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From Brooklyn to Wall Street

Officially, Shawn Carter, aka Jay Z, is the first hip-hop music billionaire. According to Forbes, he has amassed a fortune that conservatively totals US$1 billion, making him one of the few entertainers to make it to the billionaire net worth mark and the pioneering hip-hop artiste to make that grade.

By Admire Kudita

Jay Z’s success is built on a recognition that music alone would not probably get him to be as rich as he currently is.

Essentially, Jay Z has been a hustler. He was running the Brooklyn streets selling drugs (by his own admission). He happened to be an extremely gifted word smith who parlayed those gifts to carve out a niche for himself in the pantheon of hip-hop music greats.

The genre itself has its roots in the New York projects of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens in the 1970s. The likes of Kool Herc, KRS ONE and Grandmaster Flash took turns to help push the genre forward. But the likes of Russell Simmons, who managed the rap super group of the 1980s, RunDMC, were arguably the first to see how the sub-culture was able to draw the attention of millions of African Americans.

Simmons was probably the first to do product placement with his RunDMC, wearing Adidas trainers in videos.
This kind of development helped to give the sportswear brand street cred. In a sense, Russell Simmons pioneered brand ambassadorship in hip-hop music, which blueprint Sean Puffy Combs ran with.

Similarly, Jay-Z’s success lies in the fact that he has branded himself deftly to a point where he has his fingers in a number of businesses in the real estate, transport (shares in Uber), beverages (Armand Brignac), hospitality, entertainment, sports management (Roc Nation) and art industries.

Of course, a successful music career has helped position the 50-year-old artiste, who names one of the world’s richest men Warren Buffet among his close associates. Jay Z formed his own record label Roc-A-Fella Records with sidekick Damon Dash, through which he churned out a string of award-winning albums over two decades. Industry analysts contend that Jay Z learned early on that wealth is created by starting and investing in own brands rather than in pushing someone else’s.

Jay Z joins fellow entertainment and broadcast journalist Oprah Winfrey in the billion-dollar stakes. Close associate Sean Combs is not too far behind, with a fortune of over US$800 million.

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