Ever since Ricky Baker caught a few 12-gauge shells to the legs and back in 1991's Boyz N The Hood—holy shit it turns 30 this year!!!!!!—and moved on up to that deluxe apartment in the sky, he’s been part of the Black consciousness.
Boyz N The Hood plays constantly, even in 2021, on TNT and other syndication channels, subjecting a whole new generation of Black youth to the hip-hop generation’s version of Langston Hughes’ age-old question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” Ricky’s death is so significant it ended up as a joke, of sorts, in the animated film The Secret Life of Pets in 2016. If you walk into a Black neighborhood and yell “RICKYYYYYYYYY” down an alley, at least 75 percent of the people will know what joke you’re making. He mattered so much, especially in the ’90s, that it’s easy to forget that he literally never existed. Sure “Ricky” existed in neighborhoods across America, but Ricky Baker, well, he was a character in a movie.
And yet, Ricky Baker and what he could have been is a Black cultural institution of significant import. In short, his Black life mattered. And he is but one entity in a line of supremely significant cultural institutions in African America.
Do you know what movie introduced us to SEVERAL STILL culturally relevant Black institutions? If you said Coming to America, you guessed right; give yourself a pat on the back and have a shot of Henny on me (but on you) at your convenience. As we’re preparing for the release of Coming 2 America (Friday!!!!) I decided to drop a list of non-existent-but-culturally-relevant-to-Black-America thangs. And because I like arguing, I decided to rank them by import.
10. Unfinished Business
This is only at 10 because I’m not sure everybody recognizes it immediately, yet because of this book we got two Black Blockbuster films with characters we know and love and hate, so much so that we waited 14 years for part two and showed up and showed out to see it; it was back like it never left. It’s a sneaky entry here, but it launched The Best Man and The Best Man Holiday and probably sped up the death of Mia. Oh, spoiler alert. Also, Lance sucks at football.
9. The Sanctuary
Oh, Love Jones. The movie seemed like a bigger success, initially, than it was because it spawned an entire generation of “poets” and deep-thinking Black people who kept drums in their house for impromptu drumming circles to either drive out or welcome in spirits. After the movie dropped, all of a sudden, Black poets and deep folks had a club model to pattern after. The Sanctuary probably birthed a shit ton of spoken word jazz clubs that all had a standing bass and lots of ashtrays.
8. The Five Heartbeats
It pains me putting them at 8, especially since I think they’re the greatest fictional Black music group of all time, but alas, at least they made my top 10.
7. Cash Money Brothers of New Jack City Fame
Though the movie came out in 1991, in the year of our lord 2021, I guarantee that you can yell, “WE ALL WE GOT!! AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER?!” and folks will know not only what you mean but what movie it came from and what happens next. Also, The Root’s Joe Jurado pointed out that Nino Brown, and CMB, really showed you what you could do with Black business in the 90's and now I’m just waiting on him to write the definitive article on New Jack City.
6. Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate
I don’t care what anybody says, Randy Watson is one of the greatest singers of all time and his band needs a world tour. They could go on tour with Whitty Huton. IYKYK.
I yell “SEXUAL CHOCOLATE” at least twice a day and to be honest, so do you. Coming to America really was a standard bearer. Also, “The Greatest Love of All” is not a good song, and I think Randy Watson’s version is the best one.
5. Soul Glo
Another of Coming to America’s genius inclusions. I wanted to rank this one higher, but then I looked at the rest of the list and was like, “yeah, P...5 sounds about right.” Soul Glo, even today, matters to me and you, your mama, and your cousin, too. Everybody you know can probably sing the commercial jingle and while I never had, nor wanted a Jheri curl, I hold Soul Glo as one of the world’s best and most innovative inventions. Just let your soul glow, just let it shine through.
4. THE Cookout
Even though it doesn’t exist I would really appreciate it if you would stop trying to invite white people to it.
3. The Sunken Place
Get Out was a horror film for oh so many reasons. There were police, “white liberals,” missing Black people, cotton, but its most enduring horror was “The Sunken Place.” It’s the place you go when them white women got you lost. It also became the place all Black people said The General You resided when you were neither woke, caught up with a white woman and publicly proving both. Basically, Kanye West owns property in the entire zip code.
2. Hillman College
Listen, Linda. Listen. Hillman College, despite not being real is up there with SpelHouse and Howard in terms of its significance to Black educational institutions. The romance of Hillman College and its students and Dwayne and Whitley looms large even in the 2020s in the Black consciousness. It’s nothing to see a person rocking a Hillman College shirt on any street in any city. We all get it, and we all love it. Shit, we still don’t know even exactly where it is.
I mean, come on. Wakanda became what Zamunda could never be. Timing is everything, but if we could all hop on a plane to Wakanda today I’m sure a sizable number of people would go. Folks walk around throwing up the Wakanda-sign, yelling “Wakanda Forever” like it unites us all. Wakanda lives in the hearts and minds of Black folks so much so that it has to be the most culturally significant Black institution that doesn’t actually exist.