It's been some year for Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter. In the past 12 months, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born hip-hop demigod released a platinum album, signed a 10-year, $150 million deal with concert promoter Live Nation and tied the knot with longtime girlfriend Beyoncé Knowles. Quite a record. But only good enough for a silver medal.
While Jay-Z topped Forbes.com's inaugural Hip-Hop Cash Kings list of the top-earning people in the business last year, in 2008 he cedes the throne to Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, who raked in $150 million over the past 12 months--almost twice what Jay-Z made.
The new king of hip-hop wealth banked $100 million after taxes on one deal alone when his stake in VitaminWater's parent, Glacéau, was bought by Coca-Cola as part of a $4.1 billion deal. 50's portfolio also includes the popular G-Unit clothing line and record label, plus films, videogames and a slew of platinum albums, including last year's Curtis. Also in the works: a mining partnership with South African billionaire Partrice Motsepe.
50 Cent isn't the only star in the growing firmament of "hip-hopreneurs." After years of violent rivalry marked by the murders of such icons as Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., rap's focus has shifted from beef to cake--making money, that is. Unlike most pop and rock musicians, who make the bulk of their earnings from record sales and tours, rappers have more diversified portfolios.
These impresarios have mastered the arts of branding and cross-promotion, with licensing deals for everything from booze to books. Others own record labels, clothing lines, bars and restaurants. As 50 Cent says of lesser entrepreneurs, "They're trying to buy some Gucci / I'm trying to buy the mall."
For the second year in a row, Sean "Diddy" Combs finished third on our list. The ageless Dapper Don of rap banked a cool $35 million from his revenue streams, including his clothing line Sean John, record label Bad Boy, premium vodka Ciroc and two reality-TV shows. Last year Diddy collaborated with fellow list-toppers Jay-Z and 50 Cent to release "I Get Money (The Forbes 1, 2, 3 Remix)" in honor of their success.
Kanye West clocks in at No. 4 with $30 million. The pink-polo-sporting rapper and producer released his third solo album, Graduation, last September. After handily outselling 50 Cent's Curtis in a head-to-head opening-week matchup, West's album went multiplatinum and won four Grammys. West has penned hits for Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and Diddy, among others. Earlier this month, he headlined the music festival Lollapalooza in his native Chicago.
Some hip-hop legends don't need to do anything to keep earning outrageous sums of money. Andre "Dr. Dre" Young banked $15 million even though he hasn't had a hit in years--he still gets rich on royalties from two decades of hits. A founder of the seminal rap group N.W.A he released his multiplatinum solo opus The Chronic in 1992 and has produced hits for the likes of Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem and Tupac Shakur.
Tupac himself pulled in a handsome sum this year--about $15 million--even though he's been dead for over 10 years. Tupac is probably having himself a last laugh from beyond the grave, knowing that his onetime friend Suge Knight isn't cashing in on the bonanza. Knight, the bodyguard-turned-president of Death Row Records, long rumored to have arranged Shakur's killing, filed for bankruptcy and put his Malibu, Calif., mansion up for sale last June.
1. 50 Cent - $150 million
2. Jay-Z - $82 million
3. P Diddy - $35 million
4. Kanye West - $30 million
5. Timbaland - $22 million
6. Pharrell Williams - $20 million
7. Swizz Beatz - $17 million
8. Snoop Dogg - $16 million
9. Dr. Dre - $15 million
10. Ludacris - $14 million
11. T.I. - $13 million
12. Lil Wayne - $13 million
13. Eminem - $12 million
14. Common - $12 million
15. Akon - $12 million
16. Jermaine Dupri - $11 million
17. Lil Jon - $11 million
18. OutKast - $10 million
19. Chamillionaire - $10 million
20. The Game - $10 million