The billionaire status recently confirmed by Forbes for all-world rapper Jay-Z was predicted by the “business, man” years ago. “I’m already the GOAT, next stop is the billy,” he stated matter of factly on 50 Cent’s “I Get Money (Forbes 1-2-3 Remix)” in 2007.
Jiggaman achieved his status in part through a magical combination of natural musical talents and unrivaled business acumen, all fueled by non-stop hits on his way to global superstardom. But hip-hop fans who like to think they’re in the know about all aspects of their favorite genre might remember a handful of years ago when it was reported that Dr. Dre became rap’s first billionaire after he sold his famous Beats headphones to Apple for $3 billion.
Surely that sale solidified Dre’s financial status as rap’s biggest earner of all time, right? There was also the case of semantics, as Jay is a rapper while Dre is a producer who rarely if ever even raps (or makes beats) anymore. Is there a legitimate distinction to be made there?
That’s certainly what arguably the greatest hip-hop producer of all time said five years ago when he called himself “the first billionaire in hip-hop” in a video. Notice the absence of the word “rapper,” opting for the broader context of the entire genre versus a singular aspect of it. The Los Angeles Times at the time reported that was a reference to Apple being “close to buying fashion-first, high-end headphone maker Beats Electronics for $3.2 billion.”
That would make sense on a number of levels. Not only has Dre had a longer career than Jay, but he is also the man behind countless chart-topping hits that should be continuing to line his pockets via valuable royalties in addition to the residual payments he’s reportedly been getting from his Beats sale.
However, Forbes reported on Monday that narrative was false, writing in part that “Jay-Z has accumulated a fortune that conservatively totals $1 billion, making him one of only a handful of entertainers to become a billionaire—and the first hip-hop artist to do so.”
Forbes decidedly did not restrict Jay to rapper status, rightfully referring to him as an “artist” and “icon” who can’t be relegated to driving in just one lane.
That was due in part to “liquor, art, real estate (homes in Los Angeles, the Hamptons, Tribeca) and stakes in companies like Uber,” Forbes wrote. That wasn’t to mention innovative business ventures like his Tidal streaming service or his Roc Nation entertainment company that has even successfully ventured into the world of social justice and civil rights.
About a year after the Los Angeles Times story ran, Forbes explained why Dre was falling short of the financial rarely achieved by entertainers, let alone rappers.
“Though [Dre and Jimmy Iovine] cofounded Beats, they would eventually give up large chunks of equity to a combination of different players involved in the company. Early endorsers of Beats received small stakes (LeBron James is widely believed to have received one); a double-digit percentage went to Universal Music Group, which allowed Iovine to insert Beats headphones into just about every Interscope music video (and took home about $400 million on the sale),” Forbes wrote.
“By 2014,” Forbes continued, “Dr. Dre’s stake had been diluted to about 25% and was worth roughly $400 million on paper, by our estimates.”
That may explain why Dre was reportedly only worth a paltry $850 million to Jay’s billion dollars.
At the end of the day, even though much of hip-hop is based on the spirit of competition, chances are that both wealthy artists won’t lose any sleep over Forbes’ announcement about Jay. It’s just a matter of time before Dre gets his face carved on hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore.
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