Cashing In on Hip Hop

The last few years were not a good time for the music industry in terms of album sales. No genre has taken this harder than hip hop, which dropped 44 percent in sales since 2000 and accounted for a mere 10 percent of the total music sales. Despite this, the cash still kept coming in for the hip hop moguls who went beyond being rappers and became big-time entrepreneurs.

In the Forbes’ list of hip hop cash kings, the top earners were artists who didn’t just produce albums and go on concert tours; they were head honchos of multi-million empires which were banked on the entire hip hop and pop culture. These personalities put their stamp on everything, from sneakers to vitamin water, so much so that were already brands in themselves.

The current top earner in the hip hop industry is Def Jam Recordings CEO Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z. After a supposed retirement in 2003, the rapper staged a recording comeback three years later with his 11th studio album Kingdom Come. The album fared well with 680,000 copies sold on its first week, topping the US Billboard chart.

Album sales are nothing but a small fraction of Jay-Z’s wealth though. In March 2007, the rapper earned $204 million, before taxes, in the sale of his clothing brand Rocawear to the Iconix Brand Group. He will still manage the marketing, licensing, and product development of the label and will pocket another $35 million if the brand performs well for the next three to five years.

The business-savvy rapper also co-owns the franchise of 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar, as well as a small stake in the NBA team New Jersey Nets. In October 2006, he was named co-brand director for Budweiser Select after his single was featured in an Anheuser Busch ad. He also earns about $13 million annually for the distribution of the Scottish vodka Armadale. His income for 2006 was estimated at $34 million. All in all, Jay-Z’s wealth as of 2007 amounted to $547 million dollars.

Sean Combs, now known simply as Diddy after a series of name changes, is the second wealthiest hip hop entertainer although he placed third in the Forbes list of top hip hop earners for 2006. With an estimated net worth of $358 million, Diddy rules over an empire consisting of the record label Bad Boy Records, the Sean John clothing line, the Unforgivable cologne, and two restaurants called Justin’s. Forbes placed his earnings for 2006 at $28 million.

Another hip hop millionaire worth an estimated $200 million is 50 Cent. His G-Unit includes a clothing company, a sneakers brand, video games, and a line of fiction. He also owned 10 percent of Glaceau, a line of beverages. When Coca Cola purchased the brand for $4.1 billion, 50 Cent reportedly got $100 million (before taxes). The rapper also owns a condom line and is involved in a number of films. He landed on the number two spot of the Forbes list with a 2006 income of $32 million.

Time magazine once branded hip hop as capitalism with a beat. If so, then these rhyming millionaires are at the helm of it.