Billionaire Minds: The Race To Become Rap's First Billionaire
In the race to amassing this new statement of ultimate Rap prosperity, between Diddy, Kanye West, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Pitbull & Nicki Minaj, there will be only one winner.
Released in the fall of 2007, the “Forbes 1-2-3 Remix” of 50 Cent’s then-released Curtis album single “I Get Money” celebrated Diddy, Jay Z and 50 Cent as being ranked as the top three wealthiest rappers in Forbes magazine’s inaugural ranking of Hip Hop’s richest power brokers. It’s oftentimes referred to as the “billion-dollar remix” because the combined worth of the trio (at that time) was $1 billion. Fast-forward less than a decade, and there are now five rappers (five men, and one woman) now all routinely making claims to want to singularly become Rap’s first billionaire. However, in this race to amassing this new statement of ultimate Rap prosperity, between Diddy, Kanye West, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Pitbull and Nicki Minaj, there will be only one winner. If that winner being Pitbull surprises you, it’s probably a good idea to sit down and keep reading.
In one article, five Rap cash champions will be ranked and analyzed, and ideally somewhere along the way a few lessons about the keys to becoming Rap’s first billionaire—being sustainable, while also being flexible, diverse and explosive as an artist and brand—will be discussed as well.
One name that will not be found in this article is legendary producer, emcee and Beats by Dre co-founder (alongside Interscope/Geffen/A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine) Dr. Dre. While yes, Beats Electronics is clearly performing incredibly well as a company, it’s incredibly difficult to find any consistent mention from the Rap industry mogul of a profound desire to be a billionaire. Currently worth $550 million dollars, his lack of routine claims of desire to want to be a billionaire preclude him from being on a list of Rap industry types who mention the goal as if it were as mythical as discovering the lost city of Atlantis. Dre’s nonchalant attitude towards the goal doesn’t necessarily preclude him from reaching it, but it’s as though he could reach it, say absolutely nothing, and frankly not want us to care. These six multi-hundred millionaires want us to be invested in their wealth gain, and, if/when they do become billionaires, will certainly write a song and bang a gong about it.
Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs - $700 Million and Stalling…
Billionaire statement: “So will Revolt make Diddy a billionaire? Perhaps not immediately, but there’s a good chance down the line. Cable networks are notoriously difficult to launch.” -Zach Greenburg, Forbes
Some may say that Sean Combs deserves to be Rap’s wealthiest businessman because he is the OG of the super-rich Rap game. In fact, it was in 1997 that he said, “It’s All About The Benjamins,” which by 2001 became Diddy saying on “Bad Boy for Life” that his place in Rap wasn’t about “writing rhymes” anymore, it was about “writing checks.” By the aforementioned 2007-released “Forbes 1-2-3” remix of 50 Cent’s “I Get Money,” there’s no mention by Diddy of the lyrical acumen by any of the rappers on the track, but rather an ad-lib about there being “a lot of money on this record.” Now, for 2014’s “Big Homie,” dope bars are pretty much entirely replaced by ostentatious claims of wealth as Diddy says that his “Rolls Royce spray cologne, the fragrance money,” and that he’s “more ‘80s than the ‘80s,” meaning that he’s a super-sized representation of an era in America associated with absurd levels of greed.
However, all is not as sustainable and wealth accruing as it would seem in Diddy’s financial portfolio.
Though largely unfounded, rumors of Bad Boy Records shutting their doors were floated by AllHipHop.com on December 23, 2013. Though squashed by an unnamed Bad Boy representative, Bad Boy as a label has excelled by modern standards, but the numbers pale by comparison to the classic numbers upon which Diddy built an empire. Diddy’s 1997 classic No Way Out shipped in excess of seven million copies domestically. By 2010, Diddy-Dirty Money’s Last Train to Paris debuted at #7 on Billboard Magazine’s “Top 200 Albums” chart with first week sales of 101,000. Prior to that, 2006’s Press Play hit #1 with first week sales of 170,000. If only studying simple laws of supply and demand, both have precipitously dipped for Diddy in the last 15 years.
For those on the outside looking in, it appears Diddy’s main source of income is from Diageo’s Ciroc vodka brand, which he has recently entered into a joint partnership with that the mogul presumes will eventually be worth one-fourth of Ciroc’s total brand value. At present, market indicators value Ciroc as being a billion-dollar brand with significant growth potential. Now at $700 million that still leaves Puffy $300 million short of his goal.
Insofar as his sustainable income streams, Diddy’s Justin’s restaurant line has closed, but the now 16-year old Sean John brand has extended from men’s and women’s apparel into fragrances and also a merchandising deal with the National Basketball Association.
In a market where earnings from music are growing scarcer by the second, having multiple sustainable streams of income is important. While, yes, Diddy is sitting pretty with the possibility of well over three-quarters of a million dollars as a possibility, is it possible that REVOLT can survive in a struggling cable market? Is there a space for the remnants of Bad Boy to be branded in some way that can earn over $300 million? Or, is it possible that Diddy, though wealthy, will not reach the newly established pinnacle of Rap wealth?
Nicki Minaj - Is “360” Worth $1 Billion?
Billionaire statement: “I’m in Saint Tropez on a big boat, go my way to make a billi like a big goat” -Nicki Minaj, “Up In Flames”
In signing a unique 360 deal in which she retains rights and ownership of all merchandising, sponsorships, endorsements, touring and publishing, Nicki Minaj has every right to claim on record that she is worth one billion dollars. One would suspect that was part of the strategy behind including the fact that she maintained her 360 rights in the initial press release announcing her partnering with Young Money/Universal. However, while Minaj owns the rights for the lifetime of her numerous deals, I think it’s the issue in the breakdown of the proceeds earned (and how they trickle down through her team and are affected by taxes) that makes her billion-dollar claim easily disputable.
Minaj has had an incredibly diverse slate of earning opportunities in the five years since signing with Young Money/Universal Records:
- Three albums released
- An Android/iPhone app
- Endorsement deals with Nokia and Casio
- Beats Electronics/AT&T speaker line
- Target and Wal-Mart-based perfume line
- Adidas endorsement
- MAC cosmetics line
- OPI nail polish line
- Perfume line developed with Give Back Brands
- Partnership with Myx Fusions Moscato liquor brand
- Feature in a comic book series
However, while the female emcee may have grossed $1 billion from these opportunities, the real question is net worth, which may tell a different story. Minaj’s career certainly appears to have the appearance of being incredibly busy, which likely requires a full-time team of salaried and insured employees. Given that Minaj’s personal and professional wealth are so uniquely intertwined via 360 deal, I think Minaj herself having a net worth of $1 billion is highly unlikely, yet, in some time entirely plausible.
Kanye West - Lessons In Disruption And Dreams
Billionaire Statement: “Then I eventually want to be the anchor and the force behind a billion-dollar company. And after I make that billion-dollar step, then I can go in and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got an opinion on this.’ And that can be a 10 billion-dollar step. And I eventually want to be the anchor of the first trillion-dollar company.” -Kanye West to BBC 1’s Zane Lowe
One listen to Kanye West’s conversation with BBC 1’s Zane Lowe showcases that Yeezus is literally one degree of separation away from being a billionaire at any given time. Presumed by Forbes to be worth $100 million, he’s a luxury brand obsessed seeming megalomaniac with a plan. Wishes to be supported by said brands’ patronage, in a manner consistent with an exploded version of what Catherine de’ Medici did during the French Renaissance, Kanye could one day be designing leather jogging pants for Hermes, sneakers for adidas, luggage for Louis Vuitton, entertainment structures for SFX, water bottles for PepsiCo and so on, and so forth. Ideally, Kanye has limitless potential in this wild new realm, but in reality, I think he may be limiting his own earning potential.
Insofar as being the first to reach $1 billion, a brief study of three other billionaire contenders on the list is worth considering. Diddy has experienced a 267% wealth increase between 2011-2014. Jay Z’s growth in the same time frame has been 89%, and intriguingly, in the midst of divestment of assets and diversifying his income streams, 50 Cent has dipped 42% from $216 million to $125 million. What’s the commonality between all three of these cash kings? I think the key is that they’ve successfully re-branded themselves into being edgy, yet still safe, and also sustainable businessmen. For as disruptive and game changing as Kanye’s recent “turn-ups” have been, turning those moments into income streams that will earn him the mythical $1 billion would appear to a difficult proposition at best. While yes, Kanye is aiming Hip Hop culture into new markets, not yet achieving success in this gambit proves troublesome towards expanding his bottom line by a factor of 10 before any of the other five choices on this list.
50 Cent - Safe, Smart, Sustainable, Successful. Billionaire?
Billionaire statement: “It’s probably going to take me 10 years [to become a billioniare].” -50 Cent to Forbes magazine in 2008.
From popping bubbly “in the club” to now being known as the Chief Executive Officer of both the Street King (SK) lifestyle brand and SMS Audio, 50 Cent (even before Jay Z said “I’m a not a businessman, I’m a business, man” on the “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” remix) is the forefather of Rap-turned-legitimate corporate entity. As the man who seamlessly (read as, flipping the perception of thugs in baggy jeans and baseball caps) merged Hip Hop and corporate culture with his Vitamin Water deal, 50 Cent has always been a savvy businessman.
Intriguingly, while his net worth has dipped 42 percent (from an estimated $216 million to $125 million in 2013), his shift in focus to the SK brand and SMS Audio could prove significant, as he has added $15 million to his total to now sit at $140 million on 2014’s Forbes list. As well, signing a deal with an independent label to market his albums, and potentially finally selling the 52-room mansion he once purchased from Mike Tyson showcase 50 retooling for a possible run at becoming Rap’s first billionaire.
Jay Z - Are His Streams Of Income Diverse Enough To Net $1 Billion?
Billionaire statement: “D boy drug dealer look / Billionaire nigga!” -Jay Z, “BBC”
Similar to 50 Cent’s mid-2000s era run of shattering the glass ceiling and pre-conceived notions of what Hip Hop culture could mean for brands looking to create a foothold in urban America, Jay Z’s mid-2010’s run could be literally worth $1 billion. It’s been 10 years since Jay and Reebok teamed up for a signature rapper-branded sneaker, with Jay’s S. Carter Collection. Since that point, Rap has evolved from being the simplest way to gain access for urban branding to now just being a solid mainstream branding option. Given that he is at the forefront of this push, the idea of him earning $1 billion before five other rappers seems possible, but in examining the facts, I think it’s arguably unlikely. The issue? As with any startup entrepreneur, the delay for Jay Z in becoming a billionaire will be dealing with issues of overhead versus the stimulation of capital.
Now six years old, Roc Nation is a global brand that, while partnered with event brand Live Nation, is still a burden on Jay Z’s potential asset development. A multi-faceted organization, Roc Nation comprises the following: a management group representing 19 total individuals who span being artists, songwriters, producers, engineers, DJs (and now athletes through Roc Nation sports), and a label with seven signed artists. With nearly 30 earners, one would believe that this would be an ideal situation. But, insofar as maintaining a team to support these 30 individuals, between salaries, insurance, training, work materials, transportation, building fees (they have to work somewhere) and likely bonuses (plus expenses that are likely being forgotten), I think the capital gains of Roc Nation may not be as significant as one would presume.
As well, as an artist and personality, Jay Z is certainly breaking down doors in progressive spaces. And yes, while his income growth has been significant (due to this expansion), he still sits at $520 million overall, which puts him currently at halfway to $1 billion dollars. To put that into perspective, for as excited as the universe got about Jay receiving an estimated total of $30 million from Samsung for Magna Carta Holy Grail, he would have to record that album 34 times at that price in order to hit his goal. While if a fan of Hova that would be incredible, it’s also highly unlikely.
Will Jay Z hit one billion dollars? Certainly. I think it’s entirely possible that in one year, Roc Nation label-signed rapper J. Cole could have a hit single and album, while Roc Nation represented rapper Wale could have a hit song co-produced by fellow Roc Nation signees Timbaland and DJ Mustard, then remixed by Roc Nation-signed EDM producers Chase and Status. Of course, when the track is dropped by (yep, Roc Nation-managed DJ) Solange Knowles in a set during a party for Roc Nation Sports celebrating championship winners C.C. Sabathia of the New York Yankees, Victor Cruz of the New York Giants and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, at the end of the day, that’s one “smart (and likely billionaire) black boy.”
Pitbull - The Rap Game Ruben Sosa, Also Rap’s Likely First Billionaire.
“Do I think it’s realistic to be a billion-dollar company by 35? Absolutely.” -Pitbull, to The Hollywood Reporter
Upon one close look at this list, three of the six rappers discussed were by their own admission drug dealers at one point of their lives. However, unlike Jay Z and 50 Cent, in Pitbull still being the closest to the principles of his once narcotic-filled past, he stands to be the artist who ultimately hits $1 billion before all other top-tier rappers who have recently mentioned their desire to be billionaires.
In his aforementioned conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, Pitbull tells the magazine of his desire to emulate the film Scarface, but unlike so many other emcees, not the nihilistic Tony Montana.
“I wanted to be Sosa—educated, good-looking, a good dresser, and he’s the one who was running it,” Pitbull explained. “And notice, he never got his hands dirty. He sipped his tea. He was nice, not aggressive. And at the end of it all, he was the one that stayed. So I realized around 18 that Tony’s the wrong guy to be looking up to.”
As well, when Pitbull breaks down how he intends to succeed at the music industry, the drug-dealer lingo returns with the following: “The only business that I knew growing up was flipping—if I invested five dollars, I knew I could get back eight. If I got back eight, that meant I could live off three, invest another five, get another eight, stack another three. That's what the music business is to me—flip after a flip, a flip after a flip.”
Key as well to Pitbull’s rise is that—similar as well to drug dealers—his overhead for asset management and development (outside of label-signed hit singles) remains low, thus allowing his income potential to skyrocket. Unlike Jay Z, he doesn’t have Roc Nation. Unlike 50 Cent, he appears to be managing his finances well without a plethora of crazy expenditures. Pitbull’s brand is built around sustainable lifestyles, as The Hollywood Reporter article says, “You won't find a $900 baseball cap in [Pitbull's] future collection, as Jay Z had in his exclusive Barneys line, nor is he selling his fans on a life of excess.”
Furthermore, as a bilingual Latino who’s unafraid of wearing suits and has also embraced EDM, I think his rise to excellence dovetails nicely with the perfect storm of Latinos becoming America’s most dominant minority group, EDM and Rap finding synergy, Rap going corporate and the Internet dissolving divides made by national borders. Pitbull’s flexibility and smart brand extension have allowed him to record songs with nearly 50 US Billboard charting artists over a 15-year career with two #1 Billboard pop singles in the past five years. As Rap becomes a universal language, it’s arguable that Pitbull has condensed said language of commerce and expression into its most saleable form.
Pitbull says that he can be a billionaire by the time he’s 35. With a current net worth of $20 million, that’s a percentage of growth of 4900%. While it’s smart to say that nothing is impossible, that percentage of growth in two years is highly improbable. What is more likely is to see Pitbull hit that number in five years. How so? Consider the following: At its 1994 creative nadir, Def Jam Records was valued at $66 million. By 1999, under Lyor Cohen’s leadership, the company was worth $325 million, which shows a growth of 392%. Pitbull starts his ascent to billionaire status with a red-hot brand that is globally respected and not in need of massive retooling. As well, the number of high-value brand income streams now available in the global Rap-as-Pop marketplace trump where Rap was 15 years ago. I think if Pitbull earns at a clip similar to Def Jam—but at an inflated clip adjusted for Rap’s modern advancements—growing 4900% in five years is certainly possible.
At present, Pitbull already has endorsement deals inked with Dr Pepper, Kodak, Bud Light, Voli Vodka and Playboy. Furthermore, he has started his Mr. 305 Music label, and has six TV and film appearances in the past three years. Of course, alongside this, he has well-attended global tours buoyed by #1 hit singles that feature globally respected Pop stars. Factor in the global expansion of any Pitbull endorsement, quite possibly the perfect star at the perfect time, Pitbull exponentially increasing his net worth is not so much improbable as it is entirely logical in execution.
Marcus Dowling is a veteran Washington, DC-based writer who has contributed to a plethora of online and print magazines and newspapers over the past fifteen years. Follow him on Twitter at @marcuskdowling.