Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and the Blue Ivy Carter were at the Super Bowl yesterday in Miami. But first, please enjoy this viz of Blue bossing on the sidelines with her phone. She’s probably playing a game. But in my mind, she’s seeing something that needs improvement and, like her ma, is sending a note to her team all like… we need to be better than this sh-t! Also her outfit is better than her mother’s.
As for her parents, well, they’re making headlines because they were seen seated during the US national anthem. Not that it was meant as disrespect to Demi Lovato because B was bopping during Demi’s performance. But half of America is offended that they weren’t standing and the other half is like, well, they’re exercising their right to protest (if indeed it was an act of protest) and there’s no better time than during Black History Month.
Of course an act of protest during the US national anthem is connected directly to Colin Kaepernick, which is where things get more complicated for Jay-Z. Colin still isn’t playing and these are his prime years. Jay openly supported Colin initially and says he continues to support Colin but, of course, the announcement of Roc Nation’s partnership with the NFL last year threw all of that into question. Many consider it a betrayal – that Jay is running after the money over principle, that he already said he didn’t need the NFL and yet here he is, working with an organisation that many believe hung Kaepernick out to dry, an organisation that has not been inclusive, that has not represented the values of its own players. For critics of Jay-Z, seeing him not stand for the US national anthem was an empty gesture.
Jay’s been pretty quiet about the Super Bowl and his involvement in the months leading up to last night’s event, even though his partnership with the NFL means he’s essentially in control of the presentation. (Shakira is signed to Roc Nation.) Given the reaction to last night’s halftime show, his first effort in this role can be called a success. And this is the platform from which he says he wants to build more wins off the field, particularly in leading the NFL’s social justice initiative.
That initiative was profiled this weekend in The New York Times, with Jay speaking on the record about the controversy surrounding his partnership with the NFL and what he claims his intentions are in making that decision. Of the skepticism about what he’s really doing with the NFL and the side-eye he’s received from the Black community, he says that he understands but that he’s willing to eat it in service of his bigger priorities:
“Jay-Z said he can live with the criticism if he is able to use the N.F.L.’s platform to convince white football fans that they too should be concerned about police brutality. “As long as real people are being hurt and marginalized and losing family members, then yes, I can take a couple rounds of negative press,” he said.”
And of his differences with Colin Kaepernick:
“Roc Nation’s role as a record label and management company for clients who mostly have grown up poor and disadvantaged, and its growing focus on real-time response to criminal justice reform and abuses, has led to this moment with the N.F.L., he said.
Now is the time, he said, for the conversation needs to move beyond only Mr. Kaepernick. “No one is saying he hasn’t been done wrong,” Jay-Z said. “He was done wrong. I would understand if it was three months ago. But it was three years ago and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’”
So once again, he’s making the case for reform over revolution. Those who remain unconvinced might say that his reform will result in more millions for him, only exacerbating the problem of the imbalance of wealth distribution. But he has an answer on that front too, as Roc Nation’s business infrastructure focuses on protecting artists and athletes, training them to invest their earnings back into themselves and the disadvantaged and unserved communities that many of them come from.
“That was the draw for Andrew Thomas, an offensive tackle at University of Georgia who declared he will enter the N.F.L. draft this year, represented by Roc Sports. “I’m able to talk to the O.G.s of the company,” Mr. Thomas said. “They teach soldiers how they become kings.”
Much of the NYT piece on Roc Nation spotlights the executives leading the company alongside Jay-Z, like Desiree Perez, described as Jay’s secret weapon and the “glue that holds” Roc Nation together. Under Desiree Perez, Roc Nation has “organized protests outside a mall in Tennessee where a Black teenager was arrested after refusing to remove the hood of his sweatshirt from his head at a mall; rallied behind a Black sixth-grader in Florida who was suspended for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance; and supported a homeless man in Arizona violently arrested after stealing socks.”
Lately they’ve been addressing inhumane conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. A few weeks ago, “with Ms. Perez working behind the scenes, Jay-Z and Yo Gotti filed a lawsuit against Mississippi prison officials. Part of Yo Gotti’s job was to keep it in the media and social media spotlight as he made his rounds to promote his new album. On Jan. 27, the governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves, called for the closure of Unit 29, where many of the deaths have occurred.”
Roc Nation’s position is that these initiatives are expensive, “social justice is expensive”, and so part of this deal with the NFL is a commitment for the league to spend $100 million over the next decade to fund outreach and support the causes that Roc Nation has identified, most of which attempt to address the experiences of marginalised communities.
Yes, the article reads like a press release for Jay and his company. And that’s why he did it, to promote himself, to promote his work, which of course benefits him. Where you stand – or sit – on whether or not this properly rationalises his choice to partner with the NFL depends on whether or not you believe that that’s truly his goal. There’s no question that Roc Nation has been doing a lot of good. Jay’s critics might tell you, however, that the same could have been achieved without getting into bed with an organisation that has not demonstrated the same track record of intent and that validating them with his influence only upholds the status quo. Let me know your thoughts, your takeaway, about Jay and his alignment with the NFL.