Full circle moments provide the realization of how far we have come. Director and producer Michael J. Payton experienced this firsthand when he met Jay-Z.

The first documentary Payton created centered on the famed rapper when he had signed a groundbreaking ten-year $150 million deal with Live Nation, which paved the way for Roc Nation.

This would ultimately fuel Payton’s interest in creating documentaries that shed light on untold angles of those who have championed the music industry.

Shawn Carter Foundation Scholarship Supported His Education

Jay-Z’s impact extended even further as Payton received a scholarship from the Shawn Carter Foundation. The contribution supported his education while he pursued a degree in radio and television broadcasting at San Francisco State University.

“Growing up I didn’t have a whole lot of money. My family didn’t have a ton of money. So, I had to rely on scholarships and student loans. The big contributor to my education when I was studying media production was the Shawn Carter Foundation, which is of course Jay-Z’s scholarship foundation,” Payton told AfroTech in an exclusive interview.

It’s not every day we get the chance to meet our idols in the flesh and thank them for inspiring our journeys. So, Payton didn’t shy away from the opportunity when he came face to face with Jay-Z while interviewing him for the docuseries “The Murder Inc. Story.”

Payton Meets Jay-Z For The First Time

“The first thing I did, after I picked up my jaw off the floor, I said ‘Thank you. I just want to say thank you.’ He was like, ‘Why’ and said ‘Of course, I’m happy to do the interview.’ I said, ‘No, like I’m your student. I came from your foundation’ and he was awestruck because he was like, ‘Wow, you came from that and you’re here.’ And he just kept saying ‘Life, man, that’s crazy,'” Payton explained.

The surreal moment is one memory that will forever be cemented in his mind. Another milestone for Payton was the completion of his five-part documentary.


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"The Murder Inc. Story"

The documentary details the rise and fall of the record label created by Irv Gotti and his brother Chris in the late 1990s. Payton was most interested in the label’s “fall from grace” and he believed there were misconceptions that needed to be uncovered.

“The real story here is not just about the glitz and the glam and the hits. That’s all there. That’s been well documented. It’s the why did this label fall from grace. Now there’s a lot of misconception, but when you really look at it, and we’re having this conversation in the country right now around justice reform and unfair justice being handed to, particularly African Americans, here is this group of individuals who are doing everything right in terms of being taxpayers and contributing to giving people jobs and because of who they were and who they knew from their neighborhood, their whole empire came crashing down because of racial profiling. Irv and his brother Chris and Murder Inc. were ultimately acquitted for something that they didn’t even do, but because of who they were and who they affiliated with, they lost their entire empire,” Payton said.

Even though the documentary aired on BET Aug. 9, 2022, Payton believes the underlying message is still timely.

“When people are watching this, I hope they have an eye out for that,” he told AfroTech. “Yes, there’s a lot of stuff in there, We’re talking about Ashanti, and we’re talking about the good times and the bad times. But really I think we should hone in on and look at that because it says a lot about where we are. I mean, it’s only 20 years ago. It may seem like a lot for some people, but it’s not that far removed from us and we see it still going on today when we see what’s happening with [Young] Thug and Gunna. I just hope that people get that it’s more than just a story about music and guys who are on top of the world and suddenly something happens. It gives space into something deeper about how can something like this happen to such a thriving good group of guys and women who are just trying to make their dreams come true.”