We all know that Nav has said he’s the first brown boy to get it poppin’ -- and he may be one of the most well known Punjabi names in Hip Hop right now -- but if we look back through the archives there is no shortage of Desi boys on the main stage and big screen who have captured our attention, and our hearts.
When you ask me who the first brown boy to get it poppin’ is, I can’t help but reminisce through the Jay Sean tracks that defined a period of my life, or when I was so stoked when someone told me he was brown only to Google it myself and find out his real name is Kamaljit Singh Jhooti.
He’s had no shortage of hit tracks, with major artists like Lil Wayne, Jay Sean, Pitbull, Nicki Minaj and more, and just recently dropped another track, Changing, that had his name trending on Twitter last weekend, with the help of Brown Twitter, and many of his fans who continue to show him mad love all these years later.
How can you not though? Down was and still is an absolute banger.
In many ways, he put brown boys on the map in the mainstream, and opened the door for the many who came after him.
In reflecting on how Jay Sean set the stage for those who followed him, and how he still is a big name releasing hits all these years later, it got me thinking about which other brown boys can seemingly defined as being some of the “first” to get it poppin,’ and who are still continuing to be big names on the scene right now.
I began thinking about the brown boys who each had defining moments in the last decade, and who still manage to capture our (my) heart all these years later.
Who were some of the other “firsts?”
Zayn Malik was the first brown boy in a boy band to capture the hearts of millions on the X Factor when he joined One Direction, and then to break millions more when he left the band.
Zayn has been vocal about his Pakistani roots, tweeting and singing in Hindi and Urdu and always showing he never forgot where he came from.
In many ways -- and I say this as a fan of One Direction -- Zayn carried the band for a long time with his strong vocals and personality that made him an instant fan favourite.
Jay Sean walked so Zayn Malik could run.
Dev Patel, is another fan favourite, who started off by making his screen debut as Anwar Kharral in the first two series of the British television teen drama Skins. Shortly after he was thrust into international stardom with Slumdog Millionaire, and has since been in a number of films and shows, winning and being nominated for many awards and officially being named the second actor of Indian descent to receive an Oscar nomination.
He also just recently got nominated for an Emmy for an episode of Modern Love he was on, proving once again why we are still fawning over him all these years later.
Another gem is Hasan Minhaj, who is the woke brown king we all needed, making us laugh while also teaching us a few things, bringing us and often our immigrant parents into much needed conversations with humour. He started off on the Daily Show in 2014, and just 6 years later he has a standup special, has spoken at the White House Correspondents’ dinner, and his show Patriot Act on Netflix regularly teaches people about so many things all while adding his effortless humour.
Lastly, another man who put brown boys on the map is Avan Jogia.
Avan has been in a number of shows and films, but to myself and many he is best known for his role in Nickolodeon’s Victorious, which for those of who grew up watching, it would only make sense that the brown character with the nice hair would be a natural fan favourite.
All these years later, he is still an actor, but he’s also a writer, singer and activist -- making us all proud to have placed him among the highest ranks of the unproblematic brown boys we love.
If you’re wanting to see more of him -- I know I'd never pass up the chance -- you’re going to want to download the 5X Fest app for the chance to see exclusive content from Avan Jogia, and the chance to win a contest that may bring you closer to him than you’d think.
To the brown boys who we aren't ashamed to publicly claim: we appreciate you.
Who are the brown boys you think put the rest on the map? Who are the ones that are still breaking barriers today?