Sunday, September 09, 2012

Jay-Z: "Civic-Minded Hip-Hop Mogul" or "The House that Hova Hyped"?

"The Civic-Minded Hip-Hop Mogul
Holds Court With Zadie Smith"
I already critiqued the fawning interview/essay about Jay-Z in the New York Times's Sunday T Magazine ad-jammed supplement, but the cover line deserves notice too: "The Civic-Minded Hip-Hop Mogul Holds Court With Zadie Smith."

Civic-Minded? That sounds like a term dreamed up by, or in synchronicity with, developer Bruce Ratner's p.r. advisors, who have him regularly self-reporting as a "civic developer," a gauzy term that implies a social mission rather than a calculation that something beyond the minimum--better architecture, subsidized housing, jobs (?!)--is necessary to get a project passed.

So, while the article, headlined "The House That Hova Built," says little about the Barclays Center, it is indeed, as I put it, "The House That Hova Hyped."  Jay-Z is portrayed, at the arena, wearing expensive clothes--this is a fashion magazine supplement--and being cited for "civic" goals like making sure "Brooklyn" was part of the name of the Nets when they moved from New Jersey. (Civic? That's marketing.)

Some cautions

Not everybody was buying it. Shane Danaher wrote in Music is My Oxygen:
Yesterday’s New York Times profile of Jay-Z (courtesy of unimpeachable novelist/memoirist Zadie Smith) took a precariously laudatory tone toward its subject, a tack that helped both to highlight the Jiggaman’s extant qualities (of which there are many) as well as the contradictions that make those qualities such a tough pill to swallow.
The article’s cause célèbre—the opening of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which will house the partly-Hova-owned New York Nets—exemplifies this apparent contradiction.
Housed in Jay-Z’s neighborhood of origin, the center will drive economic resurgence in a region long considered low on the social rungs. However, it’s hard to say whether Jay’s involvement is better described as charity or mercantilism, since he undoubtedly stands to add to his $460 million personal fortune as an upshot of the deal....
While [Smith's] optimistic view of the [latest Jay-Z/Kanye West] LP [Watch the Throne] casts it as a manifesto for community empowerment, other critics have looked with scorn on the album’s baroque materialism, especially coming as it did in the midst of the vituperative, if somewhat soft-headed, Occupy Wall Street movement.
The truth is that Smith, however talented and interesting, is not unimpeachable. neither is Jay-Z. (Oh, and the center will not "drive economic resurgence" in Jay-Z's "neighborhood of origin.")

His "admirable" foundation

Writes Smith:
Heavy responsibility lands on the shoulders of these unacknowledged legislators whose poetry is only, after all, four decades young. Jay-Z’s ready for it. He has his admirable Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation, putting disadvantaged kids through college. He’s spoken in support of gay rights. He’s curating music festivals and investing in environmental technologies. This October, his beloved Nets take up residence in their new home — the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And he has some canny, forward-looking political instincts...
But still I think “conscious” rap fans hope for something more.. Maybe the next horizon will stretch beyond philanthropy and Maybach collections.
First, "his beloved Nets" are not part of Jay-Z social responsibility. They're part of his business plan.

As for his foundation, let's not disparage generosity, but acknowledge the hype: he's not putting kids through college, he's helping. According to the foundation, "The SCSF provides individual grants ranging from $1500 to $2500 to every student who qualifies and reapplies yearly, from admission to graduation."

Last September, as Global Grind reported 9/30/11, Jay-Z Raises A Milli For Students: "Focus On What You Love", the foundation raised $950,000 for scholarships.

That suggests a ramp-up from previous years, since the foundation had awarded over $1.1 million in nine years--no small amount, but in the ballpark of the personal foundations for, say, NBA stars. In other words: however admirable, the charitable giving does not make him any more civic-minded than some others less wealthy..

Jay-Z is still young, and just about halfway to a billion dollars, so he's not ready to make the Giving Pledge--billionaires promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. But given that he's worth $460 million, according to the Times, his scholarship giving is just a start.

Here's a summary of his giving in recent years, according to tax returns from the foundation.

Tax year 2010:
  • $124,000 in scholarships
  • $20,223 for toy drive
  • $23,744 for college trips
Tax year 2009:
  • $160,974 in scholarships
  • $10,768 for toy drive
  • $31,635 for college trips
Tax year 2008:
  • $124,000 in scholarships
  • $20,223 for toy drive
  • $23,744 for college trips
From the tax returns

Tax year 2010

Tax year 2009

Tax year 2008

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