One percent rap has been Jigga’s calling card since Life & Times, Vol. 1, but that’s just because we collectively let Hov down when Reasonable Doubt dropped. In truth, Jay-Z’s been political for a minute, dropping jewel after jewel on how to deal with somnambulist record execs, street hawks, and a system set to destroy him — and us. No one seems to know how to move in a room full of vultures quite like Jay, even when armchair quarterbacks are shouting from the rooftops that he is the vulture. That ability to potentially hijack a cultural moment with his celebrity is why he has approached his activism from the background. And why it comes as no surprise that he ardently supports the Black Lives Matter movement, created by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors.
He’s done so quiet-as-kept since the beginning. Keeping a close eye on particularly naked trespasses of justice since the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012. And, this weekend, he spoke on the sixth anniversary of Martin’s murder for the annual Peace Walk & Peace Talk rally in Miami Gardens. He’s been a part of the Martins’ lives “for years,” says Michael Skolnik, although the Carters like to keep their efforts known only to a chosen few. Recently, Hov’s also given more directly. A few years ago, he helped raise $1.5 million through his New World Foundation, giving that money to charitable organizations, including Black Lives Matter.
What Martin’s death meant to African-Americans of this generation (Beyoncé covered Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” after the verdict to his murder was announced in 2013), has been profound, erupting in us a fever over the sheer injustice of it all; especially, especially, over the way his killing was perceived. At the gathering, Jay spoke on keeping the light of Martin alive. “We want to make sure that we stand and support and never forget that Trayvon serves as a beacon of light to the people out here. So you guys never have to go through the pain and hurt that these guys went through,” Jay Z said. He continued, “His name will sit alongside the greats whom lost their lives to push our culture forward — the Martin Luther Kings, the Gandhis. That’s the intention we set so his name will serve as a beacon of light and hope to push our culture forward in a better direction.”
He’s helped tremendously in that respect. In 2015, Dream Hampton, a friend of the Carters and “filter” of Jay-Z’s Decoded, tweeted that Jay and Bey “wired tens of thousands in mins” when asked to help with bail for police brutality protesters, as reported by Complex. But there’s more— her set of deleted tweets spoke to the Carters’ perceived silence around protests in Ferguson and Baltimore at that time. “When BLM needed infrastructure money for the many chapters that we’re growing like beautiful dandelions, Carters wrote a huge check,” she tweeted. Later, she doubled down on the reveal, “Jay & B for stacks. It’s true they gave, which is why I tweeted it. but I erased it within minutes because ppl believe what they want to.”
Mr. Carter has backed his commitment up with different kinds of dollars, as well. In 2017, he and the now pustulous Weinstein Company aired Time: The Kalief Browder story. A six-part series that explored how commonplace Browder’s harrowing lock-up is for many people in minority neighborhoods around the country. The series is currently on Netflix and has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When the two met before the Browder committed suicide, he called him a “modern day prophet.” Echoing his sentiment in a press conference later he said, “This young man, just by the fact that he brought all of us here today, lets you know how powerful of a soul he was.”
For 2018, Jay-Z has a six-part series planned, again with the Weinstein company, on Trayvon Martin called Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story. The series has already caused some controversy. George Zimmerman, Trayvon’s murderer, has already threatened Jay-Z over producers “harassing” his family. “I know how to handle people who f*** with me, I have since February 2012,” said Zimmerman. He also threatened to “beat” Jay-Z and feed him to “an alligator” over the series. Which, you know, is preposterous and on-brand for both America and Zimmerman.
In all, as quietly as Sean Carter has moved in regards to directly affecting the various protest movements that have become a staple of our lives as citizenry, Jay-Z has carved a new path for himself as not just an artist and musician, but as an arbiter acting from a celebrity perch who has the ability to move the needle in the direction Black Lives Matter is striving toward. Each intentional step he takes, now, seems to be toward a better society for Black people in America. And while you may disagree with proclamations that we need better credit, you can’t disagree with the man putting his mind, money, creativity, and clout where his mouth is.
Listen to Colby Colb’s podcast episode, “Jay-Z: The Making Of A Business Man,” here.