There’s a temporal side effect of the elongated COVID crisis, a sort of dislocation of time. Our calendar memories slip up: The marker “last year” has lost its meaning, because 2020 is less last year than a lost year. Twenty years ago, 9/11 caused a related kind of dislocation. The sheer impact of the event subsumed both the years immediately before it and the years after with its long shadow. For those of us who remember the day, who witnessed its terror, it can be hard to summon what else happened around it.
Sean Combs, the artist and entrepreneur who is also an avatar of how potently those two identities can combine, creates his own eras, and the turn of the century saw his transformation from Puff Daddy to P. Diddy. It wasn’t just a name change, as Tressie McMillan Cottom observes in her brilliant cover story, but an inflection point marking his success in taking hip-hop iconography to scale. “He understood hip-hop as a lifestyle at a time before ‘influencer’ had entered our cultural lexicon,” she writes. How his next era (with corresponding name change, this time to “Love”) will land depends in part on his ability to evolve, but also on the evolving conditions around him—changing views about social responsibility, about contesting the grip of capitalism, about the viability of the hustle.
We will remember the COVID-19 crisis and the systemic failures it exposed as propelling us to a crossroads, just as 9/11 did. Twenty years from now, what will we say about how we emerged from it? Will we be able to see the opportunities for reframing our culture and our politics, and act on them? Can we get a jump on revealing our blind spots? This issue delves into the past, not just to remind us of what we’ve lived through—and what we live with—but to sharpen our focus on what lies ahead.
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