The social responsibility of musical artists is one of the most long debated discussions in entertainment history. Some artists simply do not care about social change, which is frightening from a personal standpoint. Some performers do not feel they have the depth to address political issues. Others merely want the focus on the art.
But when an artist wants to portray himself or herself as a social curator, then certainly the public expects the artist to be in sync with the tide (no pun intended) of the people. Enter Shawn Carter.
Jay Z finds comfort in comparing his endeavors to some of the greatest movements known to humanity—the Holy Grail, the Magna Carta, and the influence of the Rockefeller family. Being that we are currently experiencing arguably the initial 21st Century wave of the Civil Rights Movement, it seems logical that Jay Z would be itching to be in the fold. But his comments and actions suggest otherwise.
While speaking at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music earlier this month, Jay Z gave this response for his inaction with recent protests:
“And of course there are greater causes, of course. This is not mutually exclusive — there are other problems, real problems going on in the world. We don’t miss the problems; we try to take care of them all. Imagine the President: he has to take care of ISIS, gay rights, equal pay for women, discrimination — all at the same time! So, you can’t say “You started this site when you should be out in St. Louis!” It’s like, okay, J. Cole is out in St. Louis. I wasn’t in St. Louis, but I was in the governor’s office. Because, we can march all day long but if the laws don’t change, then we’ll be marching again and it’ll just be a different slogan on the shirt, and that’s a greater tragedy as well. Everyone has to play their part, everyone has to do different things, and it all has to happen at the same time.”
Let’s get this cleared—you are not Barack Hussein Obama II. So no, we will not imagine your schedule in comparison to his. The bigger concern is that all great movements started with a protest. From the Boston Tea Party to Ferguson, we are constantly reminded why the Constitutional framers made the right to peaceful assembly among first right bestowed upon citizens.
Meeting with elected officials is important, but most effective non-politicians who were able to influence lawmakers were tangible to the protestors. Dr. Martin Luther King was known in the White House, but he also marched for miles with the common folk in the scorching heat of the Jim Crow South. What good is talking to a politician if you do not even organize with the people who have brought this issue to your attention?
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is only a small and possibly temporal solution to a centuries-old problem. The fact that Missouri was at the center of his statement, and he then begins to discuss New York shows how vast this issue is. We are seeing an all-out attack on the black male that calls for federal reform. It is not enough to say, “I met with one governor of one state one time. I did my part.” No. This current movement will take continual efforts. It will take more protests and more visits to federal lawmakers.
No one should expect Jay Z to make this movement his sole responsibility; however, it raises concerns that he can be so entrenched in the plight of another group’s history and not his own.
The Magna Carter that Jay Z has drawn inspiration from was actually enacted in response to rebels, i.e. zealous English protestors, who were demanding that their government respect their humanity. John D. Rockefeller, a businessman who has greatly influenced Jay Z, was a self-made man. Rockefeller was not in the trenches everyday to support his philanthropic interests, but he maintained close relations with the foot soldiers so he could gauge the needs of people.
Now, certainly Jay Z has mentioned struggles as a black man. He married a black woman with whom he has a black child. He is an entertainer whose work output is synonymous with black culture. We know Jay Z has no issue with being black.
But it is unsettling that he takes such effort to glorify centuries-old history of white struggles and sit on his hands in 2015. The present occurrences are not glamorous and do not even feel good. Nevertheless, Michael Brown and Eric Garner look a lot more like Jay Z than John, King of England.
We know you have some awareness that protesting does work because you essentially lifted last fall’s social media protests and applied it to marketing your streaming TIDAL. Everything from organizing various music artists to encouraging Twitter and Instagram users to type a specific hashtag, you obviously know protesting does work. We did not hear you say that you talked to the label head once about securing better rights for artists and washed your hands of it after the meeting. No, you worked from the ground up to find your own solution. Nothing wrong with that, but is that not protesting in some fashion?
If Jay Z does not want to protest, it is his right. But to imply that meeting with a limited-capacity official once somehow supersedes the efforts people risking their lives is quite smug to put it nicely. Then to commercialize the efforts for your gain while still downplaying the work of those who brought these struggles to the attention of you and the rest of the world is pompous.
Think about what you said in your song “Justify My Thug”: “I never asked for nothin’ I don’t demand of myself/Honesty, loyalty, friends and then wealth.” We just want to see you hold true to that Jay.