If you were under the impression that Jay-Z would have moved on from Kalief Browder after Spike TV’s six-part documentary, Time: The Kalief Browder Story had aired, you were sorely mistaken. The rapper, who also served as an executive producer for the short series, is still advocating for the young man that took his own life in 2015 after serving three years in Rikers Island jail for a crime he was acquitted of. Hova penned a short but sweet guest column for The Hollywood Reporter to promote his next documentary, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story which will also air on the rebranded Spike TV. Trust me, it was more than a shameless plug.
The music industry mogul does not see either of these projects as isolated from the institutions and circumstances that led to their creation. “It is up to us to continue to amplify [Browder’s] story so that we can save a generation of kids from the same fate. His is the kind of story that you can't ignore, and people are starting to see that what happened to him is not an isolated case. He's just one example in a system that is broken. We need to be the ones who fix it.” These are the personal words of support that people seem to want to hear from celebrities, but it can’t be understated that signing on for a project that gets such widespread attention, is also a form of activism.
Sure, activism might not be Jay’s lane, but his approach to getting involved sounds about right. Putting his weight behind a cable documentary starts a conversation that more people can participate in. One of the highlights of the essay for me is his contextualization of social justice. For him, “social justice isn't a political issue. It's a human issue. It's a story of empathy. When we are able to identify that we are all not perfect and have compassion for someone else, we can move forward as a society.” And he’s not dealing in abstract, new age theoreticals. “Look around at what's happening in your town and your city right now. Think small, and you can do much bigger things.”
It might be easy for those who are critical of how celebrities engage in social issues to accuse Jay-Z of profiting off of Black tragedies. This was the undertone of Piers Morgan’s takedown of Lemonade last year. However, in an era when Jay-Z literally can “sell water to a whale” (oh hi, Tidal) it means something that he’s trying to make a buck and some change along the way. And there is the fact that many years and millions ago, Shawn Carter could have very well been Browder or Martin. No amount of fame changes that.