Jay-Z Is Pushing More Artists to Make Social Justice-Themed Songs and Movies

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By Emily Zanotti | 6:40 pm, June 26, 2017

America, Jay-Z is worried about you.

The artist, who rose to fame rapping about his life on the streets, says the next phase of his career will be encouraging other singers, songwriters and filmmakers to focus their work on social justice.

In an article for the Hollywood Reporter, Jay-Z called on entertainment moguls to “do much bigger things” in pursuit of a social agenda that addresses everything from poverty to the criminal justice system.

“The power of one voice is strong, but when it comes to social justice, the power of our collective voices is unstoppable,” he said in his essay. “Now is the time to recognize that through our voices we really can effect change.”

The piece, of course, is part of a larger marketing package, designed to promote Jay-Z’s upcoming works, a docu-series about life in prison called Time: The Kalief Browder Story and a documentary about Trayvon Martin called Rest In Power: The Trayvon Martin Story. 

He’s also, conveniently, launching a new National Georgraphic project, Race with Jay-Z, where he’ll take on complicated social justice issues on basic cable. “Social justice isn’t a political issue. It’s a human issue,” he wrote. “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.”

That’s a nice thought, but its unlikely Jay-Z’s “groundbreaking” films will be devoid of a political agenda. He and his wife, Beyonce, have become central cultural figures for the Black Lives Matter movement, and have both become outspoken political activists in the last year.

And that may be why it’s difficult for others—aside from Jay-Z—to follow his advice. While he and his wife can handle a financial risk (after all, his essay was likely written in the half-million-per-month Malibu rental they’re sharing with their daughter and newborn twins), that’s not true for up-and-coming artists and filmmakers. Also, politically focused works are a risk.

Left-leaning pictures, for example, often don’t thrill audiences, so they must be made for their artistic or political value, rather than for profit. That means filmmakers often must shoulder the costs of making the movie and distributing it—no easy feat for someone who is not a multi-platinum recording artist or Oscar-winning director.

As for music: Social justice is a common theme among indie hip-hop artists, and not because Jay-Z is giving them advice.