We may have tossed our paper and pen before we even got started if it weren’t for the words of Jay-Z. We can’t remember the words verbatim but it goes something like this: you can compare articles from the New York Times and pieces written on smaller platforms and notice better work coming from the smaller publication. For this one we have to go back to the first time we ever heard of that Brooklyn Boy.
June 1996 we’re walking passed Sam Goody (a record store) in Northland Mall and see the entire front of the store plastered with Jay-Z Reasonable Doubt posters. At the time Biggie and Pac were very much alive and the most recognizable rappers in the world, not only for their rap skills, but in large part due to their east coast/west coast beef. So the question in our mind was “Who the fuck is Jay-Z”? The album cover was Black and white J’s face hidden under a fedora, cigar in hand, projecting the image of an Italian Mob Boss. Full disclosure: in 1996 we hated “Reasonable Doubt”. His off-kilter flow that couldn’t quite catch the beat was extremely unorthodox for hiphop’s original golden age. We wouldn’t be solidified fans until “Hard Knock Life” was released two years later.
In many ways Jay-Z was before his time. When labels wouldn’t sign him he created Roc A Fella Records (1995) with Damon Dash and Kareem Burke to launch his career. 13 years later Jay-Z would enter the arena of entertainment management with Roc Nation representing top musicians, atheletes and media personalities. Shawn Carter is constantly reinvesting, rebranding, and transforming while navigating music, fashion, lifestyle, streaming and entertainment management industries.
At first glance it looks like Jay-Z coopted a movement for monetary gain when he inked a partnership deal with the NFL while Colin Kaepernick remains exiled from the National Football League. We could believe that if we didn’t know about the trust fund set up for the kids of Sean Bell. Bell’s life was stolen the morning before his wedding in Queens, NY when he and two friends were shot by police a total of 50 times November 25th, 2006. We could believe that if Jay-Z did not bail out protesters in Ferguson and Baltimore. We might be ready to cancel Jay-Z altogether if it weren’t for his work behind the scenes to bring systemic change to the American Legal System. Though we are unable to ignore the optics of Jay-Z smiling next to Roger Goodell, we can’t erase a decade of philanthropic efforts by Carter.
From a business standpoint major partnerships are made and announced everyday without cameras and closed door (invitation only) press events, and that’s were the shit hits the fan. We may not know the blueprint of Jay-Z’s master plan but the NFL press conference took place on the three year anniversary of Kaepernick taking a knee. This is not a coincidence. It felt eerily similar to Donald Trump meeting with Steve Harvey. No matter the long term outcome Colin Kaepernick will always be Jay-Z’s asterisk.
The NFL is effectively using Jay-Z as a pawn to silence protests. The thing about pawns is they are the only player that, used strategically, can become the most powerful player in the game.
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