Jay-Z Raises Millions, And Questions About His Foundation

Here is an equation of great interest:  

2,800 tickets times $2,000 each times 2 shows = $11,200,000.

That is a rough estimate of the total amount raised for the United Way of New York City and the Shawn Carter Foundation when philanthropreneur Jay-Z played two sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall this week.  Ticket prices ranged from $1,500-$2,500, with VIP tickets going for $5,000 and boxes starting at $15,000.  Proceeds will benefit programs that "fight poverty, boost on-time graduation rates in underserved New York City schools, and put college within reach for low-income students across the five boroughs."

Showing the class act that he is, Jay-Z did both shows wearing designer tuxedos with a 36-piece orchestra. Special guests included Nas, Alicia Keys, and his new baby daughter, Blue Ivy Carter (in spirit not flesh), represented through a ballad called "Glory" that Jay-Z performed for this first time.  

To say the event was successful would be an understatement. From the get-go it was history-making.  Jay-Z is only the second rapper to have performed at Carnegie Hall. (Wyclef Jean performed there in 2001). Many celebs were among the attendees, including Liza Mannelli (who has played the venue too many times to count, and recorded the best selling album Liza Minnelli: At Carnegie Hall).

The shows' success, however, does inspire controversy. In a bid for traffic, online newspaper The Daily reported on Monday that it had combed through the tax records of Jay-Z's foundation and found that the rapper had donated only about $6,000 to it in 2010. 

Calling the rapper "uncharitable" in a headline and insinuating he is a cheapskate, the publication said:

Jay-Z calls himself the best rapper alive, and he’s made a cool half billion dollars off his talent — but when it comes to giving money to the charity he founded, he’s recently been more of a nickel-and-dime kind of guy.  The hip-hop artist gave just $6,431 to his own charity in 2010, a year in which he earned an estimated $63 million, according to tax records for the Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund examined by The Daily.  His superstar wife, Beyoncé, made in the neighborhood of $87 million, according to a Forbes estimate — yet she didn’t give her husband’s foundation a dime.

Reps for Jay-Z were quick to defend, saying that there are many ways that celebs give back, including using their celebrity to draw attention to a cause and to motivate others to get involved.  The article also runs down the slow beginnings of the rapper's charity.  

In some ways, The Daily article is ill-timed and unfair. While due scrutiny of any entity that takes money from the public is appropriate, anyone working in the non-profit world knows that forming a new organization that effectively pursues its mission takes time.

Just because Jay-Z is a successful rapper and businessman does not mean he immediately knows the best way to invest funds and create programs that will increase graduation rates and get more low-income students into college.  Not to mention figuring how to be synergistic, rather than redundant, and competitive with good work that is already happening.  While minimal investment may superficially suggest a lack of commitment to the cause, it might also mean that the rapper cares about the endeavor so much that he is taking his time to make sure it is done right.  

In a December press conference Jay-Z acknowledged that his charity, which is run by his mother and two other unpaid employees, is going through "growing pains." The Daily quoted Jay-Z as saying:   

“We really started it at a grass-roots level,” [Jay-Z] said. “And now we’re trying to organize it at this level and have it make sense.”

It is very possible that what on one hand may seem like a slow start is really a thoughtful and auspicious beginning.  I am not saying this will definitely be the case, but it is a great (and reasonable) thing for which to hope.