Hip-Hop's 20 Highest Paid Acts
Apple shelled out $3 billion to purchase Beats, the company founded by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Though the latter quickly claimed to be hip-hop’s first billionaire, a nine-figure tax bill means that won’t happen immediately—but Dre is well on his way. In the meantime, he’ll have to settle for claiming this year’s hip-hop cash crown. Read on for the full list.
1. Dr. Dre: $620 million
Thanks to Apple's Beats buyout, Dre had the highest yearly earnings total of any musician ever evaluated by FORBES. The $620 million sum is also more than the remaining 24 names on the Hip-Hop Cash Kings list—combined. Perhaps now the superproducer will have time to finally finish long-awaited album Detox.
2. Jay-Z: $60 million (tie)
Hov’s total is his highest since 2010, bolstered by a diverse list of ventures. There's his growing Roc Nation empire; 68 concerts in our scoring period; his D'Ussé cognac; and his latest album, which was certified platinum before it was released due to an agreement with Samsung to buy 1 million copies. Read more: Empire State of Mind: How Jay Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office
2. Diddy: $60 million (tie)
More than two decades into his career, Diddy is still working—and earning—as hard as ever. His agreement with Diageo's Ciroc vodka accounts for the bulk of his bucks, but he gets a boost from other ventures like DeLeon tequila, Blue Flame marketing, Sean Jean clothing, and Revolt TV. As he told FORBES: “Rubbing shoulders with young people with a dream, that’s what I really love to do.”
4. Drake: $33 million
His fourth studio album, Nothing Was the Same, has sold about 4 million copies worldwide; additional checks from an arena tour and endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan line have tripled Drake’s 2013 earnings of $10.5 million. “Every year, we just want to get … better at touring and better at things that make money,” Drake told FORBES in 2013. “If I’m not on your list, I’d be gravely disappointed.”
5. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: $32 million
The Seattle duo kicked off 2014 with a bang, winning four of the seven Grammy awards for which they were nominated—including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album for The Heist. That sort of acclaim has translated to big bucks on the road, pushing Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to more than triple last year’s $9 million take.
6. Kanye West: $30 million
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that West is one of the most influential names in entertainment. His Yeezus tour was a provocative, lucrative romp that added double-digit millions to his bottom line, helping him to a 50% jump in annual earnings. His marriage to Kim Kardashian, golden toilet towers and all, kept his name front and center.
7. Birdman: $24 million
The Cash Money co-chief continues to fatten his pockets with earnings from hip-hop’s most successful label: he’s one of four YMCMB artists among the top eleven names on this list. “I want to see them be what they want to be, that’s what’s important to me,” Birdman told FORBES. “I can always do what I do when I feel like it.”
8. Lil Wayne: $23 million
The diminutive rhymester saw his earnings soar nearly 50% over last year’s total after playing 56 shows in our scoring period. Look for his good fortune to continue: he’ll be heading out on the road this fall with labelmate Drake on a Street Fighter-themed tour, sponsored by Capcom.
9. Pharrell Williams: $22 million
The dapper hitmaker has had quite the run of late, with fashion ventures aplenty and a hand in the two big songs of summer 2013 ("Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines") as well as “Happy.” Then there was the giant hat he wore to the Grammys—it ended up with its own Twitter account; Pharrell later sold it to Arby's for $44,000 in a charity auction.
10. Eminem: $18 million
Though he doesn’t have nearly as many business ventures as the bulk of his fellow Cash Kings, Eminem claims a spot in the Top 10 thanks to healthy back catalogue sales and a handful of lucrative tour dates during our scoring period. Look for an even bigger payday next year when his Monster Tour with Rihanna gets added to the books.
11. Nicki Minaj: $14 million
The only lady on the Cash Kings list, Minaj makes the cut despite her departure from American Idol and lack of tour dates. She earns big from an array of endorsements from the likes of Mac, OPI and Pepsi—as well as her own Myx moscato. “I’ve never been afraid to walk into the boy’s club,” Minaj told a FORBES contributor. “Ever. Ever, ever, ever.”
12. Wiz Khalifa: $13 million
A veteran of FORBES’ Cash Kings and 30 Under 30 lists, Khalifa’s latest album, Blacc Hollywood, debuted at No. 1 on the charts. The Pittsburgh native also cashes in on live gigs—about 50 in our scoring period—and deals with the likes of Converse and Eleven Paris. “I don’t see this as time to slow down or chill out,” explained Khalifa, now a married man with a baby son. “I see it as a time to go harder because I’ve got new motivation.”
13. Pitbull: $12 million
With some 50 concert dates last year, Pitbull makes yet another appearance on the Cash Kings list. He also pads his coffers with endorsements for products including Kodak, Dr. Pepper, Voli vodka and Budweiser. There are occasional drawbacks to his corporate popularity: a recent deal with Walmart ended in a fan vote to “exile” Pitbull to the company’s most remote U.S. location in Alaska.
14. Snoop Dogg: $10 million
The ageless rapper continues to make a lucrative living with more than 70 concerts during our scoring period. A veteran pitchman, Snoop has shilled products from Hot Pockets to Airbnb. “When you do your calculations for the end of the year, let me make this simple and clear, hell yeah,” he rapped in a freestyle at South By Southwest earlier this year. “I should be one—not two, not three.”
15. Kendrick Lamar: $9 million
Two years after the release of his sophomore album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City—which is now being taught alongside James Joyce at Georgia Regents University—Lamar continues to earn from record sales and live shows, playing over 100 dates between June 2013 and June 2014. “Always be critical and smart about the moves you make,” Lamar told FORBES in 2013. “All money ain’t good money.”
16. Ludacris: $8 million (tie)
The self-proclaimed Mouth of the South hasn’t released a new album since 2012, but continues to earn steady cash from an impressive array of side ventures. There’s his Soul by Ludacris headphones, Conjure cognac and appearances in the Fast & Furious films; the next installment of the latter comes out next year.
16. Tech N9ne: $8 million (tie)
One of the most active rappers on this list in terms of live shows, Tech plays more than 100 concerts every year. The silver-tongued Kansas City emcee doesn’t sell as many records as some of his fellow Cash Kings, but gets a much bigger cut of profits through his Strange Music label. Read more: “Hip-Hop’s Secret Mogul.”
16. Swizz Beatz: $8 million (tie)
A rare exception among hip-hop’s top earners, Swizz Beatz didn’t tour this year—but makes plenty on production and side ventures with the likes of Reebok, Lotus and Monster headphones. Don’t expect him to slow down, either: he’s been taking classes at Harvard Business School to hone his already-sharp financial chops.
16. 50 Cent: $8 million (tie)
One of hip-hop’s wealthiest acts thanks to his Vitaminwater megadeal half a decade ago, 50’s annual earnings belie his nine-figure net worth. He continues to grow his empire with his SMS headphone line, SK Energy beverage and newly-independent G-Unit Records. “It’s freedom to invest in your own ideas,” he told FORBES this spring.
20. Rick Ross: $7 million (tie)
The self-proclaimed Boss returns to the list for the sixth consecutive year, fueled partly by the success of new album Mastermind—which debuted in March at No. 1 with 179,000 units sold in its first week—as well as his ownership of Maybach Music and a slew of Wingstop franchises. Read more: “Rick Ross, Chicken Boss.”
20. J. Cole: $7 million (tie)
Named to the Hip-Hop Cash Princes list earlier this year, Jay Z’s first Roc Nation signing has made good on his potential, graduating to the Hip-Hop Cash Kings list alongside his mentor. “It worked out even better than I imagined,” he said. “And I’ll leave it at that.”
20. DJ Khaled: $7 million (tie)
The Miami-based DJ makes his Cash Kings debut this year, boosted by his growing We The Best empire, live gigs and a new headphone deal with Bang & Olufsen. “Being the best and representing We The Best, you have to go to the best, you have to work with the best,” he explained in a telephone conversation with FORBES. “Bang & Olufsen is the best when it comes to doing what they do.”
20. Lil Jon: $7 million (tie)
A decade after 2004’s smash duet “Yeah!” with Usher, Lil Jon has another viral hit with “Turn Down For What.” The tune, co-produced with DJ Snake, has sold more than 3 million copies in the U.S. Yet Jon makes the majority of his income DJing around 140 dates per year. “When I DJ, I play everything from some Afrojack to some Big Sean to some Skrillex,” Jon told FORBES. For more, see “Spinning Profits.”
20. Mac Miller: $7 million (tie)
The youngest member of our list, 22-year-old Miller makes the cut for the third consecutive year. He clocked the highest earnings total of his young career on the strength of heavy touring—over 80 shows in our scoring period, most of which came after the release of his latest album, Watching Movies With The Sound Off. Read more: “Mac Miller Meets Steve Forbes.”
The Hip-Hop Cash Kings list tracks pretax earnings for living artists whose work is primarily classified as hip-hop or rap. To form the list, we considered income from touring, record sales, publishing, merchandise sales, endorsements and other ventures. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted. Earnings are calculated from June 2013 to June 2014 and based on data from Pollstar, the RIAA and Nielsen SoundScan, and from interviews with numerous managers, lawyers, music executives and some of the artists themselves.
There were plenty of big names in the rap world that earned millions over the past year, but didn’t quite make the $7 million cutoff for the Cash Kings list. Among them: Timbaland, Kid Cudi, Akon, A$AP Rocky, Common, Questlove, Nas and T.I.