Jay-Z is one of the wealthiest men in hip-hop. He has been putting out music consistently since the 1990s, and as a well-connected Brooklyn rapper, the ‘Dead Presidents’ musician has been around hip-hop since he was a teenager in the 1980s. In 2019, Jay-Z became the first artist from the genre to achieve billionaire status. As a result, the rapper (real name Shawn Carter) is considered one of the best rappers of all time.
Born and raised in the infamously poor Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, Carter was raised by his mother. According to the rapper himself, his father left him and his siblings due to his heavy involvement in the New York crime life. Jay-Z grew up in the ’80s. During this period, Brooklyn was a musical hotspot. As New York entered the 1990s, the borough became more musically active than the Bronx, to the surprise of many. As a teen, Carter attended several local schools and, along the way, was even classmates with other Brooklyn rappers such as The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes.
Before Jay-Z was a star, he was merely a kid with a dream who just happened to be around. However, he was ubiquitous in his area, and people recognised him. Carter’s goal as a teen was to escape a life of crime. He knew he had to prove he was a certified rapper to do this. As a result, strategically, Jay constantly adapted and affiliated himself with those more successful than him. With hopes and dreams of making it big, during the ’80s, Jay-Z paired himself up with Jaz-O. As a mainstream act who had grown up in the same housing scheme as Jay-Z, he was cordial with Carter and begrudgingly allowed him to become part of his entourage. Jay-Z would later partner up with Big Daddy Kane.
After continuous rejection from labels, in 1995, Jay-Z and Dame Dash created Roc-A-Fella Records to put out and distribute his debut album, Unreasonable Doubt. It was unlike anything people in Brooklyn had heard before. Releasing a second project quickly after, Jay-Z caught the eye of Russell Simmons and signed with Def Jam Recordings. Ever since, Carter has dominated hip-hop. Moreover, with wise investments along the way, he acquired vast amounts of wealth.
However, with all of his acquired wealth, fame and money, Jay-Z has been asked on more than one occasion about the possibility of him giving some of his money to others. During the ’80s and ’90s, The Marcy Projects in Brooklyn was one of the most dangerous and neglected neighbourhoods in New York. With many among his fanbase aware of his roots, some need clarification as to why the only money Carter has shelled out concerning the area is to the NBA team, The Brooklyn Nets.
Furthermore, what aggravated some is that even the rapper’s NBA venture as a part-owner failed. With this being the case, New Yorkers began to raise questions about why the mogul was so hesitant to put his money towards financially helping the residents of his area. In 2010, Carter had an interview with Charlie Rose for his talk show, The Charlie Rose Show. Conducted at the Brooklyn Museum, the long sit-down interview saw Jay-Z speak on his journey from the destitution of the Marcy Projects to the heights of Billionaire status.
After the lengthy discussion, the floor was opened up for a Q&A with the audience. During this segment of the interview a school psychologist from Brooklyn who worked in Brooklyn. Elaborating on his job, the audience member clarified, “I’m the person responsible for placing a lot of these young African-Americans in special education. Many of them appear from broken homes, and what have you.”
However, this is when the man started hitting Carter with the tougher questions as he declared, “One of the questions myself and my frat brothers we talk about is ‘What is Jay-Z gonna do to give back to the community’ I know you’re a part owner of the Brooklyn Nets but have ever considered buying or investing in Marcy Projects and changing that and creating educational programmes or something?! Because many of those kids end up in my office, and that’s just something I wanted to ask you, not to get too political or anything, but that’s a very significant thing for me!”
Carter did respond but did so extremely carefully, replying, “I think what you do for a living is very important to the mindset because buying Marcy Projects, in my opinion, doesn’t fix the problem, you have to fix the thinking!” He proceeded to speak on the history and environment of New York public housing, explaining, “Projects in the beginning were just a stopover, projects were built as low-income houses until you got enough money and you moved out and you moved somewhere else. That’s the origin of low-income housing and then it became this is thing of ‘I gotta rep my hood and I’m not leaving out of my hood!’ I don’t think anything is wrong with wanting something better or making where you are better but I think it’s more the thinking of and the drive for us to want to do better than represent something that doesn’t belong to us.”
The rapper treaded delicately concerning his answer. Still, it was clear that he believed the issue was not the conditions but the psychology of the people living there. Carter insinuated that the need to represent their area was taking precedence over their drive to leave the neighbourhood. Evidently, the mogul saw young African-Americans putting their priorities in the wrong places. You can watch the interview and Q&A in the video below.