I’m 25. My President-elect is Orange. And the rappers who made the soundtrack to my teenage misdemeanors are proudly washed squares. This definitely isn’t how I imagined things turning out when I was 20.
Five years ago, I was trying to flip freelance checks like I was a young Gucci flipping pies. Today, I’m way more inspired by the thought of putting 25-karats on my lady’s hand like the full-grown Guwop.
With a sober mind, clean conscious and his first number one hit on the charts, Wop is now the epitome of grown man goals. And his glow-up isn’t an anomaly.
Despite the countless examples of toxic masculinity that litter our society (and soon, our Oval Office), I’m noticing more positive images of manhood penetrating pop culture than I can ever remember.
That’s why, as easy as it can be to fall victim to cynicism in these uncertain times, I have to take a moment and salute everyone on their grown man grind. To thank them for giving the young G’s of today something more to strive towards than popping Xans, sipping lean and running credit card scams.
That’s why we needed Jay to go from his “Big Pimpin’” sinning to playing Barbie and Ken with Blue and Bey.
And why we still need ‘Ye to keep challenging unjust social norms with Pac’s fire and Big’s flow.
When Dave Chappelle ran away from $50 million and a cushy corporate gig to run home to Mama Africa, many saw his move as crazy, selfish and immature. But after Netflix’s recent announcement that they had ordered three new comedy specials from the living legend for a reported $60 million, Dave is looking like the genius we’ve always known him to be. And he’s shown us all the long-term value of sticking to your morals. That your manhood isn’t measured by your money.
But we really shouldn’t be taking financial cues from a man who plays a lovable crackhead for our entertainment in the first place. That’s why we’re truly blessed to witness Tristan Walker’s come-up in the financial sector.
The self-made entrepreneur hasn’t just given us the keys to sustaining Black-owned business models like Bevel; He’s also helped fund the recent explosion of Black podcasts, gotten O.G.’s like NaS deep into the world of venture capitalism and is currently opening doors for countless young entrepreneurs with every new deal he makes. He’s why I have faith that in 10 years, there will be just as many aspiring business owners as rappers.
Speaking of rap. I barely listen to Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Meek Mill or Drake‘s anymore. But I appreciate them all more than ever for staying true to themselves as they’ve chased and caught their dreams before our eyes.
I remember watching young Meek and his struggle braids spit bars on the block just as vividly as I remember sleeping on Drake because of his corny teen soap opera roots. Back then, few of us could have imagined either overcoming their polar circumstances to reach the top of the Hip Hop and Pop worlds. All beefs aside, both of these men inspire countless souls on a daily basis just by sustaining their dreams for this long. That impact alone is far more important than cracking anyone’s Top 5 MC list.
And I will never stop saluting Kendrick and Cole for making conscious Hip Hop hot again. Much of my adolescence was spent wondering if acts like Little Brother, Lupe Fiasco and MF DOOM could ever be appreciated by the masses. Songs like “Alright,” “Apparently,” “Crooked Smile” and “Swimming Pools” are all proof that these two have cracked the Nielson code. And I can’t help but look forward to watching them continue to reprogram the coming generations.
And of course I have to salute athletes like Colin Kaepernick and LeBron James. The few among many, in any field, who are willing to sacrifice their privileges in hopes of having an impact beyond the scoreboard. For refusing to let their doubters shake their self-belief. For proving them wrong with their actions and not their words.
Watching a TV re-run of Spike Lee‘s Malcolm X biopic earlier this week, I was reminded how blessed we have been to have Spike and Denzel Washington still telling our stories for all these years.
Almost 25 years since his all-time performance in “X,” Denzel is still pushing himself to new heights. In December, he’s bringing the legendary stage play “Fences” to the big screen. It will be just his third shot at directing, but we have a lot to look forward to following the phenomenal outcomes of “Antwone Fisher” and “The Great Debators.”
And how can we not look back and salute Spike for his dedication and endurance? In a country that burns through Black genius faster than Saudi oil, he’s amassed the most impressive modern film catalog of all time without ever compromising his heart or soul. Even after 2015’s “Chi-Raq” debacle, he rebounded with a phenomenal documentary on The University of Missouri’s student protests.
We’re forever indebted to both for continuing to inspire, hire and challenge entire generations of filmmakers decades after they could have retired to legend status. And for keeping the torch lit for while we waited for Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan to prove themselves worthy of taking it forward.
It’s hard to be pessimistic about anything watching DMX dance with his daughter. Considering everything the Dark Man X has endured over the past two decades, his mere presence in 2016 is both a blessing and testament to the power of pure faith and passion. Faith and passion that lives on in artists like Frank Ocean. Artists with the courage to bare their souls no matter what judgements may come. The ones who are ready to sacrifice the trappings of fame for the immortality of influence.
And I will never stop being pushed by the writers and journalists who paved my way. Rembert Browne, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Taxstone, Combat Jack, Bomani Jones and Ta-Naheisi Coate are currently cutting up the intellectual community with razor-sharp takes and much-needed commentaries on our current culture. And I will never stop thanking them for cooking up the food for thought needed to sustain our world’s budding brilliance. For giving young readers, writers and thinkers the kind of motivation Michael Eric Dyson, Nathan McCall and Walter Dean Meyers gave to me in my youth.
I’m 25 now and it’s crazy how a number has me thinking completely differently about life.
25 can’t be written off as a Jordan or Kobe year. It’s when you realize it’s not a game anymore. That it never was in the first place.
When I was born, my parents never let me forget the slim odds of a Black man making it to 25 in America without becoming a super predator, a private prisoner or a corpse. But Barack, Jay and company are showing us all what 50 could look like. And that you don’t get there by having “No Worries” like French or Wayne.
I’m learning the grown man grind is about channeling stress, building credit and buying property. And being informed and engaged with the world around you. With the grind that lays ahead of us for the next few years, I just hope I’m not the only one who’s been paying attention.