The Nine Best Stories From 2019 That Define How We Will Serve You

The Nine Best Stories From 2019 That Define How We Will Serve You

Our staff weighs in on writing that sets the tone for what you can expect in 2020

Drug Kingpin Frank Lucas Told Me Not to Forgive Anyone,” Aliya S. King

I would hear about Frank Lucas on Wednesdays, the day after he and Aliya S. King sat down to work on his biography, Original Gangster. King and I called their meetings “Tuesdays with Frank.” She would download me on his bad behavior while she reluctantly penned that book, which presented a powerful man who earned absolute power (and close to a billion dollars) supplying heroin to Harlem junkies and many other addicts. That God-like mentality, I believe, is a drug of its own — and it doesn’t die. Her chronicle of that process shows a former dealer who still believed his commandments should be obeyed without challenge, a wheelchair-bound octogenarian who made demands as though he were still as intimidating and menacing as he was in the ’70s. King’s narrative, which takes the form of the eulogy she would have given if she had attended Lucas’ funeral this year, does something unexpected: It humanizes Lucas through his love for his son (who passed away two years earlier). It’s her parting gift to the late gangster. Can’t say she never gave him anything. —Jermaine Hall, editor in chief

‘Watchmen’ Is a Revolution — So Why Are the X-Men Still Afraid of Blackness?David Dennis, Jr.

If the Spider-Verse needed an adult play-cousin expanding the visual vernacular of Black contemporary angst, Watchmen can definitely hold a plate at the family reunion. Remarking on the ways the HBO show steeped the Superman origin story in Black Southern realism, David Dennis Jr. situates Watchmen alongside Dan Hickman’s legendary X-Men revival this year, making an insightful distinction between the latter’s allegory of Blackness versus dealing with the traumatic history of White supremacy and Black folks prevailing beyond more directly. There’s more than a few reasons why Watchmen got the fragile boys shook, but perhaps creating a new mythology that explores the many valences of Black trauma and triumph is its biggest accomplishment. —Tirhakah Love, staff writer

A Definitive Guide to the Modern Bro, From Ironic Rap to Woker-Than-Thouness,” Scott Woods

Like a virus, the White bro — the species, not the individual — has evolved, multiplied, and assimilated itself into our daily lives. At first glance, the threat seems nonhostile, but after a steady dose of interactions rooted in blithe arrogance and unsolicited opinions, you find yourself wholly drained and very annoyed. To help you protect yourself, Scott Woods put together a guide to help you identify and deny the six different types of modern bro. Service journalism at its finest. —Shaquille Cheris, executive assistant

For Black Boys Considering Suicide,” Joel Leon.

For years, suicide has been hush-hush. It’s too taboo for the dinner table, and for those with suicide ideations, the opportunity to speak openly — and get much-needed counseling — are almost nil. Factor in systemic resource disparities, and Black men and boys have no shoulders to lean on. Writer Joel Leon aims to change that. His story about sexual abuse and suicidal thoughts takes off a mask to save lives. Direct and uncompromising, Leon creates an atmosphere so that those contemplating suicide or simply grappling with anxiety will find fellowship. In this piece, all of their feelings are validated. —Jada Gomez, senior platform editor

The Frustrating, Awkward Dance of Being the Only Brown Person in the Office,” Omar L. Gallaga

Newsrooms have problems. So do tech, finance, and law firms and about any professional industry you can name. Through decades of obliviousness or outright discriminatory practices, it’s all too common to look around a meeting and realize you’re the only non-White person in the room. “You want to be engaged in your culture,” Omar L. Gallaga writes, “but you never wanted to be the culture, the lone ambassador appointed to make the call on what’s right and appropriate, to be the one who has to speak up every time a line has been crossed, a taboo breached.” But it’s not enough for him simply to unpack the pattern — he messes around and gives some damn good advice. Like, for starters, don’t ask him about telenovelas. —Peter Rubin, executive editor

A Pride Story: Choosing to Live My Black Fat Queer Life,” Cody Charles

All too often, the term “queer” is used solely to describe a body of people who love and live outside social norms. But, as Cody Charles reminds us in this thoughtful personal essay, queer is more than an identity; it is a practice, an intention. A choice to engage with the possible and to make the possible within a realm bent on parochiality. Embracing his queer expression in a segregated Southern Baptist community allowed Charles to be his own sanctuary and provides a model for those struggling with letting their neon light shine. —TL

Why We Need to Stop Saying ‘People Of Color’ When We Mean ‘Black People,’Joshua Adams

Without knowing it, Joshua Adams has foreshadowed a conversation that’s going to continue well into 2020. While “people of color” has become an acceptable term when discussing race, it leaves a lot of room for error — especially watering down the issues that are fundamentally on the shoulders of Black people. Adams says, “Describing myself as ‘POC’ feels like walking into a space with an apology in hand, a preemptive ‘sorry’ for any offense my Blackness may have caused.” His story encourages Black people to rip up those apologies and disclaimers, to tell people to see them for who they are, and to address them accordingly. —JG

How I Aged Gracefully in Hip-Hop,” Bernard “Bun B” Freeman

We put unrealistic expectations on rappers. There’s this thing called real life — you may have heard of it — that happens when the stage lights dim. MCs evolve; for some, rhyming no longer dominates their time. Studio sessions and after-hours strip clubs give way to the rest of life, to family and stability and peace. That’s where you’ll find the UGK legend, who might just be the most evolved man in hip-hop. Is he still a lyrical assassin? For sure. Is he also a beast at cheering for his granddaughter at cheerleading competitions? Why, yes. Yes, he is. How trill is that? —SC

The Level Man at 40: Jordan Peele,” Hanif Abdurraqib

Finding himself profoundly fatigued by comedy’s impotence in the face of today’s political horrors, Hanif Abdurraqib hat-tips Jordan Peele’s transition from Key & Peele to the terrifying satire of 2017’s Get Out. In one of the coldest renditions of game recognizing game, as Peele bobs and weaves through comedy and horror, Abdurraqib celebrates Level’s launch package by collapsing the walls between personal history — as he plots an exit from the snowflakes of Connecticut — and critical retrospective. What results is an encapsulation of what it means to mold (and molt) your medium of choice until it’s so compelling that even the doubters get with the vision. —TL