Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable contributions of Black artists from the past decade.
Lizzo -Time Magazine named her Entertainer of the Year after one of the biggest years of her career. In 2019 alone Lizzo earned eight Grammy nominations, two feature film credits (“Hustlers” and “Ugly Dolls”) and several Billboard hits. The greatest surprise of this year was Lizzo’s single, “Truth Hurts,” topping the charts at No. 1 due to its viral success two years after its initial release.
“When They See Us” - Co-written and directed by Ava Duvernay for Netflix, this mini-series focuses on the 1989 Central Park Jogger Case. This series was significant not only for its lifelike portrayal of “The Exonerated 5” (and 11 Emmy nominations) but also of its political timeliness. The five boys falsely accused of rape in the trial were publicly defamed as being deserving of the death penalty by a then real-estate investor Donald J. Trump, now the sitting president of the United States.
“Becoming”- Affectionately known as “our forever First Lady,” former FLOTUS Michelle Obama released her biography “Becoming” in the fall of 2018. The memoir by the first and only African-American First Lady of the United States became the highest selling book of 2018, a New York Times Best Seller, and is set to be the highest selling memoir of all time. Within five months of its release the book had already sold more than 10 million copies with a portion of the proceeds donated to supporting children's literacy.
Kehinde Wiley - Although his name is nearly as recognized as his work, this visual artist created works of art that will be talked about forever. In 2018 Wiley was selected by President Barack Obama to paint an official portrait of the (then) sitting president for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The painting depicts President Obama sitting in a chair amongst foliage, a stark contrast to other presidential portraits. The foliage represented the diversity of President Obama’s background with chrysanthemums (the official flower of Chicago where the Obamas are from), jasmine (symbolic of Hawaii where the president grew up) and African blue lilies (symbolic of the president's Kenyan heritage). Wiley became the first Black artist commissioned to paint a presidential portrait.
“Black Panther” - “Wakanda Forever” became a salute and symbol to Black excellence popularized by Chadwick Boseman in the Marvel film “Black Panther.”The film, its fashion, and many of its quotes will forever be staples in Black history and global cinema as the 2018 film grossed $1.347 billion in box office sales. “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, was the most Googled fixture of entertainment in 2018, and the sixth most Googled overall. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis; the film won countless awards, several due in part to the lesser known players working behind the scenes to make the film as iconic as it was. “Black Panther” will return.
“Get Out” - A satirical horror film by Jordan Peele about an African-American man who discovers a chilling secret about the family of his white girlfriend. Using nuanced symbolism so subtle you almost have to watch it a few times to catch the underlying messaging the film tackles themes of interracial dating, mental entrapment (now widely known in pop culture as “The Sunken Place”) and social issues such as racism, organ harvesting and underpublicized epidemic of trafficking missing Black bodies. This film was created on a budget of $4.5 million with a net profit of $124 million making “Get Out” the tenth most profitable film of 2017.
Twin Cities Black arts renaissance - With the passing of one of the most prolific musicians of our time, Prince, a new and all-powerful generation of Black artists stepped forward showcasing their unique talents and honoring our dearly departed purple one. Although the renaissance of Black art can be traced to many different points of time in history, there was an undeniable resurgence within the Twin Cities. From open mics to art galleries, murals, pop up installations, performances, and more, local artists used their gifts to articulate the impact that Prince Roger Nelson had on the world and in their art in particular.
Misty Copeland - June 30, 2015 Misty Copeland became the first bi-racial woman to be promoted to principle dancer in the American Ballet Theater. The American Ballet Theater is one of the top ballet companies in the United States and had been open for 75 years at that time. Copeland had been a part of the company for 15 years prior to getting promoted to principle dancer. In 2015 Copeland was also named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
Danez Smith - St. Paul poet Danez Smith made national history in 2014 when his book “[insert] Boy” was released with publisher Yes, Yes Books. “[insert] Boy” won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry, Kate Tufts Discovery Award and was named one of the Boston Globe’s “Best Poetry Books of 2014.” Smith went on to be the youngest poet to win the Forward Poetry prize for “Best Poetry Collection” after publishing his second book “Don’t Call Us Dead”and was named one of Forbes 30 under 30 for his work in literary media. Smith’s work covers themes of police brutality, HIV diagnoses, community violence and Black culture.
“Black-ish” - In the fall of 2014 “Black-ish,” the sitcom created by Kenya Barris debuted on ABC showcasing the intergenerational dynamics of an upper-middle class African-American family . Starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahi, Jennifer Lewis, Miles Brown, Marcus Scribner, and Marsai Martin, the show has run for six seasons, won countless awards, and donned two spin off shows – “Grown-ish” and “Mixed-ish.”
Virgil Abloh - Born in Rockford, Ill. to Ghanian immigrants, Virgil Abloh made global history in 2013 with his contributions to the fashion world. The entrepreneur, DJ, and fashion guru founded his Milan based fashion label Off White in 2013 and is credited as the first American of African descent to become an artistic director of a French luxury house. Abloh interned at Fendi alongside Kanye West and went on to revolutionize streetwear within the Louis Vuitton brand. He still serves as the artistic director at Louis Vuitton and is the first man of African descent to lead the brands menswear line.
“BEYONCE (the visual album)” - In 2013 global pop sensation BeyoncéKnowles-Carter released her fifth studio album, “BEYONCE,” with Columbia Records and Parkwood Entertainment. The “visual” album included themes of love, sex, feminism and self-worth all accompanied by short films/music videos. With no prior promotion, and (initially) an exclusively digital release, this album revolutionized the music industry shifting the release date for music from Mondays to Fridays and contributing to the reduction of physical albums distributed globally. “BEYONCE” became the fastest selling album in iTunes history selling more than 600,000 copies in the first three days nationally, and over 800,000 copies globally. The album became the third longest charting album on the Billboard 200 by a Black woman spending 185 weeks on the chart and launching Beyoncé’scareer to unprecedented heights.
The resurgence of Black jazz in mainstream music and media - Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding made unconventional history one night in 2012 by appearing on late night shows with Jay Leno and David Letterman. Both artists, African-American, under the age of 40, and known for their contributions to contemporary jazz had taken unconventional approaches to their creations, fusing together multiple genre’s rooted in Black expression that were commercially viable. Outside of television both artists found crossover success as Spalding’s “Radio Music Society” album peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard music charts and Glasper’s “Black Radio”sold more than 128,000 copies worldwide, both doing so without commercial radio success. Other artists who popularized contemporary jazz fusions during this time were Lakecia Benjamin, Nicolas Payton, Flying Lotus and Greggory Porter.
“Awkward Black Girl” - Showcasing the nuances of Black womanhood, especially for introverts, Issa Rae’s web series “Awkward Black Girl”made history on YouTube filling a void of Black female characters on screen. The viral web series follows the character J (Issa Rae) who struggles to find her footing in love, friendship and in her career. Based on a series of real-life events, creator and star Rae was able to turn a series of awkward experiences into a national platform that crowdfunded more than $50,000, won a Shorty award, and was picked up by Pharell’s umbrella company I Am Other. This web series launched Rae into becoming a prominent fixture in media for young Black female representation. Rae is now the writer, producer, and star of HBO’s “Insecure” and has a host of feature films and national awards under her belt.
“Monster” - Rapper Kanye West released his fifth studio album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” on Def Jam and Roc-a-Fella records in 2010. With controversial lyrics, eclectic production, and a host of features, one of the albums greatest highlights is it’s sixth track, “Monster,” featuring Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj. The star-studded track features braggadocious verses and chorus with each artist showcasing and/or dictating their lyrical ability, but no one did so more iconically than Nicki Minaj. Minaj’s verse features multiple cadences (alter-egos), that stole the show from her male counterparts whose resumes at that time were twice as long as hers. Nicki’s verse went on to be nominated for a Sweet 16: Best Featured Verse by BET, was named Best Rap Verse of the past five years by Complex, and ultimately launched her career to new heights where she would dominate the lane of women in hip-hop for the next decade. “Monster” was certified platinum, named one of the 100 “Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time” by Rolling Stone, and labeled one of 24 songs that shaped the decade by GQ.