” Isaacson told Rolling Stone. “When we put the idea of a Black Panther collaboration out to Bodhi, Kaash, and Bobby, their response was resoundingly enthusiastic, and the whole thing felt natural.”

Coates, along with illustrator Daniel Acuna, published BLACK PANTHER #1 in 2016. The first issue establishes the saga’s narrative of King T’Challa’s discovery of an alternate Wakanda society in space that threatens his Earthly kingdom. BLACK PANTHER #24, the latest installment of the series, presents Bobby Sessions perspective on King T’Challa’s.

Sessions says he immersed himself in the world of Black Panther. As a child, he enjoyed the comic book series, but the 2018 film adaption motivated the Grammy-winner to write something remarkable for the series. “The passing of Chadwick [Boseman], made writing the comic that much more serious,” he said. “And we wanted to make sure we deliver something of quality.”

His issue, which will hit shelves next Wednesday, March 24, is centered on mental health.

“It’s a great story about the power of positive affirmations, speaking positivity over your life and the healing properties that it can have towards the mind, body and spirit,” he says.

Comics, “the unofficial six pillars of hip-hop,” have influenced the genre since the 1970s. From Grandmaster Flash to MF DOOM, superheroes and rappers are each artistic expressions harnessed by marginalized communities to document their experiences. “We both have to overcome a lot of obstacles, using our powers to get to the places that we’re at today,” Sessions says. “There’s a natural parallel that exists there.”

At Marvel, rappers have found a home to discuss their kinship to superheroes across multiple series. In 2009, the comic book brand partnered with Eminem on a special edition of The Punisher. Method Man released Marvel/Method, a SiriusXM podcast where the rapper discusses Marvel with featured guests. Hip-hop journalist Rob Markman contributed to Marvel’s Voices Vol #1, an anthology series of short stories written by storytellers of color like Roxane Gay, David F. Walker, and Sanford Greene, among others. The superhero brand paid tribute to iconic hip-hop covers in its Hip-Hop Variants series, like N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton, Outkast’s Aquemini, the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, and Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.

Def Jam’s latest partnership between Marvel and its Dallas artists follows that lineage.

Dallas-raised singer Kaash Paige closes out The Intergalactic Saga series with her interpretation of Princess Shuri in BLACK PANTHER #25. Paige says she felt a kinship to Shuri, a Wakanda princess. The 20-year-old singer saw parallels with her own story. “I fight for my family. I am smart and excel at everything I do.”

Writing for Marvel inspired Paige to “up her game.” The Platinum-certified singer is “ready to tackle new obstacles and do what hasn’t been done.” Her issue is set to hit shelves in April.

Saint Bodhi, currently a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, published BLACK PANTHER #23 in February. Her story focused on a heartfelt relationship between Storm and a young African girl, traumatized after the murder of her parents. The girl’s emotional journey is reminiscent of MAD WORLD, Bodhi’s debut album, inspired by her childhood upbringing in South Central L.A.

“She was basically about to go blow up the world, and Storm came through, saved her life and brought her into a different home.” Bodhi says, “That’s kind of what a lot of people are dealing with. They’re so angry and misunderstood. Sometimes they just need someone to be like ‘I get it, don’t trip.’”

Bodhi has helped write songs performed by R&B stars like Kelly Rowland, Jaden Smith, and Lecrae. She described writing comics as a new challenge, but accepted it because of her childhood love for the art form. “Writing a comic, it’s more ‘Let me get to the finish line, the resolution, and tap to the heart with that.’” Bodhi says writing music is more of a “a flow of the heart.”

The singer-songwriter plans move to Dallas in the next month. She says she is drawn to how genuine and united Dallas residents are—people in California are “too dreamy,” she said—and has family who lives here. The soon-to-be transplant says her music is “more in tune with the people out in Dallas.”

In the past three years, Def Jam has signed several Dallas-based artists to the legendary record label. Bodhi’s move, coupled with the Marvel-Def Jam partnership, is the latest indicator of a relationship between the city’s artistic scene and the major record label.

Sessions views the partnership as part of his mission to prove the arts community of Dallas is on par with Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles. He spoke about beginning his career in Deep Ellum concert venues like Club Dada and Trees. Last weekend, Sessions won two Grammy awards for his production credit on Megan Thee Stallion and Beyonce’s remix of “Savage.” It’s all part of lifting up Dallas in the music industry and inspiring other local artists. Produced by Mesquite-raised J. White Did It, the song is “thee” Texas collaboration of the year.

The artists aren’t the only recent Dallas connection to Marvel. In Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jonathan Majors is entering as Kang the Conqueror in Ant Man and The Wasp: Quantumania. That puts the Cedar Hill and Duncanville High School alum alongside Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily in one of the lead roles for the Ant Man threequel. Kang is rumored to be one of the major villains in Phase Four of the MCU.