10 Stories LEVEL Didn’t Write, but You Should Still Read (Right Now)

Sure, we want every great story to come from us — but here are a few that didn’t

Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

HHere at LEVEL, part of the mission is to deliver you the best stories you’re going to read on any given day. That one link that keeps flying by in the TL? We want it to be from us. But, given that we just launched a few short weeks ago and don’t own a Delorean, there was no way we were able to do that all 365 days of 2019. So for the 336 days we weren’t around, please accept this roundup of the stories from the rest of the world that got us talking — not to mention thinking, feeling, and sometimes laughing. Here’s to much, much more of all those things in 2020. Happy holidays, y’all.

Ben Dandridge-Lemco, “Young Carti Global” (The Fader)

Playboi Carti’s rise to fame doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, the unrelenting determination of Carti stans doesn’t make sense to me — and I’m one of them. I spent the better half of this year scouring the internet looking for low quality “whole lotta red” leaks that I would then debut in my friend’s car with the same sense of pride that Mark Zuckerberg would unveil a new way to track people during a TED Talk. This past summer, Carti, an extremely private and reserved person who speaks only in hieroglyphics, graced the cover of The Fader’s summer music issue and provided a real-life interview… with words… in English! For the casual music fan, this was nothing, But for his fans, the ragers, we got a beautifully thorough inside look into Cash Carti’s life — and that’s valuable, because there’s a good chance it’ll never happen again. — Shaq Cheris, executive assistant

Martin Scorsese, “I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain” (New York Times)

Marty had all the nerds boo-hooing when he popped out in the NYT with the choppa gripped and bratatata’d Disney’s Top Cops in Spandex. While he didn’t say anything especially new about the superhero genre, this is one of the rare instances where an old head demanding the young’ns pipe the hell down with all that racket feels not only appropriate, but hilarious. Not to mention that my guy made all the points! I’m a fan of the MCU (and the comics they’re based on), but I don’t watch these silly CGI-fests expecting a profound cinematic experience. Nope, I’m just here for the explosive catharsis that comes with flattening a completely digitized city out of utter self-righteousness. And that’s fine. We won the decade already, my comic comrades, let’s just bask in it — and let Marty be Marty. — Tirhakah Love, staff writer

Ashley C. Ford, “Missy Elliott: The Legend Returns” (Marie Claire)

Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott has been a certified legend for decades, racking up awards, platinum albums, and accolades like candy. But when it comes to garnering mainstream glossy covers, the love has been glaringly lacking. This summer, when she graced the cover of Marie Claire, it was a long-overdue moment for the juggernaut producer and artist — as well as for the fans, especially the Black women, who have heralded her for years. In an honest convo with Ashley C. Ford, we don’t get Missy 101, the usual move when mainstream pubs finally “discover” a legend. Instead, we got real talk from a queen whose reign is far from over. — Jada Gomez, senior platform editor

Jesse Washington, “The Untold Story of Wrestler Andrew Johnson’s Dreadlocks” (The Undefeated)

Washington spent months in New Jersey’s Buena Vista Township chasing Johnson’s story after the wrestler — who has been misidentified as being Black only — was forced to cut his hair before a match in order to comply with league rules. Andrew, who is half Puerto Rican, obliged, which resulted in outrage. Although the Johnson family only spoke off the record and Andrew himself declined an interview, Washington’s scrappy journalism paints quite the ugly photo of unchecked racism. — Jhall (Jermaine Hall), editor in chief

Carrie Battan, “Tyler, the Provocateur” (GQ)

I admit it: When Odd Future first came around, one of my first thoughts was Welp, I’m finally too old for this shit. I dug the dada of it all, but the feeling that I was an unwitting guest star in an episode of Jackass overwhelmed my ability to sink into the music. You know who didn’t care? Tyler. Eight years after “Yonkers” damn near blew my face off, he’s somehow become an entirely different kind of transgressive icon — older, wiser (despite himself), and funneling all that dada not out at the world, but into his music. As Battan’s stellar profile shows, though, he’s still a fuckin’ walking paradox. May that never change. — Peter Rubin, executive editor

Liz Pelly, “Big Mood Machine” (The Baffler)

I truly think Liz Pelly approaches her Spotify coverage like a poet would the sunrise or a loose thread on a quilt. Users already have a clear picture of what’s going on here — in this case, the fact that Spotify is collecting data on our moods in order to be a better lover to us (read: sell our psych readings to advertisers and imprison us in a panoptical playlist) — but she parses out the model’s intricacies adeptly, showing exactly how it folds into Spotify’s larger marketing plan. Even better is the way she weaves in her own experience clicking through the app. It is lived-in reporting that feels terrifyingly prescient. — Tirhakah Love

Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true” (NYT Magazine)

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a national treasure. The New York Times staff writer, who oversaw the newspaper’s ambitious Project 1619, couldn’t understand why her father chose to display the American flag in front of their home when she was younger. The story, which serves as an expansive introduction to the super-sized package, goes on to show that Daddy Jones was right all along. This country was built on the backs of Black slaves, we define democracy, and America is wealthy because we made it so. He was simply claiming what was rightfully his. — Jhall

Claudia Rankine, “I Wanted to Know What White Men Thought About Their Privilege. So I Asked.” (NYT Magazine)

By the end of 2019, this is admittedly the kind of headline that induces Rapid-Onset Discourse Exhaustion. But when a poet like Claudia Rankine takes to the skies armed with an unanswerable question, you read it. And what you find is an uncommonly nuanced, grippingly conversational portrait of the interactions we have with each other every day — and how the cataclysm of this country’s inequity-infused origin still ripples through us all, disrupting even the best intentions. It’s enough to make you angry, and sad, and defensive. And, somehow, hopeful. Hopefully. — PR

Justin Tinsley, “World Cup Champion Megan Rapinoe Helps Continue Nipsey Hussle’s Marathon” (The Undefeated)

After securing the U.S. national team’s second Women’s World Cup win in a row, Megan Rapinoe celebrated her win with an Instagram caption that was all hip-hop: “Ain’t really trip on the credit, I just paid all of my dues. I respected the game, now my name all in the news. Trippin’ on all my moves, quote me on this, got a love more to prove.” But Rapinoe has proven time and time again is that she’s not simply quoting rap lyrics for a cool ’gram moment. She’s stood up not only women’s equal pay and LGBTQ+ rights, but also she became the first woman — and first white athlete — to kneel in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. For this reason, I’ll forever stan Megan Rapinoe, and this story sums it up best. —JG

Lexi Pandell, Catfished By Jacob Wohl (Gen)

Easily the messiest thing that I’ve read all year. Through Pandell’s chronicle, Carolyn Cass tells the story of how Jacob Wohl catfished her into accusing Robert Muller of raping her. It’s an extraordinary example of the lengths someone would go to push an uninformed extremist agenda. I don’t want to give away a ton of detail, but the deceit, the criminality, the gullibility, the madness, and she stays with him for a bit after it all? It’s too much. —SC

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