I nominate another celebrity to run for governor: Jay-Z.
The trend these days, apparently, is that politics and Hollywood are merging to create one giant superpower, reigning over us all in fandom and in governance. Ronald Reagan started the trend as the actor-turned-president. Since then, Dirty Harry Clint Eastwood won the mayoral race in Carmel, the Terminator was elected governor of California, Miranda from Sex and the City became a New York governor hopeful, and a former reality TV star was elected president of our nation. It seems previous on-screen appearances, fictional or otherwise, are good for the aspiring politician’s résumé.
And so, I’ve now decided to nominate another celebrity as a New York gubernatorial candidate. My nominee appears on late-night television to comment on the country’s governance, writes articles on the justice system and quietly contributes to making the state a better a place. As a lifelong New Yorker who went from the projects to the one percent, this individual has firsthand knowledge of multiple walks of life, making him relatable to more than one community. The candidate has friends in high places, is successful in business, and it’s pretty much universally accepted that this celebrity is no dummy.
Without further ado, I present my choice: Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. He’d run as a Democrat, I figure, as he was a vocal Obama supporter (he even remixed “My President Is Black,” rapping “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk, Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run, Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly”) and backed the Clinton campaign, headlining a rally in Ohio. He’s also appeared on CNN to criticize President Trump, all but saying the country’s now got way more than “99 Problems.” As a result, he became the target of a Trump Twitter campaign in late January. And we all know how Jay feels about his enemies: He rarely speaks out against them. When he does, they lose that battle (eg 50 Cent, Kanye West), and everyone lets him “Run This Town.”
If he ran, the music mogul would likely make prison reform the biggest tenet of his platform. He produced the six-part Netflix series Time: The Kalief Browder Story, which focused on a young Black man’s unjust cycle through the prison system and Rikers Island. In the docuseries and in several media appearances, he offers insight into the pitfalls of New York’s existing situation. He published an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the criminal justice system when Meek Mill was re-sent to prison. Last Father’s Day, he wrote a piece for Time detailing the problem with the bail industry. And in March 2018, he partnered with an app called Promise aimed at addressing bail issues and mass incarceration.
But the rapper (who sometimes goes by Hov, short for J-hova, because he says he’s the messiah of hip-hop) notes that he was rapping about reform over 15 years ago. His song “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” he says, “flipped the Latin phrase that is considered the bedrock principle of our criminal justice system, ei incumbit probatio qui dicit (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies).” In fact, he even met with Governor Andrew Cuomo in December of 2014 to discuss a total review of the criminal justice system. He encouraged discussion about working together to pass a reform package that ensures legal equality.
Jay-Z grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Marcy Projects, and saw injustices, crimes and poverty in the 1970s and ’80s. He even shot his brother when he was 12. But he credits that “Hard Knock Life” with making him the person he is today. In addition to rapping about it in “Marcy Me,” he’s hosted the Jay-Z Santa Claus Toy Drive annually since 1990. He goes back to the projects with his family to donate presents to the children, and he also contributes to Thanksgiving turkey drives. His childhood gave him something many politicians and many celebrities lack: perspective.
He’d be an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, too. He’s spoken in support of them since before same-sex marriage was legalized. On 4:44, his most recent album, he reveals that his mother, Gloria Carter, is a lesbian. “Cried tears of joy when you fell in love, don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her. I just wanna see you smile through all the hate. Marie Antoinette, baby, let ’em eat cake,” he raps in “Smile.” His mom is featured on the track, too, singing, “The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free.”
The rapper supports education as well, despite not having any formal postsecondary studies of his own. Allegedly, he footed the tuition for the children of NYPD shooting victim Sean Bell. And in 2013, a Washington Post report noted that the Shawn Carter Foundation gave “over $1.3 million,” in individual $1,500 to $2,500 grants, to about 750 low-income students.
As every politician should, he understands the current issues. For example, he has a long history of battling racial injustices. In 2013, when Barneys received backlash after two Black customers accused the company of racial discrimination, Hov refused to take his clothes off the shelves. Instead, he struck a deal that saw $1 million in profits from that line benefit low-income New Yorkers. He also donated tens of thousands of dollars to bail out jailed Ferguson protestors after Michael Brown’s death. In December of 2014, Brooklyn Nets players donned “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, in memory of the slain Eric Garner. They were photographed posing with Jay-Z, who bought all 80 of the shirts worn at the game.
Believe in women’s rights? Hov’s got you covered. He’s had his women issues, sure, but it feels pretty on-brand with politicians anyway — just ask Eliott Spitzer and Anthony Weiner, not to speak of the guy in the White House. Despite claiming he’s “Big Pimpin’” and allegedly cheating on Beyoncé, he was on the female empowerment train way before every current politician. In June 2011 he donated a prestigious Roc Nation internship to an auction for the Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now. He donated $25,000 to the same charity in 2009 and makes a point of hiring underprivileged Black women (and men) to work for his various ventures.
The rapper firmly believes in dialogue and its ability to solve problems (Hey, Cuomo? DeBlasio? Figure it out!), and his attitude has even been praised by Barack Obama. “Every time I talk to Jay-Z, who is a brilliant talent and a good guy, I enjoy how he thinks,” the president told Rolling Stone. “That’s somebody who is going to start branching out and can help shape attitudes in a real positive way.” Take that, Andrew Cuomo. Be warned, Cynthia Nixon. Allow me to reintroduce my choice: his name is Hov. Who knows the “Empire State of Mind” better than Jay? And it’s absolutely worth mentioning that, if he won, he would bring to politics the ultimate First Lady of New York: Beyoncé Knowles.