When our cyborg descendants dig into the past from the dystopian future brought on by the evil empire assembled by our next commander in chief (whose evil aura and breathing difficulties make me 93.2 percent sure he’s actually Darth Vader), 2016 will likely be remembered as the year America was bamboozled into electing a slightly sophisticated orangutan as its president.
Lost in the hullabaloo of this country’s moonwalk backward into idiocy is the fact that the past 365 days have seen some of the greatest moments in the storied history of black media. As we close out 2016, we should not let the bitter taste of Trump steaks and doofus juice obscure the accomplishments and genius that we had the pleasure of experiencing over the calendar year.
Here is a countdown of the top 10 reasons the past year will surely go down as the blackest year in entertainment history:
Jesse Williams’ BET speech. Kendrick Lamar’s African dancers and drum circle at the Grammys. Chris Rock roasting white Hollywood for making the #OscarsSoWhite. Regina King’s Emmy win. Rihanna performing 1,283 songs on the MTV Awards (hosted by DJ Khaled and Key and Peele). Even the big winner at the Tony Awards was a hip-hop musical. We dropped so much melanin at awards show this year, somehow Beyoncé ended up at the Country Music Awards serving lemonade and white tears.
2016 was a banner year for shade throwing. Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (that is her legal name in black America. Bern Nadette Stanis will forever be “Thelma From Good Times,” and Janet Hubert’s official name is “Dark-Skinned Aunt Viv”) began the year slinging side eye at Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Drake, master and commander of underhanded pettiness, threw a little bit of light-skinned shade at everyone from Meek Mill to Joe Budden to Eminem. Taraji P. Henson showed 50 Cent how clapback powers mixed with BlackGirlMagic work as a shade-deflector shield. Perhaps the most beautiful response to the trend came from Cash Money millionaire and aptly named Baby, who demanded that the undisputed heavyweight world champions of petty shade—The Breakfast Club—“put some respeck” on his name.
After shows like Scandal, Empire and Black-ish proved that black people could create and produce hits without bowing to the traditional stereotypes surrounding African-American entertainment, networks slowly began offering shows that were unapologetically black. Netflix’s Luke Cage finally gave us a black superhero (no shade to Meteor Man). Donald Glover’s Atlanta was a masterpiece in smart, irreverent storytelling that didn’t feel it necessary to explain itself or cater to anything outside of blackness. Similarly, Issa Rae’s Insecure showed a depth and breadth to black women and men and their relationships that has never been seen before on the small screen.
Before Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team shocked their sport by wearing Black Lives Matter shirts during warmups. Of course it was great to see athletes like Carmelo Anthony speak out against injustice, but we shouldn’t forget that the same year that gave us Kaepernick and his Afro (at this point, they are almost two separate entities) also gave us Cam Newton and the Seattle Seahawks’ apologetic, All Lives Matter anthem armlock and took Muhammad Ali—the greatest, wokest athlete who ever lived—from us.
Oh well, you can’t have everything.
As with music, art, comedy, dance and every other form of American creative expression, black cool redefined the internet. I’m not saying black people invented memes, but we showed the world how to do it. Whether it was #ThanksgivingWithBlackFamilies, tea sipping or Ben & Jerry’s Black Lives Matter flavors (it’s a tie between “He Was Unarmed Dough” and “Go Shawty, It’s Sherbert Day”), we showed white America how to use the internet, and when novices like Justin Timberlake tried to interject themselves, we let them have it.
We are still undecided whether the internet king of 2016 will be Kermit or this guy:
But whomever we choose, I’m sure someone will be:
I know you think I must’ve only had nine reasons, and shoehorned this in to even out the list, because black music is always on fire, and in America, “black music” simply means “music,” but hear me out. Beyoncé, the greatest performer of her generation, dropped a surprise album out of nowhere. Then Kendrick Lamar, the greatest rapper of his generation, basically peeled off the layers of black manhood and dropped Untitled, Unmastered.
But perhaps the most anticipated album of the year (if only because of the black Twitter memes) finally came to fruition when Frank Ocean emerged from Narnia and dropped two dope albums on us. There is so much more I could mention: Kanye’s The Life of Pablo; Solange’s blackity-black A Seat at the Table; the return of A Tribe Called Quest; Chance the Rapper’s technicolor Coloring Book topping the charts with neither a physical album nor a record label.
2016’s music scene was so lit, it even erased the Lil’ Bow Wow (that’s his name; remember what I said) joint mixtape with Soulja Boy.
However you feel about The Birth of a Nation and its shortcomings or accomplishments or the history of its auteur, the controversy surrounding it is emblematic of many of the black films that graced the silver screen this year. It fostered a conversation about feminism, sexual assault and artistic license, while beautiful movies like Moonlight and Queen of Katwe explored the myriad untold stories that exist outside the slave narrative. Perhaps the best black movie of the year didn’t even debut in movie theaters: Ava DuVernay’s 13th is the must-see movie of the year.
As the nation collected itself from a whimpering heap and tried to say the words “President Trump” without throwing up in its collective mouth, we turned to our nation’s greatest orator, philosopher and sage: Dave Chappelle. They say laughter is the best medicine, and Chappelle gave the country a dose of pure, uncut funny to help us laugh through our electoral pain. If not for Chappelle’s Saturday Night Live appearance, progressive white liberals might still be throwing tantrums in front of Trump Tower while we black people, Mexicans and Muslims busied ourselves building underground bunkers.
There are some things that will not fit in a category. President Barack Obama warned folks about “popping off” and danced to “Hotline Bling.” Malia Obama learned how to hit the blunt and also learned that white people and social media will snitch. Janet Jackson had a baby. The Bad Boy Reunion was epic. Prince left his earthly home wearing an Afro, still great, and fresh in our hearts and memories. Shirley Caesar finally made a gospel song for Thanksgiving.
Queen Bey was the greatest thing about 2016. She began the year by marching onto the biggest stage in the world with backup dancers dressed like Black Panthers and serenaded Negro noses, Afros and the hot sauce in her bag. Halftime of the Super Bowl will never be the same. “Y.P. Pull” were so mad they threatened to boycott her, but they didn’t, and Yoncé pocketed a cool quarter billion dollars in ticket sales. (That is not a misprint. That’s billion with a “b.”)
Lemonade will forever be the defining piece of music for this year for its unflinching blackness, its feminism, its social awareness doused in emotion and Southern charm. She also teamed with her husband to offer financial support to Black Lives Matter. Then Beyoncé hijacked the MTV Awards and performed for six or seven hours (I was not actually timing it) before angering white people again by appearing at the Country Music Awards.
I firmly believe that Beyoncé’s CMA performance was the last straw for white Americans. They were tired of unapologetic blackness. It was inescapable. They were tired of eating lemonade-flavored crow. They had grown weary of black fists and formations. When they went in the voting booth to cast a ballot for Trump, they thought the election of a racist leader would finally quiet and quell the incessant. They thought that in 2017, they might finally tamp down the rebellious black spirit.
But black people be like: