Billionaire hip-hop mogul, entrepreneur and investor Jay-Z may not always make announcements about his philanthropy but he’s supported some very important causes over the years. One of the causes he is most famous for is using his celebrity to raise awareness about the global water crisis and reportedly spending millions to ensure families in several African villages have access to clean drinking water.
“I was looking for a cause to attach myself to,” Jay-Z, real name Shawn Carter, told ABC News in a 2006 interview. “I knew I was going to some places where there was problems and as soon as I came across the problems of water, and seen the numbers that were attached to it, I was like — this is it.”
After learning of the severity of the global water crisis, Jay-Z partnered with the United Nations to help tackle the issue. He also worked with MTV to create a documentary titled “The Diary of Jay-Z: Water for Life” to bring awareness to the issue.
“I set an incredibly lofty goal of getting the U.N. involved,” he said. “So they spoke to my people, they spoke to MTV and then the whole thing happened and it’s like — wow!”
In the 30-minute documentary, Jay-Z joined a 14-year-old schoolgirl named Bela on her over half-mile-long trek from her village and back to get clean water. He was amazed by the sheer will it took for her to carry the 20-liter container on the trip every day.
“It’s not only 40 pounds … it’s water so it moves,” the 4:44 MC said at the time. “And the roads, they aren’t paved. It’s not like walking on perfectly paved Fifth Avenue. You’re walking on rocks and it’s a dirt road and the water is moving. I couldn’t walk to the end of the block holding it. I had to switch hands about three times.”
Jay-Z also showcased the open sewers kids played in and adults sold food near in Angola. That, and the added visit to Durban, South Africa, caused him to better appreciate both his early life circumstances and acquired wealth.
“You put a guy who’s 16, 17 years old… young guy who came from a difficult neighborhood and wasn’t used to having anything. In the next eight months, he’s a millionaire. It’s shocking. It’s really shocking. It’s like ‘Wow, you mean I can go get a watch that costs whatever, whatever, whatever?’” Jay-Z said.
“It made me realize that as tough as we had it — and there are tough neighborhoods in the places that I grew up — but that’s not the bottom,” Jay-Z said. “You know they say ‘I’m from the bottom.’ It’s not really the bottom, because you have water, and roads [that] are paved, and you can go to school … You don’t have to play out in open sewage. Now that’s the ‘hood.’”
Jay-Z reportedly went on to spend millions of his own fortune to help construct a water pipeline that runs through several villages. Every year the report goes viral online.
Since Jay-Z is infamous for giving in secret, and he has yet to confirm the news himself, some wonder if the reports are true. According to Espact, other online sites and some Twitter users, the reports are accurate.
In his “Nickels and Dimes” song, Jay-Z rapped, “the purest form of giving is anonymous to anonymous.” In many ways, his life models his words. Though he has never publicly confirmed he built the wells, there are images of him in African villages with community members at the wells.
While all of his giving is not made public, it is known through his Shawn Carter Foundation, Jay-Z has donated to covid-19 relief and purchased masks for prison inmates; bailed out protestors fighting against police brutality; and established a trust fund for Sean Bell, an innocent Black man who was murdered in 2006 by police in New York the day he was due to get married.
PHOTO: A still image from the MTV documentary “The Diary of Jay-Z: Water for Life” shows the now billionaire MC surrounded by kids in an African village where he helped build water pipelines. (Credit: Twitter / @ThatEricAlper)