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It’s been a few months into the NFL’s controversial “Inspire Change” initiative, a promotion by the league to highlight the Player’s Coalition and its work to address social issues. “Inspire Change” officially launched last year, (to “nurture and strengthen community through football and music,” said official statements) with the league’s partnership with Roc Nation expected to guide much of the outreach and voice.
"With its global reach, the National Football League has the platform and opportunity to inspire change across the country," Jay-Z said via press release back in August. "Roc Nation has shown that entertainment and enacting change are not mutually exclusive ideas -- instead, we unify them. This partnership is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of communities across America."
The first “Inspire Change” ad featured the Botham Jean Foundation, and focused on the Jean family and their reaction to Botham’s 2018 death at the hands of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Jean’s murder, in which Guyger shot the 26-year-old as he sat in his apartment after saying she’d believed it was her own, drew international attention. The subsequent trial and conviction of Guyger drew derision and criticism after the former officer was sentenced to ten years (with parole eligibility in five) amidst hugs from the prosecuting judge and official statements from the family that focused on forgiveness.
“He just loved people and he was very particular about the company he kept. So I felt he was not in harm’s way,” his mother, Allison Jean, says during the video.
The NFL debuted the Jean ad online in late January to a mixed reception, and a new ad was shown during Super Bowl LIV. In the new ad, former 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin is heard speaking about what happened to his cousin, Corey Jones, on the night of October 18, 2015. That night, Jones was shot and killed in Florida by a plainclothes police officer as Jones was stuck on the side of the road with car trouble.
“I was still playing with the 49ers and my wife walks up after the game and told me that my cousin Corey had been killed. Corey broke down on the side of the road and a plain clothed police officer pulled up. Then this guy starts screaming. All you hear from there is three shots.”
Both ads focus on family and loss: the first clip features footage of Botham Jean’s brother hugging his convicted murderer in court as Jean’s mother and father talk about forgiveness. In the second ad, Jones’ father tearily asks “Why? Why’s my son gone today? Why?” The human toll of these crimes is front-and-center, but as far as the institutions that have created this reality for so many non-white people in America, they’re comparatively peripheral in these clips. The word “police” is never uttered, and while the tagline is “We’re all in this together,” there is nothing on screen to suggest racism is the common enemy. It’s cozy to posit that “we” are the solution, but what’s the point if I don’t have the fortitude to declare that you are the problem?
When Jay-Z’s partnership with the NFL was announced just before the start of the 2018-2019 NFL season, many saw it was a mogul putting business before social justice. After all, the league had kept Colin Kaepernick on the sidelines for three years, and Jay supposedly supported Kaep and his protest—so why get in bed with the league that had effectively blackballed the quarterback? There didn’t seem to be any benefit in Roc Nation partnering with the NFL—outside of the NFL being able to save some face after losing some fans because of the treatment of Kaepernick. Working with a mogul who, in recent years, has become a symbol of Woke™ Celebritydom, could go a long way towards softening the league’s image as one that defers to good ol’ boyism. The most skeptical saw the initiative as a chance for the NFL to score cool points while using Jay-Z’s brand to do it. And with these new ads, those cynics have been proven right.
The hope behind these ads is that they will inspire the more ambivalent or right-leaning members of the NFL’s viewing audience to take up the cause that the league itself effectively punished Colin Kaepernick for protesting. That side of the NFL’s audience has made it clear that it does not commiserate with Kaepernick or his cause, but these ads are supposed to be what sways them. These ads are supposed to start a conversation. Roc Nation also pressed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to commit $100 million to social justice outreach, and Jay-Z has emphasized that he did not do this deal for anything other than a chance to use the platform to raise awareness on the issues.
It’s a stance that Jay has been voicing since that first announcement in August. “As long as real people are being hurt and marginalized and losing family members, then yes, I can take a couple rounds of negative press,” Jay said this week in an interview with The New York Times. He also said that he feels for what’s happened with Kaepernick (a workout this fall turned into a debacle for all parties involved), but he feels that what Roc Nation is doing is pushing things forward.
“No one is saying he hasn’t been done wrong. He was done wrong. I would understand if it was three months ago. But it was three years ago and someone needs to say, ‘What do we do now — because people are still dying?’
“We didn’t say, ‘Let’s go make some money off the N.F.L.’”
Nonetheless, the NFL’s “Inspire Change” campaign feels more like a big-budget facelift for a league that still struggles with who it is and who it wants to sell itself to; as opposed to a lucrative corporation finding its conscience. In 2016, famed director Spike Lee was hired as a “consultant” for the NYPD when the department wanted to create initiatives to “build trust with minority communities.” Roc Nation’s cosign amidst the “Inspire Change” campaign feels like a similar maneuver from the NFL. These ads stoke emotion without indictment, evoking the murders of Botham Jean and Corey Jones at the hands of police officers, but focusing on sentimentality and not how and where reformation is needed. Jay has become someone who wears his “activist celebrity” tag on his sleeve, but how do moguls truly benefit causes? From his role in Barclays Center and the gentrification that accompanied its opening, to his deal with Barneys--can he truly occupy both worlds? Jay-Z wants Roc Nation's work with the NFL to push people to act, for everyone to see themselves in these victims. But the NFL can’t soft soap this and expect anyone to take any of this seriously. You can’t truly “inspire change” with post-woke pandering—or by helping conglomerates save face.
Now that the glitter and fireworks have settled in Miami after Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's Super Bowl Halftime performances, the ladies are getting their just due props for incorporating Latinx, Arabic, and black/African culture into their sets.
Shakira's homages were the most prominent Sunday (Feb. 2) with many mocking her "tongue-wagging" which was a nod to her Lebanese roots. Known as zaghrouta, the act is one of celebration and joy often done to express gleeful emotions at weddings and graduations. The 43-year-old (Sunday was her birthday) was born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, by her Lebanese father and Spanish/Italian mother. The singer, whose name is Arabic for "grateful," has talked about her mixed heritage and how it played a big role in her music and performances (think her iconic Bellydancing or her punk-rock era).
“I am a fusion. That’s my persona. I'm a fusion between black and white, between pop and rock, between cultures — between my Lebanese father and my mother’s Spanish blood, the Colombian folklore and Arab dance I love and American music," she told Faze Magazine in the early aughts. "I was born and raised in Colombia, but I listened to bands like Led Zeppelin, the Cure, the Police, The Beatles, and Nirvana. I was so in love with that rock sound but at the same time because my father is of 100 percent Lebanese descent, I am devoted to Arabic tastes and sounds."
Zaghrouta was heard loud and clear during her performance of the 1998 classic “Ojos Así," which is also one of the few songs in her catalog to feature Arabic on it. She also tapped Afro-Colombian dancer Liz Dany Campo Diaz to help incorporate champeta into her performance. A dance from her hometown, the moves are traced back to African ancestors. It also has a similar groove to South African pantsula dance routines which some may remember from Beyonce's "Run the World (Girls)" music video.
Btw this dance is called Champeta and it is originated in Shakira’s hometown of Branquilla Colombia! It’s respected for its footwork and it’s an important part of Colombian culture 💃🏼 pic.twitter.com/JtcLsl9sm9
— SHAKIRABOWL2020 (@Exmotions) February 3, 2020
The singer also danced to another Afro-Colombian routine called mapalé, importantly at the start of her performance. The moves (including the beautiful sea of Afro-Latinx dancers) was a sight to see at one of the most-watched shows all over the world.
The initial eyebrow raises of a Colombian pop singer at the Super Bowl Halftime Show made sense but the singer was thoughtful in the songs she picked (her 2008 World Cup hit "Waka Waka" (This Time For Africa)" is a remake of the 1986 song "Zamina Mina" by Cameroonian makossa group Zangaléwa) and even more mindful in her riffs (she repeated with passion the "no fighting" lyric during her performance of "Hips Don't Lie"). In all, Shakira's set will be one hell of a cultural study in years to come.
Jennifer Lopez also made subtle political statements during her performance. Her set was a pleasant blend of her Vegas and "It's My Party" tour sprinkled with some of her newfound pole skills from her performance in Hustlers. Swing Latino, a competitive world-champion salsa group from Colombia returned to the stage with the singer as they previously were special guests during her "Party" tour dates. It took her On The 6 single "Let's Get Loud" to new heights as the group brought together swing dancing, a very Americana dance, and salsa on the stage.
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A treat for pop culture fanatics, J. Lo's five outfits were customed made by Versace which we can give a smirk to. There's also the undeniable presence of Parris Goebel, who choreographed Lopez's entire Super Bowl performance. The two met back in 2012 when Goebel worked on her world tour and the American Idol season 11 finale where Lopez sang her 2012 hit, "Dance Again."
But it was the presence of her daughter Emme Maribel Muñoz singing with her that captured the audience. What many did miss was how the 11-year-old along with other children, appeared in silver cages, pointing towards the immigration and family separation policies the country has enforced at the southern border. "Let's Get Loud" then collided with a cover of "Born In The USA" with Lopez touting a feathered American flag with the Puerto Rican flag on the other side.
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Emme Daddy is so proud of you. You are my ❤ and I am forever yours.
You can't please everyone, but their performances were one of precision. The two living legends who don't need validation from anyone were in control and commanded the attention of everyone, including those who make it difficult for Latinx families to live their version of the American dream. We like to imagine that the two singers also learned from each other, especially J. Lo since some cultural stances go over her head. "Let’s show the world what two little Latin girls can do," Lopez said on Instagram before their takeover. And that's exactly what they did.
Rewatch their performances below.
Sean “Diddy” Combs touched off a firestorm during Grammy week when the mogul decided to take the academy to task for its marginalization of Black artists.
"So I say this with love to the Grammys, because you really need to know this: Every year, y'all be killing us, man,” he said as he ended his Icon Award acceptance speech during Clive Davis’ pre-show gala.
"Truth be told, hip-hop has never been respected by the Grammys. Black music has never been respected by the Grammys to the point that it should be.”
"I’m officially starting the clock. You’ve got 365 days to get this shit together. We need the artists to take back control. We need transparency. We need diversity."
But Diddy’s words rang hollow for one of his former proteges. In the late 1990s, Ma$e was arguably the brightest star on Diddy’s Bad Boy label. But Ma$e departed Bad Boy in the early 2000s amidst conflicts with Combs, and the rapper posted on Instagram this week, blasting his old label boss for shady business dealings in the face of Combs’ rabble-rousing speech.
"Your past business practices knowingly has continued purposely starved your artist and been extremely unfair to the very same artist that helped u obtain that Icon Award on the iconic Badboy label," read the caption. "For example, u still got my publishing from 24 years ago in which u gave me $20k. Which makes me never want to work w/ u as any artist wouldn’t."
The Harlem native continued, revealing that he offered to buy back his publishing as recently as “a few days ago.”
“To add insult, u keep screaming black excellence and love but I know love isn’t free. So I offered u 2m in cash just a few days ago to sell me back my publishing(as his biggest artist alive) that always show u respect for u giving me an opportunity at 19 yrs old. Your response was if I can match what the EUROPEAN GUY OFFER him that would be the only way I can get it back. Or else I can wait until I’m 50 years old and it will revert back to me from when I was 19 years old. You bought it for about 20k & I offered you 2m in cash. This is not black excellence at all.”
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@diddy I heard your #Grammy speech about how u are now for the artist and about how the artist must take back control. So I will be the first to take that initiative. Also, before we ask of other ethnicities to do us right we should do us as black people better. Especially the creators. I heard u loud and clear when u said that u are now for the artist and to that my response is if u want to see change you can make a change today by starting with yourself. Your past business practices knowingly has continued purposely starved your artist and been extremely unfair to the very same artist that helped u obtain that Icon Award on the iconic Badboy label. For example, u still got my publishing from 24 years ago in which u gave me $20k. Which makes me never want to work w/ u as any artist wouldn’t after u know someone is robbing you & tarnishing your name when u don’t want to comply w/ his horrendous business model. However, people would always ask what’s up w/ Mase? So I would be forced to still perform to not look crazy when I was getting peanuts and the robbery would continue. So many great moments and people lives in music were lost. But again, I rode with u in the face of death without flinching & u still wouldn’t do right. I never said anything because I wanted to wait until I was financially great so I can ensured that I was addressing this from a pure place and not out of spite. To add insult, u keep screaming black excellence and love but I know love isn’t free. So I offered u 2m in cash just a few days ago to sell me back my publishing(as his biggest artist alive) that always show u respect for u giving me an opportunity at 19 yrs old. Your response was if I can match what the EUROPEAN GUY OFFER him that would be the only way I can get it back. Or else I can wait until I’m 50 years old and it will revert back to me from when I was 19 years old. You bought it for about 20k & I offered you 2m in cash. This is not black excellence at all. When our own race is enslaving us. If it’s about us owning, it can’t be about us owning each other. No More Hiding Behind “Love”. U CHANGED? GIVE THE ARTIST BACK THEIR $$$. So they can take care of their families
This is an era of high-profile “Black excellence,” as hip-hop’s elder generation of moguls and their younger counterparts bask in career achievement and upward mobility. There are arguably more high-profile moguls in hip-hop than at any time in its history. The biggest Black artists flaunt their acumen in the boardroom and their spots on the Forbes list. But the game is still the game; Black artists still seem to have the same grievances against the industry. Just as Ma$e had to air out his grievances with his old deal, a similar sentiment was recently echoed by singer Kelis.
The innovative alt-R&B artist was at her peak in the early 2000s, but she recently revealed how little she made from those early albums and work with superproducers The Neptunes.
"I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn't do," Kelis said in a recent interview with The Guardian. She felt that she’d been taken advantage of.
“Their argument is: ‘Well, you signed it.’ I’m like: ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it.’”
There is a proud history of Black moguldom in the music business. Names like Berry Gordy, Russell Simmons, Sean Combs and Bryan “Birdman” Williams have come to symbolize all that can be achieved with a lot of drive, talent and ambition. But the music empires of iconic labels from Motown to LaFace all have the scars inherent to the music business—this “Black excellence” doesn’t take a backseat to big business. And the business is just as rough when you bet on Black.
Berry Gordy’s Motown is arguably the most iconic label in music, built from former steelworker and aspiring boxer Gordy’s 1950s vision. The label would become home to everyone from The Temptations to Marvin Gaye, but their slick sound and aspirational image was also a testament to Gordy’s business model, as he ran each artist through a system of grooming, connected them with a proven stable of producers and songwriters, and guided their careers through his own perspectives. As time went on, artists like Gaye and Stevie Wonder bucked the system—while others like The Four Tops and producers Holland-Dozier-Holland and Norman Whitfield jumped ship.
The Funk Brothers weren’t credited on any Motown releases (save for Marvin Gaye’s famous shout out to bassist James Jamerson in the liner notes of What’s Going On), so most of them languished in obscurity for most of their careers, unable to even capitalize on the renown that should’ve come with playing on the most iconic hits of a generation. When the label celebrated its silver anniversary with Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever in 1983, lore has it that Jamerson had to sneak in and quietly watch from the audience.
The Jackson 5 were the last classic stars born of Motown’s machine, but by the mid-1970s, the maturing teen act was feeling stifled by that machine. The Jackson 5 wanted a better royalty rate and creative control. When Gordy wouldn’t budge, it led to a legal standoff between the label and the group. Four members of the Jackson 5 (Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Michael) countersued Motown for unpaid royalties and to terminate any contractual obligations to the label.
And later labels propelled by Black moguls also ran afoul of their artists. L.A. Reid and Babyface Edmonds founded their LaFace label in 1990 and would subsequently launch the careers of superstars like Usher, OutKast, and TLC. The latter was managed by Reid’s wife Pebbles and became one of the biggest acts of the 1990s, but famously filed for bankruptcy at the height of their popularity—citing an exploitative management deal with Pebbles and they filed suit against LaFace.
That suit was settled in 1996. In 1998, fellow LaFace star Toni Braxton would also file for bankruptcy. She also sued LaFace and Arista that year to get out of her contract to the label; they would reach a settlement in 1999. In the original lawsuit, Braxton alleged that she’d sold more than 15 million copies of two albums and earned Arista “an estimated $170 million.”
Black excellence is hollow when achievements sit on the back of exploitation. Diddy’s sentiments absolutely have validity, but there also has to be an effort to change the way the industry does business. If there is room for everyone to take control, then it can’t just be lip-service. Business is business, but it’s also worth noting that we can’t preach progress while following the oppressor’s business model.