The booming popularity of gag books targeting millennial readers like Darth Vader and Son, and practically everything by The Oatmeal, have taught us that dorms, doctor waiting rooms, and boring bathrooms the world over need are desperately needing content. To that end publishers have caught on that people are more than willing to pay big bucks for things they can easily get for free online, even stuff designed to be downloaded, shared, and enjoyed entirely free without any obligations whatsoever. What a racket!
Now we’ve got 99 Problems: Superstars Have Bad Days, Too, which collects exactly 99 quirky illustrations featuring none other than Shawn Carter, better known as hip-hop superstar and business mogul Jay Z. As you might’ve guessed the title (or more accurately, the series) is “inspired by but not based on” Jay Z’s epic “99 Problems” track, naturally, and comes by way of Ali Graham, a British illustrator with a bent towards social-media and viral stuff on the web.
Now he’s looking to expand his growing empire of Photoshop funnies away from the craziness of online sharing and into the real world of paper prints. Even with a super-low asking price, you can’t beat “free”, so can he pull it off?
Possibly! The comics here are culled from one of Graham’s many, many Tumblr series (look for others that riff other riff-friendly artists like Survivor: Beyonce vs. Zombies and Lil’ Yea and the Hip Hop Hoorays), but let’s get the obvious out of the way upfront: this is the kind of content you can usually find in its entirety online (in fact, it’s exactly the type of content you can find entirely online).
But anyone can boot up a browser, Facebook, Twitter, etc, and spam their favorites at friends until the cows come home. This is all about making a statement, about starting conversations with as little effort as possible, and having adorable Jay Z toons isn’t a bad way to start one up. To be honest, there isn’t much to a gag book like this one, save the odd looks you’ll get when innocents stop by for coffee or tea. Then again, having a copy of this laying around probably excludes you from the ‘coffee and tea’ group anyway.
Non hip-hop fans, however, will likely be scratching their heads at some of the in-jokes that play off Young Hova’s sometimes impenetrable (to outsiders) lyrics. But that’s the fun part – figuring out just just what – and where – some of the obvious, and less than, came from. These can be pretty simple (Problem #6: Hard To Follow The Blueprint) to less so (Problem #71: Too Many Hoes …with actual hoes). Others (Problem #12: Diggers in Paris) are pretty self-explanatory. Other guest antagonizers include wife Beyonce, Pharell Williams, Bill Cosby (Ain’t Got No Pudding), Rhinna (Broken Umbrella), Rick Rubin (Beard Envy) and more Kanye West than you might want.
There isn’t much to 99 Problems: Superstars Have Bad Days, Too and that’s the point: 99 chuckle-worthy panels that’ll makef hip-hop fans smile and confuse the hell out of everyone else, much like hip-hop music does already. True, you could easily just find these comics online and save yourself both time and money this printed edition will set you back, but where’s the fun in that? Sometimes you can’t beat having the real thing in your hands, and why miss all the fun explaining why Jay Z’s hanging with Orphan Annie (#18 Hard-Knock Life)?