6 Times Jay-Z Used His Platform For Good

Rapper Jay-Z is inarguably one of the most successful rappers of all time. He has had a hugely influential career and is often called the best rapper in history. He has even brought other hip-hop artists, such as Kanye West and Rihanna, to prominence. In 2019, Jay-Z became the first billionaire rapper, thanks to his musical success and other business ventures. 

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His success and status have also allowed him to speak out on critical social issues. Jay-Z is outspoken about the rights of underprivileged communities and people of color. He has also advocated for criminal justice reform and donated millions of dollars to relief funds. Here are six times where Jay-Z has used his fame to help others.

1. Hurricane Katrina Relief 

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, it caused enormous devastation, destroying over 800,000 homes.

Many hip-hop artists donated money to aid in relief efforts. But many, including Jay-Z, were critical of the government response, which they believed wasn’t enough. Many speculated that the response was underwhelming because of the racial and economic makeup of the affected areas. Jay-Z was particularly vocal, donating $1 million to the Red Cross. But he also shared criticisms of President Bush’s response. 

“I couldn’t forget that those were my kin out there in New Orleans, and that, forget the Government, I was supposed to do something to help them,” he later wrote in his book Decoded. “We donated it to the Red Cross, which is barely different from donating to the government itself, the same government that failed those people.”

2. Voting

Jay-Z was openly supportive of President Barack Obama, especially when it came to subjects such as same-sex marriage. In 2010, he was part of an enthusiastic campaign to encourage young people to recognize the power of their vote and use it. 

“Our generation changed the world,” he said to the crowd at the Bonnaroo Festival in June 2010. “We absolutely changed the world. So it just goes to show anything is possible as long as you fight for what’s right. Fight for what you believe in, and stay forever young.”

His speech appeared in a PSA for Headcount, an organization that helps young people register to vote. 

3. Police Brutality

Few social justice endeavors are as close to the rapper’s heart as fighting police brutality. Jay-Z has decried police misconduct, particularly against people of color, at many of his concerts. He has also advocated for and donated to individuals who were victims of law enforcement.

“Young men — young black men — are dying, and it’s not even a black and white issue,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “It’s a human issue.”

The rapper has also donated money to people affected by police brutality. He set up a trust fund for the children of Sean Bell, an African-American man killed by law enforcement in 2006. Jay-Z also paid tens of thousands of dollars in bail for people jailed while protesting against police.

4. Criminal Justice Reform

In 2019, Jay-Z partnered with fellow rapper Meek Mill to launch REFORM Alliance. The organization’s goal is to encourage criminal justice reform by helping people who have been subjected to unjust or extreme prison sentences. REFORM pays particular attention to people of color, who Jay-Z says are often the victims of unfair targeting and sentencing. 

The topic was personal for Mill, who was jailed several times for violating parole. During Mill’s incarceration, Jay-Z and other public figures advocated for him and the reform of the American justice system. He also met personally with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and urged lawmakers to make changes regarding prison sentences. 

“We want to be very clear, if someone commits a crime, they should go to jail,” Jay-Z said at the launch of REFORM. “But these things are just disproportionate, and the whole world knows it.”

5. The Shawn Carter Foundation

Back in 2003, Jay-Z started the Shawn Carter Foundation. The organization provides college scholarships for disadvantaged youth, particularly those not qualifying for standard scholarships. 

The foundation also partners with other organizations to provide tutors, literacy programs, and other resources. Some provide relief to disadvantaged communities, particularly those facing natural disasters or other emergencies. In the first ten years of its existence, the SCF donated more than $1.3 million in scholarships alone. In 2023, to celebrate 20 years of the foundation, Jay-Z held a fundraising event that raised $20 million.

6. COVID-19 Relief

The coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise in the last months of 2019, raising concerns about supply shortages and a lack of hospital space. In April 2020, shortly after the first COVID cases were diagnosed in the United States, Jay-Z donated $1 million to relief efforts. Singer Rihanna and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also made donations.

But the rapper’s main goal was more specific—to help marginalized and underprivileged communities. The total donation of more than $6 million went to communities in New York, Puerto Rico, and Los Angeles, particularly undocumented workers who would not have access to state healthcare.

Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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