Every year Time Magazine produces a list of a hundred people who they feel have been the most influential in the past year and on Thursday they released their 2017 List. This list is broken into 5 categories: Pioneers, Artists, Leaders, Titans and Icons. Check out our breakout stars from this year’s list and what their nominees had to say about them.
Chance The Rapper
Years ago, my grandmother asked me to call her friend’s grandson. “I want you to give him some words of encouragement,” she said. “He wants to be a rapper.” She gave me his number, and I left him a message. I told him to keep following his dreams. Then I forgot all about it.
Years later, my teenage daughter played me a new mixtape she loved from an artist named Chance the Rapper. There was something unique and soulful about it—I could tell he really knew hip-hop. And when I first met him, I realized that he knew me too. “You won’t remember this,” he said, “but you called me when I was a kid.”
Chance upends expectations about what artists, especially hip-hop artists, can do. He streams his albums instead of selling them. He makes music from an unapologetically inspiring and Christian perspective—music that transcends age, race and gender. He gives back to his Chicago community. And he does it all as an independent artist, without the support of a label.
I’m glad Chance followed his dreams. I hope he always does.
Nominated by Common.
Of The Exorcist, James Baldwin once wrote, “I was most concerned with the audience. I wondered what they were seeing, and what it meant to them.” Sitting in a crowded theater, I wonder the same as I take in Jordan Peele’s astonishing Get Out. In the shifting laughter lacing the room, at once rancorous, nervous, defensive and, yes, knowing, a cinema maxim is turned on its head—rather than presenting us a mirror, this multi-hyphenate auteurist shows us more of ourselves than we ever wanted to see, a window through which America is left no choice but to recognize the purgatory of her own sunken place.
This isn’t new for Jordan. Alongside Keegan-Michael Key of Key & Peele, he’s used comedy to shed light on the murky detritus of American exceptionalism for years. With the success of Get Out, it’s clear he’ll do so for many more.
And while I won’t quote Baldwin again, of this I’m sure: he would have loved this film. As well as its maker. As the audience tenses around me, Baldwin’s dictum rings true: Jordan Peele is America. And she is him.
Nominated by Barry Jenkins.
When Donald Glover started as a staff writer on 30 Rock, he was still living as an RA in a dorm at New York University. He worked hard and contributed a lot of good jokes. After a few years, he requested a meeting with me and fellow producer Robert Carlock. Donald was grateful for the opportunity but felt like he should leave to pursue acting. Of the many writers who have suggested this over the past 20 years, Donald is the only one with whom I’ve ever agreed. One hundred percent, he should go be a star.
Now Donald is serving you best-case-scenario millennial realness. He embodies his generation’s belief that people can be whatever they want and change what it is they want, at any time. When you’re tired of starring in a network comedy, take a break to pursue your rap career for a Grammy nomination. When you’ve learned all you can from acting in other people’s movies, sit down and create your own piece of art.
This could have easily presented itself as a clothing line or one really good painting. Instead, Donald gave us Atlanta, a TV series that is basically him: funny, beautiful, stylish, melancholy and startlingly confident.
But as any good millennial knows, when your creation wins 10-plus major awards, you don’t rush into Season 2. You step back, take a breath and just, like, be Lando Calrissian or something.
Nominated by Tina Fey.
Barry Jenkins is one of the rare artists who are willing to look into the deeper places of themselves and society in order to provide a lens through which we may discover the humanity at our core. And he has come to the attention of the world at precisely the right moment, just when we most need someone to give voice to those who have not been heard.
From his first feature, Medicine for Melancholy, to Moonlight, which he wrote and directed, each film tells an important and timely story that brings you into its world. He not only knows where he is coming from, but he has the gift of being able to show you that place and make you understand it—from capturing the literal colors of a city to the deep untold anguish of a young boy searching for his place.
Nominated by Kathryn Bigelow.
John Legend is a wonderful artist. He’s a remarkable lyricist, and the songs he has giftedly crafted are straight-ahead beautiful melodies that will find a welcoming home in the great library of American songs. One of my personal favorites is “Glory,” the duet he performed with Common for the Selma soundtrack—a song with a powerful message about overcoming adversity. With songs like this, he has rewarded a diverse fan base, and I am pleased to be part of such a multitude.
John uses his platform to push for meaningful social change, and the depth of his commitment is to be admired. He has visited prisons to raise awareness about mass incarceration—the new slavery—and he spoke out about the importance of Black Lives Matter at Sankofa’s Many Rivers to Cross festival, which I helped organize. I hope John continues to grow as an artist and an activist.
Nominated by Harry Belafonte.
When LeBron James, my hometown of Akron’s most famous son, takes flight to dunk, even I, a poet usually averse to battered clichés, am tempted to call it poetry in motion—if we agree that poetry can be stormy as well as smooth, thrillingly true yet downright mean as it lures you one way, pivots and drives its point home.
Who could have imagined that a basketball boy wonder, a prodigy from the projects, would bridge class and racial divides to evolve into King James of the International Courts?
By making good on his pledge to bring a championship to the Cleveland Cavaliers and by investing in the promise of future generations through his foundation, LeBron James has not only bolstered the self-esteem of his native Ohio but also become an inspiration for all Americans—proof that talent combined with passion, tenacity and decency can reinvent the possible. Poetry in motion, indeed.
Nominated by Rita Dove.
Bernard J. Tyson
Bernard J. Tyson is one of the leading authorities on public health in America. He is smart, gifted, thoughtful and a highly respected voice in the struggle to make high-quality health care affordable for every American.
As the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health plans, Bernard addresses the medical needs of more than 11.3 million people. He has devoted more than 30 years of his professional life to Kaiser, managing all the major aspects of the company before he became the CEO.
During his tenure, Bernard has focused on public health and preventive care, rather than just treating disease, seeking to provide high-quality, affordable, accessible health care to all of its members. And from his position of considerable influence, he has brought an often overlooked aspect of medicine to the forefront: mental and emotional health.
Because of Bernard’s leadership, Kaiser’s 200,000 employees and 20,000 physicians have consistently delivered some of the best clinical outcomes in the nation.
Nominated by John Lewis.
From freedom rides to freedom marches to leading Freedom Summer. From tear gas to jail cells to brutal, hateful beatings. With truly death-defying sacrifices and an almost irrational, love-fueled persistence in the cause of our country, John Lewis has spent his life dedicated to the freedoms, liberties and justice we enjoy.
In the 1960s, Lewis was one of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders, and today he is the last remaining person alive who spoke at the March on Washington. In the decades since, he has shown through his tireless work in Congress that service isn’t a sometimes thing but an all-the-time thing; that leadership isn’t a title or position but a way of life; and that love of country isn’t a verbal profession but something that is evidenced daily in how you live and give and love your countrymen and countrywomen.
I am not sure a week goes by in the Capitol, where I often see Lewis, that I don’t feel the inexpressible gratitude and debt that I owe—that we all owe—to this living legend. Look closely at his shoulders. They are worn from helping my generation, and generations yet unborn, stand higher and taller. And they are still laboring, still sturdy.
Nominated by Cory Booker.
Colin Kaepernick was alone in his early protests last year when he boldly and courageously confronted perceived inequalities in our social-justice system by refusing to stand for the national anthem. At times in our nation’s history, we have been all too quick to judge and oppose our fellow Americans for exercising their First Amendment right to address things they believe unjust.
Rather than besmirch their character, we must celebrate their act. For we cannot pioneer and invent if we are fearful of deviating from the norm, damaging our public perception or—most important—harming our own personal interests.
I thank Colin for all he has contributed to the game of football as an outstanding player and trusted teammate. I also applaud Colin for the courage he has demonstrated in exercising his guaranteed right of free speech. His willingness to take a position at personal cost is now part of our American story.
How lucky for us all and for our country to have among our citizens someone as remarkable as Colin Kaepernick.
Nominated by Jim Harbaugh.
A series of images I once discovered on the Internet shows me and Neymar together over a decade, from when I was at Real Madrid and he was just a young boy to today. Although it does make me feel my age, it also shows the remarkable progression of a young man who at 25 is well on his way to becoming the best player in the world.
It’s been clear ever since he signed for Brazilian team Santos at 17 that Neymar is an outstanding talent, a once-in-a-generation type of footballer who has fans on their feet whenever he gets the ball. I’ve always been struck by his humility. He’s respectful and wants to learn, which he proved when he arrived at Barcelona in 2013 to play alongside some of the game’s biggest stars.
He has continued to grow as a footballer and as a person since. The pressure on him in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup and at last year’s Rio Olympics was likely immense as he carried the hopes of a nation. But you would not have known it. He lives to play the game, and I imagine he approaches it now the same way he did as a boy.
I suspect the recent Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain, when Neymar helped his team to an unforgettable 6-1 win, will be remembered as the moment he stepped up to take on the mantle of best player in the world. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have a new rival to that claim—and Neymar is ready to make his move.
Nominated by David Beckham.
I first met RuPaul in the ’90s, when I was doing a shoot on 14th Street in New York City. As soon as I saw him, I wanted to know where he was going, because that was where I wanted to be.
Ru was different. Not just because he had perfect, precise clothes and makeup, or because he was the only man I knew who could look that good in a wig and heels. There were no rough edges to be found. But as I got to know him better, I got to experience firsthand his wit and his intelligence—he’s like an encyclopedia. And his beauty is far beyond skin-deep.
Now, through RuPaul’s Drag Race, which recently premiered on VH1 after eight seasons on Logo, millions more people are getting to know Ru like I do. It’s incredible what he’s done for the drag queens who compete on that show—bringing them out, introducing them to a mainstream audience and letting them be proud of who they are and what they want to be.
I am blessed to know Ru. We all are.
Nominated by Naomi Campbell.
Biram Dah Abeid
Biram Dah Abeid was just 8 when he became aware of slavery in his home country of Mauritania. He saw a defenseless youth being beaten by a man—a common experience, his parents explained, for the thousands of Mauritanians still treated as chattels by their “masters.” Biram himself was of slave descent; his own grandmother was born into slavery.
Biram promised that day that he would resist. And in 2008, he founded the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania). Alongside other Mauritanian antislavery organizations, such as SOS-Esclaves, IRA-Mauritania has sought to break the official silence that enables slavery to persist by using nonviolent tactics: reporting and publicizing cases, assisting victims and holding sit-ins and demonstrations.
For this, Biram and his colleagues have been imprisoned on numerous occasions. But those instances, coupled with Biram’s pledges to run for President of Mauritania, have only drawn more international attention to Mauritanian slavery and bolstered Biram’s reputation. He is an inspiration to thousands who continue to resist slavery in Mauritania and beyond.
Nominated by Aidan McQuade.
David Adjaye is one of the great architectural visionaries of our time. His work—deeply rooted in both the present moment and the complex context of history—has envisioned new ways for culture to be represented and reflected in the built environment. Nowhere is this more evident than in his recent triumph on the National Mall.
Every architect has to contend with gravity—but when David designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the challenges of that elemental force went far beyond the ordinary. How can a design acknowledge, and embody, the weight of this monumental history and yet transcend it right before your eyes? How can a building be true to the earthbound burdens of centuries of oppression and struggle, while at the same time displaying the faith, joy and triumphs of African-American life, so that the structure soars into the light?
In his epoch-making design, David made us aware of those questions and brilliantly solved them, with a singular gesture.
Nominated by Thelma Golden.
To read the full list click here.