Making the shift from a notorious drug dealer, to a multiplatinum rapper, to a savvy business is not easy, but Jay-Z certainly makes it look that way. The billionaire mogul is the definition of growth, having evolved tremendously since he days as a kid from the Marcy Projects.
Today, he spends his time working on criminal justice reform and fighting for social justice. However, despite his name being attached to certain projects, few know how deep his involvement in matters tends to be.
Jay-Z produced a Trayvon Martin docuseries
In 2018, Jay-Z partnered with The Weinstein Company to produce Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story, a docuseries chronicle the tragic 2012 death of teenager Trayvon Martin. The six-part series recounts his life and takes a hard look at what many believe to be a flawed criminal justice system. The docuseries shines a light on many of the racial inequities in place during criminal proceedings and discusses how Martin’s death helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the New York Times.
“There are a lot of things going on that lead to these sorts of films, these docs that I’m creating now,” Jay-Z said. “It’s more of an education, because it’s so egregious that people don’t believe it. People have to really see this. They have to see it again and they have to see it with facts and details, because people don’t really believe it. Until the world believes it and everyone gets involved, it’s going to be a black problem.”
He paid Meek Mill’s legal fees when he was wrongfully imprisoned
In 2017, Meek Mill was arrested for violating his probation, which stemmed from a 2007 arrest for drugs and guns. His arrest instantly made waves not due to it being for a minor infraction (doing a wheelie on a dirt bike in the street) and because Meek had been on probation for over 10 years.
Philadelphia judge Genece Brinkley went on to sentence Meek to 2-4 years in prison in November 2017, which was an outrage to many. Among Meek’s celebrity supporters was Jay-Z who apparently helped in more ways than people know, according to Essence.
“Jay-Z is actually responsible for some of my legal fees, which I thought was the dopest in the world because it was some millions of dollars,” Meek said. “I don’t even think I could have afforded it.”
HOVA helped get 21 Savage out of an ICE jail
Continuing to help out his fellow rappers, Jay-Z made a major move assisting with 21 Savage’s release from an immigrant detention center. Savage, born in the U.K., had overstayed his pending Visa application and had been arrested by ICE.
Once again, Jay-Z swooped in with one of the industry’s best lawyers, Alex Spiro. He also called the incident an “absolute travesty,” according to Newsweek. Thankfully, Savage’s legal team and the mounting public discourse lead to the rapper’s release shortly after.
He launched a social justice partnership with the NFL
After the uproar the NFL caused by its handling of Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests, the league felt compelled to make major changes. A big change came when they announced a partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation in 2019. The partnership seeks to address numerous representation issues and will allow Jay-Z to advise on artist selection for Super Bowl performances.
Beyond the game, the partnership also has roots in social justice. In early 2020, Jay-Z got the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, to commit to spending $100 million on criminal justice reform, according to Black Enterprise.
Jigga’s REFORM Alliance launched a new California probation bill
In his most recent act yet, Jay-Z won a major victory in California court. He and Meek’s criminal justice reform organization, REFORM Alliance, worked to have California Governor Gavin Newsom sign a new bill into law.
Titled AB 1950, the bill limits adult probation maximums to one year for misdemeanors, and two years for felonies, according to Pitchfork. The bill is a big deal for minority communities affected by the criminal justice system.
“Americans across the country took to the streets this summer rightfully demanding more and better of our criminal justice system–and of ourselves,” Newsom said. “Still, we can and must do more.”
While many celebrities make bold claims about what they intend to do for their community, Jay-Z is certainly putting his money where his mouth is.