Meek Mill and Rapsody will perform on Thursday in Chicago before the N.F.L. opens its 100th season when the Bears host the Green Bay Packers. The artists, who were chosen over a period of months, are the first to perform at an N.F.L. event since the league formed a broad partnership this month with Jay-Z, who will help produce entertainment at the Super Bowl and other prominent N.F.L. events, and support the league’s social activism campaign, Inspire Change.
The N.F.L. Kickoff, which precedes the first game of the season, is typically a celebration of football and the new season. This year’s event has extra meaning because the league is beginning its 100th season and is eager to keep the spotlight on its history.
The N.F.L. hopes that Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s music and sports company, will ensure that it can book the best possible entertainers and help the league move past the controversy that began when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of the national anthem to raise awareness of police brutality against African-Americans and other forms of social injustice.
Meek Mill is a well-known rapper from Philadelphia who is a Roc Nation artist and also an activist for criminal justice reform. He will perform in Grant Park on Chicago’s waterfront on Thursday along with Rapsody, a rapper and also a Roc Nation artist. Rapsody will also join executives from the N.F.L., the Bears, Roc Nation and local leaders at a mentoring session for 65 teenagers at a Chicago community organization.
Numerous musical acts, including Jay-Z, said they would not perform at the Super Bowl in February as a show of support for Kaepernick, who has been unable to find a new team since he became a free agent in March 2017. Kaepernick accused the league of blackballing him because of his protests during the national anthem. He and safety Eric Reid, now with the Carolina Panthers, settled collusion cases against the N.F.L. for several million dollars in February.
Now Jay-Z, one of the most influential artists and producers in the music industry, is working with the league and wants to focus on action, not protest.
“We forget that Colin’s whole thing was to bring attention to social justice,” Jay-Z said at a news conference announcing the partnership. “In that case, this is a success. This is the next thing, because there are two parts to the protest — you go out and protest, and the company and individual says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’”
That will include a series of yearlong programs that begin next week, including “Songs of the Season,” inspirational songs from five artists that will serve as unofficial anthems to be played during N.F.L. broadcasts; a “visual album” of Super Bowl halftime shows; and “Beyond the Field,” a platform for players that may include podcasts or playlists.
The inclusion of Meek Mill is notable because Jay-Z and New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft helped engineer his release from jail, where he was serving a two-to-four year sentence for violating terms of parole. The case was used by his supporters, who include Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, to highlight the need for national criminal justice reform.
Ben Sisario contributed reporting.