Who: A man with two parallel careers: one as a sought-after TV and movie actor, the other as Riz MC, one half of unflinchingly politicised hip-hop duo Swet Shop Boys
Why: Riz Ahmed’s year of glory didn’t come out of nowhere: he’s been ramping up to this for a while now, solidifying his rep through intense, darkly comic performances in the likes of Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set (2008), Chris Morris’s Four Lions (2010) and the jet-black Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Nightcrawler (2014). His reward was a triptych of breakthrough roles for 2016, in Jason Bourne, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and HBO’s The Night Of, which earned Ahmed universal acclaim for his nuanced, heartbreaking portrayal of hapless protagonist Naz (plus he totally pulled off a legit Queens accent). Musically, too, Ahmed hit new heights, teaming with NY rapper Heems – ex of Das Racist – to form Swet Shop Boys, whose ‘Cashmere’ album was a killer cross-pollination of heavy AF beats, South Asian samples and righteous, timely polemic. Double win.
What he says: “Trump want my exit / But if he press the red button to watch Netflix, bruv, I’m on” (Swet Shop Boys – ‘T5’)
What people say about him: “Riz Ahmed is magnetic and impressive, keeping Naz a sympathetic cipher, even as he hardens, body and soul” – Jeff Benson, reviewing The Night Of in Entertainment Weekly
How he made the world a better place: Riz has been making renaissance-man moves and engaging with hot-button issues all year long, and it’s been an inspirational joy to behold.
READ: Our interview with Swet Shop Boys – Fear Of A Brown Planet: Meet Rap Superduo Swet Shop Boys
See more of the NME People Of The Year 2016 profiles
Héloïse Letissier (Christine & The Queens)