Home Featured The 15 Most Intriguing People in Black America

The 15 Most Intriguing People in Black America

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Last week I wrote about the 15 Most Annoying People in Black America. From Tyler Perry to the Basketball Wives, to Ms. Lauryn Hill, we covered a lot of ground. While that was fun, I really don’t like being so negative—not even in jest. Today, I want to switch things up and talk about people whose presence on Earth I actually appreciate; people who to me, are generally intriguing. Let’s jump right in:

Frank Ocean

Swim Good

What do you do when you’re signed to one of the most important labels in the history of Hip-Hop, but can’t seem to build any sort of steam with the record company around your project? Change your name and release your stuff online. That’s essentially what Christopher Breaux (Frank Ocean) did. After being signed to Def Jam for some time, with no real movement on his work, Frank took matters into his own hands and dropped Nostalgia.

What I really dig about Frank Ocean’s music is its subtlety, the sublime way he’s able to recreate feelings and emotions through song. His vocals are agnostically soulful and his songs are both simple and thought provoking. I even think the fact that he doesn’t have the classically powerful voice we’ve come to expect from male crooners adds to his appeal; his sonic imperfections belying a certain humanity that allows the listener to connect and empathize. If you were to sort my iTunes playlist by number of plays, Frank Ocean’s “Swim Good” has a perpetual spot at the top of my list.

dream hampton

@dreamhampton

You’ve been a fan of dream hampton for longer than you know. From her pioneering work at The Source and Vibe, to co-founding the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement all the way up through co-authoring Jay’s Decoded, dream’s always been an inspiration to all of the children born of Hip-Hop who’ve dared to pick up a pen and pad and do something besides rap. What I enjoy most about her is the beautiful way she carries the contradictions that come with being of Hip-Hop, without compromising her social, cultural, and political awareness. She, more than most, understands that those of us born into Hip-Hop need not apologize for its contradictions, idiosyncrasies, and sometimes destructive nature, but instead appreciate that all of that is birthed in the same place as its ingenuity, artistic integrity and genius. If Hov’ is Che Guevera with bling on, dream is Sojourner with Jordans.

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Roland Martin

The thing you gotta love about Roland Martin is that, in the midst of all the propaganda, vitriol and plain BS that finds is way onto CNN, Roland always finds away to say exactly what you were yelling at the screen and for that, he deserves a spot on the list. He doesn’t back down and most importantly, he knows his stuff. He slipped up a little when discussing that underwear add on Twitter, but I think we were all happy to see him back on television doing his thing, representing us.

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is an inspiration for starving writers everywhere. After graduating college, she was basically an unemployed or underemployed script writer trying to get her work going in Hollywood. She persevered, never lost sight of her goals, and most importantly, she kept writing. She wrote wherever and whenever she could, from the script for Halle’s “Being Dorothy Dandridge” to that terrible Britney Spears flick “Crossroads.” Rhimes kept writing, and eventually, she blessed us with one of television’s best shows – “Grey’s Anatomy.” If you’ve ever committed yourself to some sort of artistic or alternative endeavor and not been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, remember Shonda Rhimes. By the way, if you’re not watching ABC’s “Scandal” … you might wanna get up on it.

Comment(70)

  1. I like this list and I cosign it, I hadnt heard of some of these people but this made me go look them up and I was really impressed with a lot of them. I might add Aaron Mcgruder simply because I am a big fan of the Boondocks. good list, I would be interested to see who other people add. My fave frank ocean song is we all try. I could relate with him. Mr West really did change the game, some might say he has the right to be cocky.
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    1. We all try, Swim good, Pyrite, Novocane, Thinking about you, There will be tears, Orion, Let me, The hardest thing, and Static are the only songs of his that I was moved to download, but of those, We all try is definitely top 3.

        1. lol I love him. I just thought I would end up downloading more songs than I did. And those are my top three as well, with Novocane equally competing with Thinking about you.

        1. I love that Frank Ocean made this list…He is amazing artist and he has created his own lane. My Top 3 has to be Ready , American Wedding and Swim Good

  2. Swim Good is my joint. It's funny, because it took a few days to grow on me. But when it did? Shieeet.

    I don't know most of the people on the list, but I'll try to look into some of the literary works mentioned. I don't know if I find any popular American figure intriguing per se. I'll have to sleep on it.

  3. I love that Solange made this list (although I don't know if I'd have named her to it on my own, LOL). I find her to be so very cool for the same reasons that you listed. Not to mention that her album Sol Angel was absolutely fantastic.

    1. Sol Angel was GENIUS. I don't like to compare her to her sister because they sing in different genres but Imma just say that ten years from now, I'll still be playing it…..and I don't own anything by the thundergoat. Plus she wrote Upgrade U, the only daggone Bey song I like. It annoys me that 1) she is so underrated and 2) She refused to go the Kelly route & shuttle her music promotion machine over to Europe, where she would have eclipsed plenty of the English vanilla soul singers of today. I could talk about her for days.

  4. I know a lot of you people worship at the alter that is Kanye West, so I'll leave that alone. Every other choice is great outside of Spike Lee. Spike hasn't been doing anything compelling with his fictional films 25th Hour. His documentaries are still choice, but unfortunately documentaries don't really move the masses (or even the cinephiles).

    He, should be exchanged with Ava DuVernary who just directed two great/well received films back to back with I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere (first Black director to win Best Director Award at Sundance). She's also at the forefront of the African-American Film Release Movement which aims to get more Black independent films in circuits and theaters. Black owed film distribution >>>>. One of the few times great hustle and great art have matched up.
    http://www.affrm.com/

    Restless City opens in NYC/ATL/LA this weekend! Next week it opens to Chicago, DC, Philly, Detroit, and Seattle. And then WiM can watch it by himself in June when it opens in Denver.

    1. definitely co-sign on Ava DuVernay, she is putting in some serious work for black film. though i don't see the need to exchange Spike with Ava, they've both contributed so much.

    2. Agree with Nina here.

      Ava's doing her thing. But Spike is the big homey. In terms of his fiction work, though it wasn't groundbreaking, I thoroughly enjoyed Inside Man. Also his highest grossing film to date showing he can step out of his presribed genre and make films that appeal to the masses.

      But I don't think I really need to defend Spike's inclusion.

  5. I'd have to add Prince to the list. He's def not one of us. Id have to sit his lil frail azz down and ask him what's his secret for pulling some of THE finest women on the planet!?!

      1. Seen him twice at MSG. Worth EVERY.SINGLE.PENNY. Four hours non-stop. Prince got hits you forgot were hits.

        And then he has hits for other people that you forgot, or didn't even realize he wrote… he performs those too. It's really amazing. Definitely something to add to any music lovers bucket list.

      2. ABSOLUTE must-see.
        Random note, but he has a point where he randomly pulls people onstage every concert. The last one I saw, he pulled up some grandma-looking white lady to dance, she proceeded to snatch the mike and TEAR. IT. UP. I realized it was Cindy Lauper without makeup after I picked my jaw up off the floor. Tha b**h can BLOW. No earpiece, no words, just notes. I have since added Cindy Lauper to my bucket list of live events.

        1. LOL….

          Word!!

          Only Prince can do that and still have his G-Swag about him though. He Can Get It!!!! *lmbo*

        2. **sigh*** He's the only man I'll ever allow to keep his heels on….

          …take that back, Lenny Kravitz has a thigh-high pair of heeled boots he wears that are to DIE for…

        3. Lenny & Prince def have a similar mojo, lol…

          I just want Prince to come up off that secret perm! #bestpermever

          Not that I need it, but I know several ladies who do, LOL

  6. I agree with your list *makes note to check out Stephen Carter, i’m always down to read afro am non hoodrat fiction*. Alot of the people who get alot of the influential titles always seem like douches in real life (see Smith, Will. Jordan, Michael. Carter, Shawn. Winfrey, Oprah. Combs, Sean) while yours is alot more grouded. As for who i’d add

    Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Barack Obama, and T.I.

      1. Not that I agree with Tristan but…

        A Well Spoken T.I. gives great insight on the problem moral problem facing black men between knowing something is wrong but being taught it is the proper way to respond.

        Lebron… how did he not turn in Lenny Cooke. Than, how does he deal with being hated for no good reason.

  7. "I even think the fact that he doesn’t have the classically powerful voice we’ve come to expect from male crooners adds to his appeal; his sonic imperfections belying a certain humanity that allows the listener to connect and empathize" <- So I'm going to steal these words when I explain that though I don't think he can sing, I still love his music. (Rocket Love helped me finish my thesis).

    I knew she was a member but I didn't know dream is a co-founder of MXG… She's definitely a jill of trades. I've seen her name associated with a couple of film projects I've recently seen. I definitely respect her.

    I just looked up The Intuitionist. I definitely need to read that.

    Some folks I appreciate that aren't on this list:
    Andre 3000 – I consider him one of the best rappers of my time, but so extremely low-key about it all.
    Bilal – I used to put him in a box of neo-soul singers and didn't pay him any mind. but he does amazing stuff with music. I think he's incredibly talented. and he seems strange…
    John Forte – This is an appreciation I've only recently developed but I'd love to have a conversation about race with him. Anyone who appears to constantly navigate white spaces while remaining aware of their blackness intrigues me. Plus he makes good music.

    I feel a certain way about not being able to think of black American writers (with recent works) that I would add to this list…
    My recent post Virgins

      1. Right … and Stephen L. Carter is as known for his social/policy non-fiction writing and his work at Yale as he is for his non-fiction … but who's counting.

        1. @ Most I am counting. While he is known for those things, what was stated as intriguing was not his work as a leading Constitutional Law scholar but rather the addition of his entertaining fiction work. He is intriguing without that as is Charles Ogletree but Professor Ogletree is not on the list because without the addition of being entertaining he does not make the intriguing cut I suppose.

          I stand by my original comment.

      2. I did read the entire article. Roland Martin is as much a newscaster as an entertainer. Add to that the fact that the news has become entertainment and you get my point. Same for Melissa Harris Perry.

        Nevertheless, I am going to assume that you read my entire comment which only stated that he could do better. Out of the "15 Most Intriguing People in Black America" you identified 3 that were not related to entertainment. We are a far more diverse tapestry than that. In other words, your comment proves my point.

        Thanks

  8. I like Colson but I couldn't bring myself to finish his last novel Zone One.Besides it being word porn, his protagonist, Mark Spitz inspired no feelings good or bad from me. I would have rather hated his guts a la Holden Caufield but I could bring myself to feel anything.

  9. *stands up and applauds the selection of Melissa Harris-Perry*

    Man, I love that woman. Is it possible to be a stan of hers? Bc I just might be. At the very least, I have a serious girl crush on her. A beautiful black woman that can talk about anything from sports, to hip hop, to ratchet reality TV, to the intersectionality issues in the feminist movement?! I wholeheartedly just want to be her. Her show is great, and her books are, too. Sister Citizen is a must-read, regardless of gender.

    Ok, I'm done now. **Takes off #Nerdland Tee**

    **Sidenote: I agree with all the other choices as well.**
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  10. i agree with most of your list. a lot of people don't like roland martin but i think he's genuine and wants the best for black people. aside from his ascot and the underwear ad thing i support him. on a similar note i'm also team MHP. she's educated, intelligent and not bad on the eyes at all. yes she can be my cougar any day. lol i catch her show whenever i can.

    i also love the first lady. i love her marriage with barack. she's a powerful woman who isn't defined by her marriage to the most powerful man in the free world but instead she compliments him. i can respect a powerful woman.

    the only place i disagree with you is floyd mayweather. i simply do not like dude. he's a braggart. i know that comes with the business of boxing but for some reason i don't like when he does it. dude is going to jail soon for beating up his baby's mother and now he's supposed to be celebrated for this fight he has coming up? yeah right. he ducked pacquiao and is now talking trash on twitter. he's scared of dude but can beat up women? i have no respect for him.
    My recent post Take Me Back to 1953

    1. "i also love the first lady. i love her marriage with barack. she's a powerful woman who isn't defined by her marriage to the most powerful man in the free world but instead she compliments him"

      Cosign 10,000,000

  11. I love your last 3.

    Kanye just needs a few extra doses of humility and Solange…I just love that she is completely comfy in her own skin being her own person having her own career on her own terms. I have lots of respect for her…and "I Decided" was my song, lol.

    Thanks for the book recommendations.

  12. Long time lurker, but I wanted to add that I agree with the commenter up top that I would add Aaron McGruder, since I've been a huge Boondocks fan for a while.

    Aside from that, this list gets my stamp of approval, since not only did you include Michelle Obama, but quoted my favorite poem while doing so. Well played sir.

  13. i love this list.

    don't know much about mayweather. but my love for kanye and his genius is well-documented, mickalene thomas i was just recently introduced to and her stuff is dooope. i'm a big romare bearden fan so collage art has a special place in my heart. spike lee is and will always be my favorite movie maker for school daze and do the right thing alone. i somehow want to be both dream hampton and shonda rhimes and michelle obama when i grow up, and solange is genuinely like thee most interesting celebrity (and one of the only) i follow on twitter. just all around dope.

    good post!
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  14. Good List, but Kanye?!!!.. eh I don't know he just rubs me the wrong way for some reason, I don't find him to be intriguing, he's like an open book and he irks the hell outta me, he needs a big dosage of humility

    I've been searching for a good read, thanks for book list.

    May I also add… although she's deceased.

    Eartha Kitt (RIP)

  15. Also, Solange = Queen of the Naturalistas. She comes off far more authentic than her sister (which is fine because being a megastar rarely allows for much public nuance in personality) and she actually knows how to dress. Like her herself, not a stylist.

  16. LOVE the nod to Mickalene Thomas. I wanna be a billionaire so freakin' bad…(not really), but owning a piece of hers is definitely on my list.

  17. My list includes Michelle Obama, Janice Burgess, Zoe Saldana and Taraji P Henson. Michelle for obvious reasons, Janice is the creator of Backyardigans (I admire her creativity), Zoe because it seems like she came up really fast but she really started back in '99 and watching Taraji's roles get better and better was cool too. I'm not a diehard fan of anybody but I am a fan and am intrigued.

    1. I LOVE the Backyardigans! *sings* I'm an international…super spy…super spyyyyyyy….super spy! LOL!

      I also love Bubble Guppies and Jacks Big Music Show (the Schwartzman Quartet…LOVE THEM!!!!)…and the "Family" song (*sings* When I'm in your heart, your my family…)…and the Fresh Beat Band has grown on me, lol. #mommymoment

      1. Hahaha! International Super Spy must've played on repeat for two days straight here once. I'm glad they're on Netflix. A couple of my favorites are Samurai Pie and Robot Rampage. Those songs get in your heart don't they? I haven't watched any of those other shows but I have heard of them. I think she produced some Little Bill and Blue's Clues too. Go Janice!

  18. This is a good list with some people i wasn't aware of. I don't cosign Frank Ocean as a top 15 most interesting person in Black America. His story is cool, but he doesn't interest me like that, really. I think that spot could goto an OG like Will Smith or Denzel over him easy. My opinion.

    How does Obama not make that list? Is his intrigue diminished because he's the POTUS?
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    1. I went with "intriguing" over "interesting" or "important" over other positive adjectives because I wanted to highlight folks that pique my curiosity. If that makes sense. Like, Solange don't really do anything, but she just seems cool as hell.

      These are people that, in my mind, are driving the culture in their own ways. So like, for example, J and Ye get the credit for "No Church in the Wild" but in my mind, Ocean drives that song.

  19. Nice list and I agree with your assessment on Mayweather, Jr. I don't think people realize how good this dude is. Forget all the out of the ring issues/problems. When it comes down to just the boxing and boxing only he can't be touched (literally…no one can land punches on dude and he tags everyone else. The punches landed are always so lopsided in his fights).

    I'm a big Kanye fan, also. Whatever he does outside of music is whatever….but straight pure content and quality you can't deny the talent. People say he needs a huge dose of humility…that may be so, but I have news for you…he only says out loud what many (and I mean many) people of his status and level of success think. Believe that.

    1. "People say he needs a huge dose of humility…that may be so, but I have news for you…he only says out loud what many (and I mean many) people of his status and level of success think. Believe that."

      …and they all could benefit from humility, lol…it doesn't excuse it.

  20. I would add Mayor Cory Booker. He sends out his own tweets, shovels snow, raises money for President Obama and saves his neighbor from kitchen fires. He's also a Stanford and Oxford grad who isn't pretentious!!! A thinker AND a doer…..*swoon* Did I mention that I prefer older men? 🙂

  21. I'll agree on the Solange thing. Something about her just seems genuine and transparent. I'll add Meagan Good to that; not necessarily as intriguing, but in some way I feel like she's the younger generation's Stacey Dash. She'll have that kinda mediocre longevity in the business because she's bad and she knows her strengths, plus she seems humble enough.

    To counter-balance the TP annoyance, I'd replace Spike w/ Will Packer and Rob Hardy. You can't knock Spike's contribution to cinema as a whole. But honestly, he's not doing anything right now of relevance. Will Packer and Rob Hardy's RainForest Films is the only other black-owned production company that's put out consistent box office successes (Stomp the Yard, Obsessed, Takers, Think Like A Man). They don't have a sob story like TP or use the coontastic formula to sell tickets. That's admirable IMO.

    You can't lose w/ M.O on the list – class, attractive, smart, witty, athletic, confidence, she's basically the prototype

  22. I would add 50 Cent, Azealia Banks, Touré and Neil deGrasse Tyson. I love Dream; she's my favorite person on Twitter.

    Thanks for the author/book recommendations–need some new material.

      1. Can someone explain the Toure slander? Not until recently did I notice that every black man on my timeline between the ages of 27-33 (usually New Yorkers) absolutely detests him! Que passa?

  23. Edward P. Jones is a REALLY interesting AA novelist. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel the Known World, which was amazing… it was a book about a black slave owner. His writing is sooooo good…. . Apparently he writes entire novels in his head first, like the whole thing, and then he puts them down on paper. His back story is interesting too… he's like a recluse of some sort… but also a genius grant recipient and a professor…. he's just an interesting person.

    Read his stuff. Seriously. Just read it. lol.

    Here's a WaPo article abt him: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/arti

    My recent post I know I said that’s what I wanted….

  24. I agree even moreso with Solange, I always felt exactly the same she is just a great person with great taste and seems to just have it all altogether. I never compare here with B- she is her own person and happy about it and so am I, she's just great as is.

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