Jay Z on social responsibility: ‘My presence is charity’

Jay Z, whose "Magna Carta Holy Grail" retains its grip atop the Billboard 200 for the second week in a row, has no self-esteem issues.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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Kanye West may believe he is a god, but somehow Jay Z just upped him in the ontological battle over each’s greatness.

This particular flame war started in 2012, when singer and longtime civil rights activist Harry Belafonte told the Hollywood Reporter that “I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities,” he said. “But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.”

In a new clip from a long interview with Rap Radar’s Elliott Wilson, the newly un-hyphenated Jay Z was clearly stung by Belafonte’s remarks. But Jay’s reply was even more remarkable:


“I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am,” he said. “Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America is enough.”

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Well, you can’t say he didn’t warn us that he was about to sound arrogant.

There’s a chance he might have stumbled over a larger idea about his own laudable success story providing hope to marginalized people. And to his credit, he has been outspoken in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing and the subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman.

But for an artist so clearly gifted with language to suggest that his mere existence in the world is on par with charitable work? Yeesh.

Perhaps he’s a little self-conscious that he needs cellphone companies and a contemporary art-world coterie to bolster the narrative of his new album?


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