Back in the years between 1989 (Jay’s first appearance on MTV’s Yo! MTV Raps along with Jaz-O) and 1995 when Jay Z and then partner Dame Dash were scrounging for someone to sign the introverted future mastermind with his kickstarter flow and penchant for gritty drug tales laced over Golden era boom-bap, no one thought Hip Hop could take it this far. The genre had already produced some of the seminal works of it’s history. And there were more than a few times when those outside the culture had deemed the artform “dead.”
But Hip Hop has survived on, and one of those masterpieces released between ‘89 and ‘94 was Dr. Dre’s Chronic. The N.W.A. star had already created or helped create some of the most innovative music Hip Hop had ever heard, but there was more for him in store, as well as more for Hip Hop in general. Now, the genre has exploded, and is largely considered the most significant youth culture movement of this generation. And, as such, it has borne several moguls whose hands are in several different pies. But before they go on to take over the world, they often start with their relative backyards doing the thing they know best: Hip Hop. All these emcees have used their success as a launching pad to recruit other emcees, effectively becoming A&Rs in the process. What started out as a natural progression has become a staple, as the fall of labels have led industry A&Rs to take on different roles while the artists themselves take over.
Not only does Hip Hop define the very age in which we live (note how President Obama said he listens to Jay Z), it has come to influence how we view commerce, as the artform is used to sell just about anything. Forbes now tracks the monied ventures of Hip Hops one percent and new crop alike, and the likes of Sean “Puffy” Combs backing of Ciroc, or Jay’s foray into sports management. The jewel of the bunch, though, is Dre’s Beats By Dre getting bought by Apple for nine figures. The billion dollar purchase has solidified what we already knew: Hip Hop is the number one selling engine on the planet and no one has slung that artifact better than these nine moguls.
A&R Successes: Rihanna, J. Cole, Jay Electronica, Rita Ora
Power Plays: Roc Nation Sports, Barclay’s ownership, Buying back masters
Net Worth: $520M
Jay Z is a man of many conquests. The former Roc-a-Fella head honcho and business man has climbed to considerable heights on the back of his classic catalog and ruthless business sense. There was the captaining of the Roc’ during its early years as a hard scrabble solo venture. The subsequent fallout and coup, which resulted in his buying out of Rocawear from Dame Dash from $240M and his transition to Def Jam captain in the same period. During his tenure at the label that Russ and Rick built, he ushered Rihanna and Young Jeezy to national prominence before jumping to his own corporate funded, quasi-independent Roc Nation label where he eventually signed the likes of J. Cole, Jay Electronica, Calvin Harris, and Rita Ora amongst others. The dispute with Jay will always be, well, just how much did he do? But his ability to cooly manage and market complex personalities is probably his most fitting trait. At Roc Nation, he’s allowed J. Cole to almost fully go his own route, especially with his new project 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and with Jay Electronica he’s been remarkably patient, which Jay Elec commented on earlier this year. Did we mention he managed to buy back his masters and now owns them? Or the fact that his cupcake deal with the Barclays center (that he helped push through, which significantly rearranged Downtown Brooklyn) led to his surprise foray into a sports agency. We think he was right when he said he could sell ice to eskimos.
A&R Successes: Eminem, 50 Cent
Power Plays: Jointly sells Beats by Dre to Apple for $3B, Jointly donates to USC of $70M for Andre Young Academy
Net Worth: $750-800M
It’s absolutely no wonder that the first Rap Billionaire (sort of) came from the West Coast. The man that’s come to be known only as “The Doctor” is a planet onto himself when it comes to Hip Hop success. Everywhere he has gone, he has brought his classic West Coast sound with him, and everywhere that sound has gone it has produced number one hits and millions of records sold. N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton is considered by many to be the wide world’s introduction to gangsta-rap, the little known sub-genre floating in the air around 1988. Dre´’s success has not been without it’s challenges, as his fallouts with both N.W.A and Death Row had the ability to eviscerate weaker careers. His debut album The Chronic went triple-platinum a mere one full calendar year after its release. The Chronic 2001 doubled up on that number by going six-times-platinum in the same period. This was at Death Row, where he produced or mixed (a Dre mix is known to be legendary) Snoop Dogg’s classic Doggystyle, Tha Dogg Pound’s highly underrated Dogg Food, ‘Pac’s “California Love” and a whole host of others during the time of the mega-label’s zenith. Dre´then proceeded to save Interscope by grabbing Eminem and then helping to secure Fif. And the icing on the cake? Helping to make Jimmy Iovine and Will i Am very rich men at the hands of Beats By Dre.
A&R Successes: Lloyd Banks, The Game*, Young Buck, Kidd Kidd, Tony Yayo, Olivia
Power Plays: Sells stake in Vitamin Water, Manipulates penny-stock price to a $10M gain
Net Worth: $140M
Ever since his king of the hill moment in Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Fif’ has been on an incredible hot-streak. The real steph-curry-with-the-shot rarely ever misses, but it wasn’t always that way. The Jamaica, Queens product has survived everything life has had to throw at him. As Ye´said, he deserves to do these numbers. Where to start? There was the explosive ‘99 single “How To Rob” that took aim at Hip Hop’s royalty and led Jay Z to giving him the ultimate compliment with “I’m about a dolla’ / What the fuck is 50 Cent?” He’d find out soon. The years between Power Of The Dollar’s Columbia Records non-release and his signing to Shady/Aftermath were rough in the extreme. A few months after “How To Rob” got Raekwon looks and Sticky Fingaz responses, 50 got shot nine times just outside his spot in Queens. He’d survive. And like some kind of superhero tale Fif’ rose from the ashes to release Guess Who’s Back in ‘01-’02. The tape found it’s way to Dr. Dre who shot it to Eminem, who, suffering from success, found new life in the abrasive emcee who’d already died once. That brings us back up to date. The rest has been a blur. Eviscerating an entire label in Murder Inc., 50’s taken aim at several on wax and off wax beefs in his career. He thrives in chaos, and, in the meantime, has the mind of a ruthless capitalist. The ‘07 sale of Vitamin Water to Coca-Cola and his 10% stake in it netted him a reported 400 million. Then there’s the manipulation of penny stocks to the tune of $10 million in 2011, his movie successes, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in worldwide revenue and his G-Unit come ups add more to the mythology that is 50 Cent. He’s independent now and the team is back, with G-Unit reuniting at this year’s Summer Jam. A bevy of remixes and then the EP Beauty Of Independence followed, proving 50 Cent is one of the most powerful and resilient business men in Hip Hop.
A&R Successes: D12, 50 Cent*, Slaughterhouse, Yelawolf, Obie Trice, Royce da 5’9
Power Plays: “8 Mile” Film earns 242.9M worldwide, Launches Shady 45 Sirius XL station with Jimmy Iovine & Paul Rosenberg
Net Worth: $120 – 160M
A significant portion of the Interscope holy trinity is Eminem. The mega-star just released his 15th anniversary album with his Shady Records counterparts with nothing but bars on his mind, and he delivered. But the road has been a long one for the number one selling emcee of the 21st century. As the story goes, Jimmy Iovine slipped Dre the Slim Shady LP demo and Dre had him flown out straight away. Thbe rest is history as the dynamic duo went on to record “My Name Is..” the same day. The run away success of the Slim Shady LP led Em’ to eventually sell 18M records of that one world wide. His follow up, The Marshall Mathers LP, went on nto sell some 32M records. Eventually this led the real slim shady to break off and get a subsidiary deal with Interscope to start Shady Records. From there, he bankrolled and created an oddball crew of emcees that, themselves went on to change the landscape of aught’s Rap. D12 was a carnival horror show on stilts, and both Royce and Obie were lyrical polymaths that didn’t quite catch their footing. The second edition of Shady Records has been much more cohesive. Slaughterhouse has continued to produce records both individually and as a group, Yelawolf is set to make his re-claim to fame in 2015, and both Obie and Royce are seeing better days with the buzz around the latter’s PRhyme (co-starring DJ Premier) having reached a fever pitch.
A&R Successes: Drake, Nicki Minaj, Tyga
Power Plays: Founds Young Money Entertainment, TrukFit, Mountain Dew Endorsement
Net Worth: $95M
Lil Wayne’s recent turmoil with Cash Money Entertainment not withstanding, the NOLA emcee has had a hell of a run. This Decemeber he was set to release the Tha Carter V. The fifth installment in the Carter series was to be his most ambitious yet, featuring a double disc worth of songs. Of course, it hasn’t happened, yet. But his Young Money Entertainment imprint is where he’s made his most significant imprint as A&R. The details are murky on a litany of his deals, and the Cash Money graveyard is deep, but the one’s who have survived have made it big. Drake and Nicki Minaj are arguably in the top five most powerful artists today. Nicki’s crossover records have earned her general scorn, but have also made her a star. Drake’s three albums have come to define the sound of mainstream Hip Hop and Kanye even passed the crown to him in an interview last year. All this is built upon Wayne’s incredible run between ’02 and ’11. During that time he released his entire Carter series as well as most of his incredible Dedication series as well. Whatever the case, and whatever you think of him as an emcee now, you can’t deny his enduring place in the culture. His eye for talent seems to be incredible, and if we ever get to hear tha Carter V we may have reason to add another classic to his resume.
A&R Successes: Big Sean, KiD CuDi*, Mr. Hudson, Pusha T
Power Plays: Yeezy’s for Nike, Adidas deal, Donda, G.O.O.D Music
Net Worth: $110M
Yeezy’s string of G.O.O.D music successes are numerous. He helped his Chi-town bretheren, Common, return to form by producing most of Be and Finding Forever before signing the emcee outright. But let’s go back a bit further. The story is more than well known. An angry Kanye West leaves DJ Whoo Kid after Ludacris blows off a beat he made. He ends up in a wreck that results in his jaw being wired shut. He’d go on to record “Through The Wire” over Chaka’s “Through The Fire” and the rest is history. The Roc had their reservations, but they wanted to keep him for his prowess behind the boards. Frustrated, he records The College Dropout and catapults himself into superstardom, ushering in the middle class Rap lane that Hip Hop had yet to grow in to. The label (G.O.O.D Music) has grown through several different iterations with the early version featuring GLC, Really Doe, and Consequence. The current version includs a slew of both emcees and producers including Pusha T, Q-Tip, Big Sean, and Mr. Hudson amongst others. The most controversial man in Hip Hop has changed drastically with each record, and he continues to up the ante in all his endeavors. From his Yeezy deal to Adidas, to Donda and G.O.O.D Music to his unrivaled success as an artist and the championing of Pusha T, Kid Cudi and Big Sean, it’s hard to say Kanye hasn’t ushered some of his artists to musical success, commercial and cultural success.
A&R Successes: Meek Mill, Wale
Power Plays: 25 wingstops, 1800 Tequila’s Endorsement, Forms Maybach Music Group Label, Officially endorsing for Luc Belaire Rosé Champagne
Net Worth: $25-35M
Rick Ross is, after all, one of the biggest bosses. The Maybach Music Group general’s business acumen is one surely to be revered in the coming years of the Hip Hop industry. After surviving a feud with Hip Hop’s biggest provocateur 50 Cent, the Miami native started MMG in 2009 in a joint venture with Warner Brothers. Introducing artists like Meek Mill, who have blossomed to become one of this era’s most influential emcee’s with Dreams And Nightmares peaking at number two on the Billboard 200. And, he also made the 2014 Forbes Hip Hop Prince’s list before eventually heading back to prison on a parole violation. Of course, he also took artist Wale under his wing after his unsuccessful run at Interscope, building his career and sound, eventually debuting at number one on Billboard’s R&B/HipHop Albums chart, which translated to number 80 on the Billboard 200. Opening 25 wingstops as well as endorsing Luc Belaire Champagne and 1800 Tequila Silver Line shows there’re few limits on where Rick Ross can take his brand. Stepping into the sportswear industry, Rick Ross partnered with Swizz Beatz on behalf of Reebok to create big and tall wear for the legacy brand. Also, after releasing both Mastermind and Hood Billionaire in 2014 alone, I think it’s safe to say Rick Ross is a more than just a mastermind.
A&R Successes: U.S.D.A, YG
Power Plays: Named SVP of A&R at Atlantic, Named Multicutural Advisor to Tequila Avión, Partnered with Gourmet Footwear
Net Worth: $15M
It’s clear that your neighborhood snowman Young Jeezy is capable of making more than 100 stacks in his Sean John jeans. The Atlanta trap veteran is a business forced to be reckoned with. Young Jeezy started Corporate Thugz Entertainment in 2001 and by 2005 Jeezy had a joint venture deal with Def Jam to release his most memorable body of work Thug Motivation 101. Under his CTE imprint he introduced artists like Freddie Gibbs and the compton rapper YG, who have both gone on to come of age in 2014 with Gibbs releasing his out-of-nowhere Madlib collaboration Pinata this year and YG releasing his best solo release to date My Krazy Life. He also boasts a Sr. Vice President position at Atlantic Records. Young Jeezy is a brand beyond music, he was named Multicultural Advisor for Avion Tequila in 2013 and he also has his own line of shoes called Gourmet Footwear. So, between holding his own in a brief feud with Miami rapper Rick Ross to rapping alongside heavyweights like Jay-Z, there no doubt that Jeezy has seen it all.
A&R Successes: B.O.B, Iggy Azalea, Travis Scott
Power Plays: VH1’s Family Hustle, Founding Hustle Gang Records, Acting, Nightclub Ownership
Net Worth: $30 – 50M
One of many aliases, “Rubberband Man” Clifford “Tip” Harris has been no stranger to the limelight. When it comes to his choice of talent, he rarely fails. Introducing the world to artists such as, B.O.B, Iggy Azalea, and Houston’s own Travis Scott, they all have gone on to tremendous success and a swift ascension to stardom. His acumen reaches farther than spotting talent, having a hit reality show on VH1 about his life away from music and under the roof of his kingdom. It all started under the tutelage of L.A. Reid at Arista Records. T.I.’s debut album came at a time where the label itself was starting to dissolve, which led to the albums release being stuck in limbo. The Release of Trap Muzik, featuring records like “24’s” and “Rubberband Man” arguably sparked the birth of what now is a genre of music called “trap.” That being said, it’s only expected for him to introduce chart topping, award winning artists of the next era like Iggy Azalea and B.O.B. When talking about rappers-turned-A&R it’s safe to say T.I. is by no means mediocre.
*Additional reporting by Daniel Witcoff
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Maurice Thomas is an Austin, TX native currently residing in Los Angeles, CA pursuing a career in Music Journalism. He would like to believe he does a lot of things to live this lifestyle. Follow me on Twitter @MrThomasLMG.