Rappers as businessmen: The billion-dollar business of hip-hop moguls

Rappers as businessmen: The billion-dollar business of hip-hop moguls


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From the Bronx subculture to the global spotlight: hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary. The artists, who often come from difficult backgrounds, have commercialized hip-hop and made themselves millionaires – even billionaires. Music was her springboard into the business world, as some examples show.

Jay ZShawn Carter

When Jay Z was looking for a record label in the 1990s, the companies turned him down on the grounds that he was too old. That should be the starting signal for his career. Shawn Carter, who was once a drug dealer, later founded his own label with two business partners: Roc-A-Fella Records. Jay Z’s label has long been one of the best-known hip-hop record companies and has also promoted the careers of other well-known artists such as Kanye West.

Linked to the label, the streetwear fashion brand Rocawear was founded in 1999, which was taken over by the Iconix Brand Group in 2007 for 204 million dollars. On the way from music to fashion, another station for Shawn Carter was nightlife: Jay Z founded the 40/40 Club in 2003, which was known for its exclusive events. After almost 20 years, the club is now supposed to close its doors forever. After the end of Roc-A-Fella Records, Roc Nation followed in its footsteps in 2008. The record label quickly became a giant entertainment company that managed music artists or promoted athletes.

Jay Z also showed a flair for business in the liquor store, since 2014 the rapper has owned the French luxury champagne brand Armand de Brignac – one of the cheaper bottles sometimes costs more than 400 dollars. In 2021, Jay Z sold 50 percent of his shares to the French luxury group LVMH, which also owns Louis Vuitton. The amount was kept silent, but the amount should have been quite lavish. He also owns the cognac brand D’Ussé with Bacardi. In addition to various start-ups, Jay Z also invested in other companies. One of his probably most lucrative investments is his early engagement with the transport service provider Uber. The rapper is also said to have a large art collection and various properties.

Jay Z has the iconic line, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” Jay Z, 53, who is also known to many as the husband of artist Beyoncé, became hip-hop’s first billionaire in 2019 with his numerous deals including streaming service Tidal and investments. His fortune is estimated by “Forbes” at almost 2.5 billion dollars.

Jay Z became hip-hop’s first billionaire in 2019.

Diddy – Sean John Combs

Hip-hop artist Sean Combs, who changed his stage name several times throughout his career, didn’t start his career in music, but as a talent director at a record label. Before that, “Diddy”, as he was last known, studied economics – but dropped out. His experience as a talent director helped him launch his own label, Bad Boy Records, which would produce big names like Notorious BIG and R&B icon Mary J. Blige. He began his own hip-hop career four years later in 1997 with the debut of his first album. In 1998, Diddy launched the fashion brand Sean John, which, like Rocawear, focuses on streetwear.

Diddy has some parallels to Jay Z: Both rappers were born in New York in 1969, founded their own label and fashion brand and are in the liquor store. With his company Combs Wines and Spirits, Diddy and the British beverage giant Diageo entered into a business partnership in 2007, which included the vodka brand Cîroc and from 2013 also the tequila brand DeLeón. After around 15 years of cooperation, however, it ended in a mudslinging in which both sides accused each other of racism or unreliability.

Combs is also known as an investor in the water brand AQUAHdydrate, where he sits on the board. Last year, the hip-hop mogul also attempted to acquire three US cannabis operations for $185 million, which may now be considered a failure. The rapper’s net worth is estimated by Forbes to be around $90 million.

Diddy, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy: Rapper Sean Combs has as many stage names as shops.

dr Dre-Andre Young

Growing up in the Comptons, André Young started out as a DJ and later gave himself the stage name Dr. Dre – a name that has nothing to do with a PhD, but was inspired by a basketball player. With the hip hop group NWA, Dr. Dre helped popularize gangsta rap in the mid-1980s.

Today “Dre”, as he is also simply called, is not only known as a rapper, but also as one of the biggest music producers. In 1991, Dr. After the end of NWA in 1991, Dre created the Death Row Records label, which also housed the well-known rapper Tupac Shakur. Conflicts between rival gangs resulted in the murder of Tupac and caused Dre’s exit from the label.

His new label Aftermath, which he founded with Jimmy Iovine, was no less successful and promoted the careers of hip-hop greats like 50 Cent and Kendrick Lamar. Rappers Eminem and 50 Cent’s labels were affiliates of Aftermath.

Music only indirectly ensured his greatest commercial success: again together with Iovine, Dr. Dre in 2006 the audio brand Beats Electronics. The aim was to bring headphones with a good sound to the market. Beats became a huge hit for Dre and his business partners, and was valued at around $1 billion in 2013. A year later, Dr. Dre sold the company to US tech giant Apple for $3 billion. For the Californian group, it was the largest takeover in the company’s history to date. The net worth of 58-year-old Dr. Dre is valued at between $400 million and $500 million.

dr Hip-hop veteran Dre sold Beats headphones to Apple for $3 billion.

KanyeWest

For a long time, Kanye West tried to be included in the list of “Billionaires” by “Forbes”. After submitting official documents, the musician made it in 2020. “Forbes” captioned the news: “Kanye West is now officially a billionaire – and he really wants the world to know that.” Since then, West’s business has gone downhill.

After anti-Semitic statements and erratic behavior, Adidas ended its lucrative collaboration with West’s sneaker brand Yeezy in autumn 2022. The deal was valued at just under $1.5 billion at the time and is believed to have contributed to a large portion of his fortune. Despite the economic debacle and the reputational damage, more shoes designed by the controversial rapper have recently been sold at Adidas than expected. Nevertheless, there is a big minus at the end of the cooperation for the sporting goods manufacturer: For 2023, the group expects a loss of 450 million euros instead of the initially feared 700 million euros.

Other brands have also ended their collaborations with the controversial rapper, such as the fashion brands Gap and Balenciaga. The 46-year-old rapper and Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband is worth an estimated $400 million.

The end of the cooperation between Adidas and Yeezy caused high losses on both sides.

Pharrell Williams

The 50-year-old hip-hop artist has made it a point to mix music, lifestyle and fashion. In the 1990s, Pharrell Williams launched his music career with the hip hop group The Neptunes. In the roughly three decades of his career, he has at least achieved 13 Grammys and two Oscar nominations – including for the song “Happy”. Earlier this year he was appointed chief designer for menswear at luxury brand Louis Vuitton – one of the most prestigious posts in the fashion world.

Williams already brings extensive experience from the fashion industry. He played an important role in establishing streetwear by co-founding Billionaire Boys Club with Japanese designer Nigo in 2003. He also initiated cooperations with Adidas and the luxury brands Moncler and Chanel.

Last year, the artist established the auction platform Joopiter, where he auctions personal fashion items that he has collected over the years. In 2020, the music producer founded the unisex fashion and skin care brand Humanrace, which has already collaborated with Adidas. Fashion, music and lifestyle products have made the hip-hop artist’s net worth an estimated $250 million.

Pharrell Williams is not only successful as a musician, but also as a fashion designer.

Nicky Minaj

In the hip-hop business, Nicki Minaj is estimated to be at the top of the wealthiest women. The fortune of the 40-year-old is estimated at 150 million dollars. Not only her music career alone will have ensured this, but also her numerous cooperations with various beauty and fashion brands. Minaj has already advertised for the make-up brand Mac, the sporting goods manufacturer Adidas, Beats by Dre and H&M. She also launched the mobile game The Empire in 2016, where players can work towards becoming a hip-hop star.

One of the wealthiest women in hip-hop, Nicki Minaj has made millions with successful beauty and fashion collaborations.

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