The LEVEL Man: An Introduction
Illustration: Jacob Rochester

The LEVEL Man: An Introduction

The whole point of the come-up is to challenge yourself. We celebrate…

What a time, two young men told us in 2015, to be alive. And while Drake and Future were referring to what we now know was the relatively innocent period before the country tipped headlong into Trump-fueled chaos, it’s more than a little possible they were talking about themselves. Drake was about to turn 29; Future was 31. Standing on each side of 30, they felt — and rightfully so — that they were on the verge of something special.

Aging is funny. When your father came up, or his father before him, success was stability. You found something you could do, or that those who held the gates closed would let you do, and you kept doing it until you got to a pension. Your life would change as you went, hopefully for the better, but you didn’t look too hard in any direction but forward. Never back, never next to you, and never, ever inward.

Today, that sounds like a one-way street to misery. The whole point of the come-up is to challenge yourself — to set new goals the entire way, to find growth and fulfillment in every aspect of your life. Emotional, physical, intellectual, material; neglecting one happens to the detriment of all the others. And more often than not, that journey begins in earnest once we hit 30.

It makes sense. Your twenties are the hustle: sharpening your skills, finding a lane, trying to get noticed. Once all that starts to take shape? That’s when the real growth can happen. To celebrate that growth — and the launch of LEVEL, our new publication for and about Black and Brown men — we looked to three men who embody that growth.

By the time playwright Jeremy O. Harris turned 30 this year, he knew his award-winning drama Slave Play would be heading to Broadway; he didn’t know the transgressive show he wrote as a graduate student would become the talk of the theater world. Nor does he know what the future holds for a young queer Black man who’s unafraid to speak truth to power. Inside, he talks to Bonsu Thompson about where he’s come from, and where he has yet to go.

To see what kind of growth is possible in his thirties, Harris couldn’t find a stronger example than Jordan Peele. When sketch show Key & Peele debuted in 2012, only fans of Mad TV knew who the actor was; by the time it finished its five-season run, he had achieved a pop-culture ubiquity few can claim. But he was far from done. His directorial feature film debut, Get Out, became one of the most important movies of the decade. And now, with Us and The Twilight Zone under his belt and a slew of producing projects on the horizon, the Oscar-winning auteur heads into his forties ready to cement his creative legacy. Inside, Hanif Abdurraqib reckons with Get Out’s effects, and the threshold Peele stands at now.

The matter of creative legacy isn’t really a question for our third LEVEL Man, who happens to turn 50 tomorrow. Shawn Corey Carter became Jay-Z decades ago, and rode his unflappable wit and lyrical dexterity through three decades. In that span, he urged millions of fans to grow up and enjoy the process, even while throwing up the Roc. (“Thirty is the new 20” might be cliché now, but it wasn’t when he said it on Kingdom Come.) But while his thirties established his legend status and his forties pushed him toward personal, emotional growth, this next decade presents a challenge no active rap artist has taken on: creating true generational wealth, while remaining culturally relevant. Inside, Bonsu Thompson unpacks how Jay has stayed ahead of the pack his entire life, and what a billionaire can do to create new challenges for himself.

Three decades, each with its own set of obstacles and opportunities. Three men, each of whom has redefined success in his own field — while shattering the illusion of what success and growth looks like for us. Starting today, we at LEVEL look forward to continuing that tradition. To telling the stories other publications have shied away from; to chronicle life in all its rewarding, frustrating fullness; and most of all, to challenging conceptions about what “men’s magazine” can and should mean. We hope you’ll come with us on this journey.

Because really, what a time to be alive.

— The Editors