Albeit a somewhat disappointing evening for the fans of Roc Nation and Jay Z, as Hova came away with one Grammy, we did get to see the music industry’s most powerful couple show us how to truly rock a stage…so I guess it wasn’t all that bad.
Congratulations to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for their album, The Heist, winning Rap Album of the Year. Jay Z still has the most platinum albums out of any solo artist to ever perform, yes, more than Elvis, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Ben Haggerty (AKA Macklemore).
I digress, without further adieu, I present to you the final part of my research behind hip hop’s biggest brand: the maturation of Shawn Carter.
At the point of maturity, a veteran firm has achieved a certain amount of name recognition, their sales require less effort, the business produces a reliable stream of cash, and intensive marketing or redevelopment may be needed to increase or maintain market position. Picture Jay Z as a mature firm. He is no longer an artist trying to find his place in the industry, but rather a mogul who runs his own record label (Roc Nation) and has the most albums to go platinum as a solo artist. It is safe to say that he has attained such a position where not much he does is considered a failure. With that being said though, how does he maintain his level of success as his career progresses? Enter, Beyoncé.
“In terms of the entertainment industry, it’s the biggest merger you could possibly imagine,” (Bloomberg, 188). In 2008, Jay Z and mega-star in her own right, Beyoncé Knowles, were married. On a strictly financial basis, this could be considered a business transaction, a merger, where two brands came together to form a joint venture to achieve profits greater than they could have dreamed of on their own (according to Forbes, the Carter Family is the highest earning celebrity couple). When thinking about Jay Z’s upside, the marriage provides different financial opportunities. For example, in 2004, while Beyoncé and Jay Z were dating, Carter invested $10 million into beauty company, Carol’s Daughter (“Carol’s Daughter Poised for Growth,” Julie Naughton). Would former drug dealer turned rapper have invested in such a company if it were not for Beyoncé? Beyoncé offers Jay Z a new fan base, “We exchange audiences,” Jay Z says (Bloomberg, 198), but more than that a female perspective of investment opportunities. It is understandable that Jay Z wouldn’t be interested in investing in a company that is geared toward African American women, but with his relationship with Beyoncé, who’s a global icon in her own right, those doors are now open to the rapper. Beyoncé is an asset to Jay Z, and like a mature company, she can be used to rebrand and recreate the image of Jay Z. Moreover, with the birth of their daughter, Blue Ivy, Jay Z is now perceived as more than just an entertainer, but a father and a family man; I hear the sound of doors being opened and lots of money coming in. A merger/marriage benefits both joining entities because it creates new avenues for their global brands to travel and reach the millions of people who’ve yet to be touched by their business savvy.
As previously mentioned, at the pinnacle of a business career name recognition, effortless sales, and a steady stream of revenue have been acquired. However, another aspect of such a point is that business leaders or firms attempt to give back or, teach those who have not been as fortunate, the tools to attain such success. Many corporations and companies, like Starbucks and Nike, have established foundations to improve the quality of life for a specific demographic of people or to address issues that pertain to the scope of their industry. Jay Z, too, has a foundation. Carter and his mother, Gloria Carter, founded the Shawn Carter Foundation in 2002. It was established because, according to Jay Z in the interview with Steven Forbes and Warren Buffet, “such a small thing changed my life, right? A sixth-grade teacher said, ‘You know what, you’re kind of smart.’ And I believed her.” Carter understands that not everyone can be as lucky as he has been thus far in life. Not everyone can “bet it all” on the music industry and try to be successful without any formal education. The Foundation stresses the need for higher education in order to explore and develop one’s mind. Such efforts cannot be attempted if the resources and finances are not available, though. The Shawn Carter Foundation has grown with Carter as he has succeeded financially during his music career. According to the foundation’s website, they have awarded over $1.3 million to students so they could pursue higher learning. Jay Z’s tool to success is intellect and a different understanding of the world around him; he recognizes that education is needed to reach such points.
Another philanthropic way, in which Jay Z gives back, is through his current lifestyle company, Roc Nation. Roc Nation is primarily a record label, but it recently began representing professional athletes. It is different from other representation companies because it focuses on the development, cultivation and continued support of its clients. In an interview with BBC Radio’s Zane Lowe, Jay Z talks about how his new sports management division of the company alters the current industry. It is no secret that the sports industry dwarfs the music industry in terms of revenue. Players are being paid millions upon millions of dollars, but they aren’t receiving the support they need to maintain their wealth for the years to come after their playing days. The average playing career in the NFL is three to four years, and shortly after that players end up broke. Carter says, “Now they (current sports agents) have to wake up and go to work. They’ve spent fifteen, twenty years just sitting back and collecting the check, now they have to see how their [client’s] mama doing and if his mental situation is where it needs to be.” Jay Z understands that he stands less to gain from his clients than they stand to gain from him. For Jay Z it is more than the profits. With Roc Nation and Roc Nation sports, he wants to promote financial literacy, so that young and highly successful people can be secure in the future when they no longer have the ability to produce at profitable levels. Despite the company being a business, its principle is purely philanthropic, and socially conscious.
Jay Z had to lay the groundwork himself as a young and unproven artist. It was he who sold his tracks out of his car, along with business partner Damon Dash, and it was he who founded his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, in order to distribute his music on a larger scale. Jay Z the entrepreneur invested the money, time, and energy to promote himself as a brand, and when that wasn’t enough he sought out bigger record labels to help with his production. Through consistent output of music and innovation in the way Jay Z could profit from his brand, he has achieved a respected and revered status in the industry. He has the attention and command of his listeners, and when his name is attached to some new product or some new album they respond. This suggests that there is a pattern to success no matter what the industry or profession. Jay Z’s physical journey to fame and wealth was quite different than that of others who have attained the same position, but the characteristics and genius behind them are very much the same.
Shawn Carter is needed, not just for pop-culture, but also for Black America. We need a beacon of hope and of prominence where we can look to as a rubric for success. In Jay Z’s own words, “We want to be looked at as a real solid company. Not a good black company, but a good company ‘cause there’s a difference,” (“Jigga Man Jay Z Gets Down With Vibe”). Jay Z is driven and determined to attain a spot in society that black Americans do not see everyday, and he’s doing it for us. I, too, used to be a part of the group that thought rappers were selfish, stupid and materialistic ignoramuses. Before I knew anything about Jay Z, he was grouped with such artists. I don’t know if the hip-hop genre will ever distance itself from that notion, but I believe Jay Z has made a distinct decision to be a different example of African American identity. Rap is poetry. The rhymes and subliminal messages are beautiful, and when artists are straightforward with their messages the art form loses a bit of its appeal. If you look deep enough at all aspects of Jay Z’s career, his message and desire of becoming an influential figure which the African American people can look towards is evident.
Thanks for listening.