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Russell Simmons to create superhero cartoon set during Harlem Renaissance

Hip-hop impresario Russel Simmons is producing an animated superhero show, based on Brian Williams' (not the NBC News guy) and Christian Colbert's comic The Harlem Shadow. Rapper/actor/Gap pitchman Common is signed on to voice the title character.

Both comic and series are set during the Harlem Renaissance, a period in the 1920s and early '30s when African-American writers, musicians, and intellectuals built a thriving culture in New York and surrounding cities. The Harlem Shadow is described as a "paranormal crime-fighter" who uses both hand-to-hand combat and a pair of revolvers, presumably to protect 1920s New York from the twin scourges of flappers and reefer madness.

Simmons said he was motivated by the lack of cultural diversity in the superhero world, and is hoping the Jazz Age's mix of "grittiness and glamour" will appeal to contemporary hip-hop fans. Producer David Uslan said his show will look to the noir style of Batman: The Animated Series as a major influence. And in keeping with 2013's theme of shows airing anywhere except TV, the series will air exclusively on Simmons' YouTube channel, All Def Digital.

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