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The Forbes Five: Hip-Hop's Wealthiest Artists
Diddy & Jay-Z
 /Walik Goshorn / Retna

By Zack O'Malley Greenburg

Back in 2007, Jay-Z, Diddy and 50 Cent released "I Get Money (The Forbes 1-2-3 Billionaire Remix)." The song was a celebration of the artists' inclusion atop the first-ever Forbes Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, now an annual package on the genre's top-earning artists.

It seems fitting that those same three artists find themselves in an even more exclusive group, the Forbes Five, a short list of hip-hop's wealthiest moguls. Indeed, the original trio boasts a combined net worth well over $1 billion, rendering their lyrical prognostications accurate. They're joined by Dr. Dre, flush with cash from his Beats headphone line, and Cash Money Records co-founder Bryan "Birdman" Williams.

Bing: Hip-hop moneymakers

"One of my motivations in life is to be a billionaire," said Birdman in a telephone interview with Forbes. "We're going to keep working hard until we get our brand to be as big as possible. That's the goal in life; that's what I live for."

Diddy is the closest to becoming a billionaire, leading the pack with a net worth of $550 million. The Bad Boy Records founder has remained a mainstream mainstay for 15 years thanks to his knack for self-promotion. Lately, he's been channeling that energy toward Diageo-backed Ciroc vodka, much to the benefit of his bank account: He receives double-digit millions annually as a share of profits. Sales of the spirit spiked 122 percent last year in the wake of strong demand for new flavor Ciroc Peach. He is entitled to a nine-figure chunk of cash if the brand is ever sold.

Also from Full Coverage: The Forbes Five

Diddy also boasts stakes in clothing lines Sean John and Enyce, marketing firm Blue Flame, record label Bad Boy and a handful of tech startups. But it's his deal with Comcast to launch cable channel Revolt in 2013 that could push him into billionaire territory. He'll own the channel outright, and based on projected viewership totals, its value could soar into the low-to-mid nine figures within the next few years.

Next up is Jay-Z at $460 million. Unlike his fellow Forbes Five members, Jay-Z still churns out music and goes on tour — most recently with pal Kanye West — adding to his considerable war chest. He sold his Rocawear clothing label for $204 million in 2007 and signed a 10-year, $150 million deal with Live Nation in 2008, and also holds stakes in the New Jersey Nets, his 40/40 Club chain, ad firm Translation, cosmetics company Carol's Daughter and other businesses.

"Who's going to be hip-hop's first billionaire is still to be determined," says Steve Stoute, the advertising guru who founded and co-owns Translation with Jay-Z. "But clearly Jay and Puffy are far and away positioned to surpass that."

More: Nicki Minaj to Jay-Z: 'I'm coming for your spot, Mr. Mogul'

Dr. Dre ranks third with $270 million, doubling from a year ago, thanks to a major sale. In August, handset maker HTC paid $300 million to buy a 51 percent stake in Beats Electronics, the company founded by Dr. Dre and Interscope chief Jimmy Iovine in 2008.

Sources say each owned a third of the company before the deal, placing Dre's cut at $85 million after taxes. The agreement also values Dre's remaining stake at $100 million, which could increase rapidly as the company continues to expand.

Birdman clocks in at No. 4 with a fortune of $125 million. He cofounded Cash Money Records with brother Ronald "Slim" Williams two decades ago, inking a very favorable $30 million distribution deal with Universal in 1998. The label's value is increasing with the success of rappers Drake, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne (who shares ownership of sub-label Young Money).

Also: Where Are They Now? '90s Rappers

There's even more cash on the horizon: Cash Money's deal with Universal is up this summer, raising the prospect of a bidding war for the right to distribute the label's releases.

"Right now, we are with Universal and we're just trying to do the best music possible," Birdman told me. "I'm loyal to my team, and to success. Whoever gives the most benefit to my team, which is first, and to its success, that's where we'll end up at."

Rounding out the Forbes Five is 50 Cent at $110 million. The Queens-born rapper, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, earned $100 million for his Vitaminwater stake in 2007 — and tens of millions more from touring, record sales and clothing — but spent freely on cars and renovations to his mansion, formerly owned by Mike Tyson. Still, a nice cushion remains from his back catalog, acting gigs and 50 Cent-themed video games, shoes and books, as well as his new headphone line, SMS. Next up: an energy shot called Street King, which promises to feed hungry children -- and his bank account.

Still, there's no guarantee that hip-hop's first billionaire will come from this group of five.

"As much as it's easy to say it'll be Diddy or Jay, you don't necessarily know, given what a guy like Kanye or is capable of doing," says Stoute. "In a world where people are creating applications that sell for a billion dollars, you never know who's going to come out of left field."

Related links from
Hip-Hop's Most Valuable Artists
Hip-Hop Cash Kings: Hip-Hop's Top 20 Earners 
Celebrity 100: The World's Most Powerful Celebrities
The World's 25 Highest-Paid Musicians

Apr 18, 2012 1:53PM
Yep, there's nothing like a story on successful blacks that brings out the haters and racists.  It's funny how so many whites act as if they're experts on black people and other races when in fact most of them don't know anything about us. Most of what they "know" comes from TV and the limited interaction they have with black neighbors and coworkers.
Apr 18, 2012 1:52PM

OK nimrod..... dont hate the cats...


Apr 18, 2012 1:02PM
wow awesome topic.. goes to show what really matters in the music industry nowadays
Apr 18, 2012 12:22PM

 Yes, Chrisham... your absolute T-R-U-T-H hurts the jealous goober nation. Those racist dogs are only satisfied with whining about ANYTHING afrocentric, b/c their 'baggernut & birther-dog masters have given them stupid talking points. DevilBlack Sheep

 They can't/won't go on ANY post without whining about POTUS Obama. Even when the article has nothing to do with him. I'm sure you've notice, like all the intelligent and decent folks have!

 Let the racist turds whine. Just "LAFF" at 'em, like I do. They're just part of the jealous "dumbing down of America" crowd!DevilBlack Sheep

Most of 'em probably watch race cars go round in circles, while they slobber Skoal snuff & tobacco all over their cowboy clothes.Open-mouthed UGH!Thumbs down

 Or, they are lazy diabetics with pot-bellies, b/c they drive pickup trucks everywhere--even to their outhouses at their trailer parks. And, to pick up their welfare checks they won't admit to collecting!

Again, let 'em whine!

Apr 18, 2012 11:37AM
Ahhhh, I see a lot of JEALOUSY AND RACISTS....the usual.  ROFL!!! 
DO something and you TOO can be successful...and BTW, insulting the President of the United States on this article, just goes to show your racist, sad, sorry, unproductive, jealous little life!  Got cats in your trailer?

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