The World’s Highest-Paid Hip-Hop Acts 2018
Nas and Jay-Z: The former rivals are now fellow kings of hip-hop cash. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella)
Months-long tours and endorsement deals with companies such as Sprite and Hennessy enabled the highest-earning hip-hop artists on our annual list to bring in an average $44 million over the past year. Some of them also have acquired lucrative equity stakes, including Nas, 44, who makes the list for the first time a quarter-century after releasing his debut album. A few years back, Nas kindled a friendship with venture capitalist Ben Horowitz at a dinner party and has since snagged stakes in Silicon Valley darlings (Lyft, Coinbase) and online media (Genius, Mass Appeal).
His interest in these startups is only natural, he says. “[Hip-hop artists] are always advancing technology–from one turntable to two turntables and a fader.” He has already enjoyed some exits, including the reported $1.1 billion sale of doorbell startup Ring to Amazon in February. “There wasn’t a time when [rappers] didn’t think about investing. It just so happens that the world is opening up.”
Nas pulled in a career best $35 million in all, but that’s only good for No. 6 on the list–this year’s king of hip-hop cash is his former rival, Jay-Z, who returns to the top spot with a staggering $76.5 million haul. The multifaceted mogul hit the road in support of his album 4:44 after welcoming twins with wife Beyoncé in 2017. This year, he’s kicking it up a notch with the launch of Everything Is Love, the couple’s first joint album, and stadium tour On The Run II.
Gallery: Hip-Hop Cash Kings 2018
After topping our list three years in a row, Diddy slips to the second spot with $64 million but still makes bank thanks largely to a beverage empire that includes Ciroc vodka, DeLeon tequila and Aquahydrate alkaline water. Kendrick Lamar rounds out the top three with a career-best $58 million tally while packing arenas from Los Angeles to London on his solo tour and as headliner of TDE: The Championship Tour. He’s also been cashing in on deals with Nike and American Express.
“Any kind of business outside of art and culture and hip-hop, I have to have full creative control,” he told Forbes last year. “And having that control, I always wanted to have something that represents more than just a price tag.”
These heady earnings totals shouldn’t come as a surprise: hip-hop is now the most-consumed genre in America, and its artists are cashing in accordingly. The 10 highest-paid rap stars earned well over $400 million, easily besting the most prolific moneymakers in country ($304.5 million) and EDM ($260 million). And the genre boasts a deep bench, with the top 20 all earning $15 million or more.
Our list tracks pretax annual income from touring, record sales, streaming, publishing, merchandise sales, endorsements and other business ventures. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted. Earnings are calculated from June 2017 to June 2018 and based on data from Nielsen SoundScan, Pollstar, Songkick, Bandsintown, the RIAA and interviews with managers, lawyers, executives and many of the artists themselves.
Some of hip-hop’s biggest names can be found further down on the list. Drake (No. 4, $47 million) is the world’s most consumed musician with some 5 billion streams in the past 12 months, but slowed down his touring pace and fell from last year’s list No. 2 finish. Dr. Dre (No. 6, $35 million, tie) is still collecting compensation from his landmark Apple deal–along with income from his extensive back catalog, enough to keep him high on our list. DJ Khaled (No. 11, $27 million) had another banner year, thanks more to marketing than music: he cashed in on deals with Apple, Ciroc and Weight Watchers.
“You can want a Hyundai, if that’s what you want,” he told Forbes in 2017. “Me, I want a Rolls-Royce.”