Spotlight On Jay-Z’s Disruptive And Ever-Evolving Company, Roc Nation

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Written by Dana Sanchez

One of the best-selling musicians of all time, Jay-Z has an against-the-odds story that helped garner him a “Jay-Z for president” shoutout last weekend at the Grammy Awards.

Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter may not be the richest hip-hop artist in the world, but with a net worth of $810 million in 2017, he’s been named the second richest and he didn’t get there by having all his eggs in one basket.

“What’s fascinating is the way a drug dealer-turned-rapper-turned-mogul and family man became the cultural force he is today—by claiming his past, and all it taught him,” Vanity Fair interviewer Lisa Robinson wrote in 2013.

The entrepreneur Jay-Z has founded or owned a clothing company, a restaurant chain, a sports management firm, two record labels, and the streaming service Tidal.

“Everyone’s supposed to stay in their lines and be neat,”Jay Z told Robinson. “You’re a rapper. You’re supposed to rap, carry a boom box, wear chains, and go to the club—that’s all you do. What are you doing collecting art? What are you talking about? Wait a minute, you’re getting out of the zone. People hate when people cross lines.”

But they love it too.

We’re taking a closer look at the success of Jay Z’s continually expanding, ever-evolving entertainment company, Roc Nation, which spans the worlds of recording artists and producers, songwriters and athletes.

As of September 2017, Forbes reported that Roc Nation had $906 million worth of contracts under management with 33 clients.

Roc Nation claims on its website to be redefining the business of entertainment. On Saturday, Jay Z’s peers honored him for doing just that.

The Recording Academy, an organization of musicians, producers and recording professionals, honored Jay Z Saturday at a pre-Grammys dinner. He got the Grammy Salute to Industry Icons for not only reshaping rap but also for entrepreneurship, including reshaping the music business with his streaming service Tidal.

The next day at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, all eyes were on Jay Z, Beyonce, and their daughter Blue Ivy, when the hip-hop artist failed to win an award for his “4:44” album despite eight nominations.

Kendrick Lamar made a shoutout to Jay-Z during his acceptance speech for Best Rap Album, saying, “Jay for President.” Lamar beat out Jay-Z in the category. Lamar also honored Jay-Z as one of the “guys in this building right now that I still idolize to this day.”

Vanity Fair’s Robinson described Jay-Z in 2013 as “a thoughtful, guarded, reticent man. Not aloof—just cool.”

Five years later, Jay-Z appears to be increasingly comfortable speaking publicly, opening up most recently to CNN’s Van Jones for the debut of “The Van Jones Show.”

Towards the end of that interview, Jay Z appeared to speak with compassion about President Donald Trump when he reflected on Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants.

“Donald Trump is a human being, too,” Jay-Z told Jones. “Somewhere along his lineage, something happened to him. Something happened to him and he’s in pain and he’s expressing it in this sort of way.”

Jay-Z makes headlines whatever he says, does and doesn’t do. So far this year, Roc Nation has commanded a lot of those headlines in the world of sports.

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Quick Timeline of Roc Nation

  • 2008: Jay-Z founded Roc Nation with a multi-year partnership with live event company Live Nation.
  • 2009: Roc Nation signed a four-year distribution deal with Sony Music.
  • 2010: Roc Nation partnered with London-based entertainment company Three Six Zero Group.
  • 2013: Roc Nation signed a worldwide music publishing administration deal with Warner/Chappell Music.
  • 2013: Roc Nation formed a new sports management division, Roc Nation Sports, a subsidiary dedicated to sports representation for professional athletes, and a boxing promotion division. After the Sony deal expired, Roc Nation signed a multi-year partnership with Universal Music.
  • 2015: Roc Nation and Three Six Zero Group announced the formation of Three Six Zero Entertainment, a division representing clients in film, TV and the literary arts.
  • 2016: the administrator of Prince’s estate authorized a copyright lawsuit against Roc Nation for putting 15 Prince albums up on the streaming service Tidal.
  • 2017: Roc Nation announced the formation of Arrive, a new division of the company that will focus on investing and nurturing promising startups. Roc Nation collaborated with art collective MSFTSrep.

In its sports representation business, Roc Nation has managed to score big names by picking out a select few players to try to land in each class, ESPN reported.

In sports, Roc Nation takes a holistic approach. The company says it focuses on elevating athletes’ career on a global scale both on and off the field. It does this with marketing and endorsement deals, community outreach, charity tie-ins, media relations and brand strategy.

Roc Nation’s boxing and sports clients include Miguel Cotto and Andre Ward, Robinson Cano, Skylar Diggins, Kevin Durant, Geno Smith, Victor Cruz, CC Sabathia, James Young, Dez Bryant, Ndamukong Suh, Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Jaelen Strong, Todd Gurley, Wilson Chandler, Erick Aybar, Justise Winslow, Willie Cauley-Stein, Jerome Boateng, Miguel Sano, CJ Prosise, Ronnie Stanley, Henry Ellenson, Caris LeVert and Mike Gbinije.

It was that holistic approach to on-and-off-the-field career elevation that appealed to Saquon Barkley, who announced on Jan. 3 that he would go from being a college football star to Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports agency.

“A lot of people came around my way, but (Roc Nation) were focused on me and they did a great job at selling my family on setting me up for life, bringing value outside of football,” Barkley told ESPN. “I felt like it was harder for other agencies to pitch that family feel when they were working with 30 or 40 guys.”

Scoring Barkley means Jay Z’s sports agency has nabbed one of the top running backs in three of the past four draft classes, ESPN reported. In 2015, the agency signed Todd Gurley, who went 10th to the Rams, and C.J. Prosise, who was picked 90th by the Seattle Seahawks. Last year, Roc Nation Sports signed LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the fourth pick.”

Roc Nation’s musical client list includes some of the world’s most recognizable names from Rihanna, Shakira, J. Cole, and Big Sean to Yoenis Cespedes, Kevin Durant, Dez Bryant, and Robinson Cano.

The Roc Nation deals can be interesting for athlete and label alike, KultureHub reported. Players get the chance to occupy the entertainment sphere like never before. They get their image in relevant ad campaigns and placements:

The effect sports and music has on culture has many similarities, so it only makes sense to combine the two, KultureHub reported. As for the labels themselves, sports make sense because, well, there’s a shit ton of money in them. According to Forbes, the industry will be worth $73.5 billion by 2019. The music industry can be a fickle business but attaching your name to a valuable sports commodity can mean steady and guaranteed income for the remainder of that player’s career and beyond.”

‘Greatness is a process’

In 2014, Jay-Z picked former Florida Panthers executive Michael Yormark to be president of Roc Nation Sports.

Yormark described what it’s like to work there in a 2015 Complex interview. “We work late here,” he said. “You know, the Roc Nation DNA is really going 100 percent every day. It’s all about hard work and passion and helping to drive a business forward.”

What is the legacy of Roc Nation?

BET asked that question to Victory, a folk- and gospel-inspired singer-songwriter signed to the label. “It’s always evolving,” Victory said. “But I feel like everyone is working very hard to become something excellent, whether it’s the staff or artists, everyone is always working very hard. It’s a passion. That’s the theme, passion and greatness. (Roc Nation’s) slogan is ‘Greatness is a Process.’ Everyone is about that process.”

Jay-Z
Jay-Z on Jan. 28, 2018, during an appearance on CNN ‘The Van Jones Show.’ Photo: WENN