Jay-Z is a brand. Jay-Z is a business model owned by Shawn Carter and probably some others, maybe even Beyonce’ and Blue Ivy when it’s all said and done. Still, some dispute exists as to whether or not Jay-Z should give back, as a responsible business that supposedly satisfies some need for its consumer market. Besides living vicariously through the eyes of S. Carter, one would wonder what one gets, out of adding their pittance to the already enormous fortune amassed by the Jay-Z brand. Yet some do it faithfully and scream “Jay-Z can do whatever he wants with my money when I give it to him,” or something to that effect. Many can believe that, but people like Harry Belafonte disagree.
What Belafonte said;
Q: Are you happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood today?
A: Not at all. They have not told the history of our people, nothing of who we are. We are still looking. … And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.
What Jay-Z said on Elliot Wilson;
I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America is enough. Just being who he is. You’re the first black president. If he speaks on any issue or anything he should be left alone. … I felt Belafonte … just went about it wrong. Like the way he did it in the media, and then he bigged up Bruce Springsteen or somebody. And it was like, ‘whoa,’ you just sent the wrong message all the way around. … Bruce Springsteen is a great guy. You’re this civil rights activist and you just bigged up the white guy against me in the white media. And I’m not saying that in a racial way. I’m just saying what it is. The fact of what it was. And that was just the wrong way to go about it.
This is the essence of the Jay-Z vs. Harry Belafonte “beef”. Those statements sum up the sentiment expressed by each of the participants which caused such a fuss recently. An article by Gene Demby for NPR’s Code Switch blog describes the inter-generational rift that exists between the two as a regular occurrence, not unlike C. Delores Tucker vs. Tupac. Demby writes, “For much of American history, the act of being black and famous was an inherently political act, (but now) it’s different in large part because of the efforts of Belafonte and so many of his contemporaries.”
Even though the real substance, of what the 85 year old Belafonte introduced, wasn’t dissected enough, the article instead ended by saying Jay-Z didn’t bow in deference to his elder because, “that’s not how hip-hop has ever worked.” However that’s not really true. During the Golden-era of Hip Hop during the late 80’s and early 1990’s, hip-hop was known for checking people about their character. Think back to X-Clan, Brand Nubian, Public Enemy, KRSONE etc. Emcees were constantly schooling others on how to be “civilized, right and exact, righteous, true, real, original” and say things like “word is bond”, “true in deed”, “one love” and “each one teach one.”
Those were all aspects of the underlying philosophy which dominated hip-hop music during the Golden-era from the time of Rakim Allah until the early 90’s. After that, the “niggas with attitude” mentality morphed into the “fuck the World” “get money” mantra. This is the era Jay-Z came up in. His mentality was that of the drug-dealer who profited off of the misery of the ghetto, as he tells it in his records. It’s no surprise why he couldn’t understand the idea of social responsibility. Social responsibility is what the “broke niggas who came up before him” used to preach. That philosophy never made him any paper. Still, Jigga’s lack of understanding of just who Harry Belafonte is and represents to “Black” culture in general, reveals a misunderstanding of his own lineage as a recording artist.
Belafonte is speaking on a concept familiar to conscious artists of all races during the 1960’s and Hiphoppas of the Golden-era as well. They understood that beyond music’s ability to uplift and inspire, was its duty to help those on the bottom rise up. Jay-Z learned this message for himself, but as Belafonte points out, it doesn’t really benefit many others. Even beyond the personal, social responsibility extends to business and Jay-Z is a business. After all, no individual can logically spend $494 million dollars in a lifetime.
To a company, social responsibility is “a business’s obligation to pursue policies, make decisions, and take actions that benefit society.” (H.R. Bower, Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, Harper and Row, 1953 NY) Although the idea was mentioned in the 1950’s, it is really just catching on for businesses of the future that look for sustainable models, not just excessive profits, as the shareholder model dictates. The shareholder model is the old way of thinking about business in the last century. Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist felt that the only responsibilities a business had was to its owners and its ability to maximize profits. This seems to be Jay-Z’s model so far.
Twenty-first century economists, talk about the stakeholder model, which emphasizes long-term survival of the business or sustainability. Primary stakeholders “are groups on which the organization depends for its long-term survival; they include shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, governments and local communities.”(Chuck Williams, Effective Management, 6th ed., Cengage Learning, 2014) While a business may not act illegally by breaking any laws, which of course Jay-Z doesn’t do while making records instead of selling drugs, there are responsibilities besides that. Jay-Z has also been economically responsible, it can be argued, by providing a product that society deems valuable or else he wouldn’t be so filthy rich. Still, many other companies have already understood that basic paradigm in order to keep a sound business for years.
The 21st century responsibilities deal with ethics and so-called discretionary duties. (Effective Man.) Being ethical is doing what is right. That wisdom Jigga has yet to learn, it seems, when he didn’t acknowledge what Belafonte said in the rest of the article. The idea that Jay-Z must have read the rest of the article to see what Belafonte was really talking about and still didn’t just “bow in deference to his elders,” shows what Chuck Williams calls the reactive strategy. This is when a company “will do less than society expects. It may deny responsibility for a problem or fight any suggestion that the company should solve a problem.” (Effective Man) That was Jay-Z’s response in a nutshell. He said his “presence is charity.” Isn’t that really doing the least expected? Williams says the next level up is the defensive strategy, where the company admits responsibility but still does the least. So far, Jay-Z has not even admitted responsibility for bettering the society which benefited him so much.
Companies who accept responsibility and do all they can to take progressive approaches to solve problems, use what Williams calls the accommodative strategy. That is Harry Belafonte nowadays, at the age of 85, with nowhere near the wealth Jay-Z claims to possess. Lastly, Williams points out the proactive strategy which, “anticipate(s) responsibility for a problem before it occurs, do(ing) more than expected to address the problem and lead the industry in its approach.”(Effective Man.) This approach was Harry Belafonte and others in the 1960’s and Hiphoppas of the Golden-Era. They foresaw problems in the future and tried to address them as best they could. That is also what you call discretionary responsibility, which is the voluntary duty company’s perform beyond their economic, legal and ethical responsibilities.
I don’t personally know what Jay-Z does for charities and seemingly no one else does either, because you never hear anything about it. But if people feel that Jay-Z can do whatever he wants with the money people in society gave him for talking rhythmically over well-produced beats, that’s fine. Those same people shouldn’t consider themselves on par with Jay-Z either, though, they are just customers. Jay-Z ignores the issues of his customers just as he must have ignored the rest of what Harry Belafonte said in the interview in September of 2012 with Alexadra Zawia from the Hollywood Reporter. I have never heard Jay-Z say anything as relevant in any of his rhymes or interviews (except maybe the one I did with him before Reasonable Doubt dropped), as what Belafonte summed up in two or three paragraphs. And remember Belafonte said this before the 2012 election, before Trayvon Martin and before Jay-Z and Beyonce were invited to the Presidential Inauguration.
THR: Has the world changed for activists like you?
Belafonte: Definitely. Back then, the enemies were very clear, very precise. It is easy to fight oppression if it comes in [the form of] a swastika and a boot, and as a dictator, and you can see it and feel it and touch it. It is easy when there is a sign that says “No N—–s“ or “No Jews.“ Where it becomes the most insidious is when it buries itself and you can no longer touch it but can taste that yet it is there, fully blown, doing insane mischief. That is why I think the period now is the most challenging I’ve ever lived in. The power in many societies has become almost absolute. Those who have the power in the free-enterprise system start to crush societies and create wars that are unholy. What we did during the Bush period, what we still continue to do, even with Barack Obama, is the constituency of not changing the paradigm, of not changing the view. We still have laws that encourage torture; we did not change Guantanamo; we have laws that allow the police to arrest you at any time, not having to tell you why, and take you wherever they want. This kind of capitalism is taking us to the doorstep of [a] Fourth Reich, I think.
THR: Would you want Mitt Romney to become the next U.S. president?
Belafonte: Only if I would like to see the end of civilization. No, absolutely not. Mitt Romney is not my cup of tea at all.
THR: Can you pin down what the enemy is nowadays?
Belafonte: Unbridled capitalism. The concentration of money in the hands of a very small group is the most dangerous thing that has ever happened to civilization. We are facing an oligarchy of force. Just look at who controls the press. We all witnessed how money and power squeezed out all essence of Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi. Thank God for social media, which aids transparency. But even that becomes more and more restricted now, with companies like Facebook buying up all the roots of this technology. But I am currently involved with two documentaries, one Leadbelly: Legend, Life, Legacy and the other Another Night in the Free World, which I am shooting now for about five months. It is globally looking at the youth movement during the Arab Spring, looking at what happened in Cairo and Tunisia and now in Syria.