This week, Roc Nation announced a long-term partnership with the NFL. Jay-Z will reportedly have a major say in picking songs for Super Bowl halftime shows and other major NFL events. The New York Times reports that he will also “contribute” to Inspire Change, the NFL’s charity organization.
Inspire Change’s official website states that the campaign “supports programs and initiatives that reduce barriers to opportunity,” and prioritizes “education and economic advancement, police and community relations, and criminal justice reform” as the three issues they long to tackle. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that “the NFL and Roc Nation share a vision of inspiring meaningful social change across our country.”
But it’s not the two companies’ shared interests that make the partnership newsworthy — it’s their differences. In the past several years, Jay-Z has become a Godfather-esque figure to artists, funding Meek Mill’s fight against his probation plight and 21 Savage’s defense against ICE. He’s also donated money to the Black Lives Matter organization and founded the criminal justice reform organization REFORM Alliance. Meanwhile, the NFL has veritably blackballed Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the National Anthem to protest systemic racism and has reportedly sought to penalize outspoken Kaepernick advocate Eric Reid through excessive drug testing.
Jay-Z refused to perform at Super Bowl 53, and rapped, “I said no to the Super Bowl: you need me, I don’t need you” on 2018’s “APESH*T.” At the time, the line read like a triumphant condemnation of the retrograde league. But in light of the recent partnership, it sounds like he was setting the terms of negotiation. Jay-Z told Travis Scott not to perform at the Super Bowl last December, but he divulged at a recent press conference that the move had nothing to do with Kaepernick. He said that he felt Travis Scott was becoming a household name after his Astroworld album and didn’t want him to play “second fiddle” to Adam Levine.
His stance against the NFL wasn’t about racial politics; apparently, it was about industry politics all along. Tellingly, Jay-Z had never clarified his reasoning for deterring Travis Scott’s performance until it was financially beneficial to do so. There have been people angrily chastising Jay-Z after the partnership announcement, but they were never paying attention. He’s been making money with the NFL, as his Roc Nation Sports agency has retained NFL clients throughout the Kaepernick controversy. He told the world on his first album that he was a capitalist, and the backlash reflects a societal misinterpretation of what the term actually means.
The sin of a capitalist isn’t the unethical action, it’s adopting the mentality that justifies it. Jay-Z has made several commendable deals in the past 20 years, but when you’re out for “Dead Presidents” to represent you, questionable partnerships and effectual plundering of the downtrodden are par for the course and ripe to be compartmentalized as the “cost of doing business.”