Here's a sensible contradiction: Radical director Spike Lee, 49, has conformed to Hollywood's standards without really conforming at all. The evidence is all over the Denzel Washington-starring Inside Man. Purposely promoted without the "Spike Lee Joint” stamp to entice Sharon as well as Sheronda, the movie retains
the Brooklyn native's idiosyncratic touches and jabs at conservatives. In addition to his signature motionless movements and stern backhand to ultra-graphic video-game violence, there's his take on New York's post-9/11 Arab-phobia. Even with all this, the film's bank-heist plot isn't once compromised.

But Lee isn't KING's man of the year for tricking The Man. What he accomplished in 2006—his biggest box-office opening to date and When the Levees Broke, a comprehensive documentary on the drowning city of New Orleans that also led to him signing a development deal with NBC Universal—is truly magical. So think before asking who spiked the Kool-Aid at the KING offices when this selection was made. Moving volumes of LPs in the iTunes Era is indeed a mean accomplishment (honorable mentions to T.I. and Timbaland). Putting the government on blast, however, is truly gangsta.

What? 50 Cent wasn't available? No, really, I'm honored that KING chose me as Man of the Year. I didn't even know they had one. I just thought it was all about Big Butts and Titties of the Year. I know they wouldn't put me on the cover: nobody would buy that magazine!

As far as the other nominees, I only met T.I. once, and I have met Timbaland before. But Jay-Z and I are close; Brooklyn's in the house! I marvel at what Jay-Z has done in the world and what he's done in his career. The thing I like about Jay is that he has evolved. There are a lot of these brothers in the rap game and there's no evolution. They're not growing. The same shit they were rapping about five or six years ago is the same thing they are rapping about today. Where's the growth? I don't care if you are an athlete, musician, rapper, housewife, whatever, you have to grow as a human being. Especially if you're an artist.

I think it has to do with education. You got to read, you have to expand your world. I'm not saying every track has to be socially conscious. I'm just saying step your game up and do at least one. But I'm not one of these guys just making a blanket statement that all of hip-hop is garbage. I would never say that. I have had a lot of hip-hop in my films over the years.

Inside Man came about in a very interesting way. Right now Denzel is shooting a film called American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott. Russell Crowe is also in the film. It's set in the 1970s, and it is about the legendary Harlem drug dealer Frank Lucas. When they were looking for a director, I interviewed for the job but was turned down. So the producers—Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment—went to Antoine Fuqua instead. For whatever reason, it didn't work out. They were in preproduction, spending money like crazy, and then they pulled the plug on Antoine. However, Denzel has his schedule worked out two years in advance for when he works on a film and when he has off time. Now this block of time he had set out for American Gangster was free, and I'm sure Denzel didn't want that free time to go to waste. He did Julius Caesar on Broadway as a limited engagement, and even at the end of that run he still had some time. So on the humble, an agent sends me the script of Inside Man, and then I send it to Denzel. He liked the script and told me, "Spike, I got a vacation coming up with my family which I have been planning for a year. If you can get me in and out of the movie before my vacation begins, I'll do the film.” I shot all of Denzel's scenes first. I guess what I am saying is the only reason I got to do Inside Man was because I didn't get the job on American Gangster. It's funny how things work out sometimes.

For more of KING's tribute to our Man of the Year, Spike Lee, pick up the December ‘06/January ‘07 issue of KING (#38)