JAY-Z's lyrical topics have evolved since he debuted with Reasonable Doubt in 1996. From the very beginning of his hip-hop career he’s bragged about his love for having the finer things in life and always being the best in the rap game.
But the two things Hova has never bragged about are his philanthropy and behind the scenes activism. His new album and recent projects are evidence that JAY-Z aka Shawn Carter is an OG trying to save his community.
JAY-Z’s songs have often included verses about brushes with the law, knowing his rights and being harassed by the authorities. In 99 Problems, he famously rapped about being charged “Half-a-mil for bail cause I'm African.” This lyric, unfortunately, speaks to a serious problem the U.S. faces in the criminal justice system—exploitation by the bail bonds industry. The poor are being exploited for profit, feeding the disease of mass incarceration. People who can’t afford bail money become lost in our broken jail system without being convicted of a crime--just like Kalief Browder.
With the increase in false arrests aimed at poor people of color, JAY-Z wrote an eye-opening essay for Time Magazine to take on exploitation by the bail bonds industry. JAY-Z said that while working on the Browder docuseries, “I became obsessed with the injustice of the profitable bail bond industry. Kalief's family was too poor to post bond when he was accused of stealing a backpack.”
JAY-Z met with Kalief Browder after he was released from jail in 2013. And heard first hand story of how Browder was falsely imprisoned in 2010 and sent to Rikers Island just before his 17th birthday without being convicted of any crime. His family could not afford the $3,000 bail. JAY-Z was inspired to produce the docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story when he learned Browder committed suicide. Support for the docuseries helped influence New York City to act to get Rikers shutdown.
JAY-Z has indeed grown into someone who really wants to inspire people to become more involved in social change. On the eve of the release of his album 4:44, he wrote an essay to implore people to use their collective voices for social justice. And he’s not just talking about it. He's doing it! He’s creating another docuseries, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story" based on the book written by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother. The six episode docuseries will air on Paramount Network in early 2018.