Jay-Z Donates Millions to COVID-19 Relief, Then Furloughs His Own Employees

Jay-Z and members of Roc Nation in a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, 2019
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Jay-Z and members of Roc Nation in a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, 2019
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Jay-Z and members of Roc Nation in a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2019

Jay-Z’s Roc Nation is furloughing employees and issuing pay cuts across most of the company.  The move comes after Jay-Z himself donated several million dollars to COVID-19 relief funds.

Perhaps charity doesn’t always begin at home.  According to Variety, furloughs at Jay-Z’s lifestyle and marketing enterprise Roc Nation will encompass a broad percentage of employees, and pay cuts are in the 10% to 20% range. They extend across all Roc Nation departments and include Tidal, the music streaming service.  Jay-Z first started Roc Nation in 2008, and most recently ushered the company into a controversial deal with the NFL.

In terms of who’s getting furloughed, sources say the marketing and events departments are the most affected. Roc Nation’s music touring and sports departments are at a standstill during the pandemic; lower-level employees appear to be the most heavily impacted by the changes.  It’s unclear at this stage if Roc Nation is permanently laying off staffers, or how heavily Tidal is being impacted.

Roc Nation has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and London.

The company is a partnership with Live Nation, which currently owns more than 50% of the company. Maybe that’s part of the problem: several days ago, Live Nation itself announced its own furloughs and pay cuts to weather the pandemic. Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino will forego his $3 million-plus salary this year, while other execs are taking huge pay cuts.

The furloughs stand in stark contrast to Jay-Z’s high-profile philanthropy. In the past few weeks, the rapper’s Shawn Carter Foundation has donated millions to several coronavirus relief efforts. Those donations have made big headlines along with Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation, with multiple millions pledged to groups impacted by the virus.

Both singers’ charities donated $1 million to support undocumented workers and the children of frontline healthcare workers. Additionally, the two foundations joined with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to raise $6.2 million in coronavirus relief grants. Against that backdrop, furloughing employees while supporting coronavirus relief efforts isn’t the best look.

With sports potentially returning with no audiences, at least one wing of live entertainment may return soon. But health officials across the globe don’t seem confident that music events and festivals can return in 2020.

California Governor Gavin Newsom is weighing banning summer festivals. Germany, France, and Belgium have already canceled live festivals through the summer.

Indeed, 2020 is shaping up to be a nightmare for the live event space.  Events like Coachella and Bonnaroo, which postponed from their earlier dates, may be facing cancellation altogether.  Meanwhile, it’s unclear if any shows will be resuming in 2020.  Perhaps the depressing reality is now settling in – the economy isn’t going to spring back from a global pandemic overnight. Instead, it could take many years to return to form — if we’re lucky.