The list of wealthiest hip-hop artists has gotten a pretty major shake-up, with a new face storming into the top 5 thanks to a burgeoning legal weed business even as former billionaire Kanye West slips to No. 3 after losing his 10-figure status following his recent string of antisemitic comments.
Longtime Forbes writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg recently posted his “remix” of the Hip-Hop’s Wealthiest Artists list on his Zogblog, in which he revealed that Jay-Z remains atop the list as rap’s only certified billionaire in his first update of the hip-hop wealth list since 2019 when he was still an editor at the financial mag.
It should be no surprise that one of the take-aways from Greenburg’s list is that Ye (as West is now known), has had a major slip in status after the embattled rapper’s string of antisemitic remarks and promotion of a “White Lives Matter” shirt has caused his formerly sprawling music and fashion empire to largely evaporate over the past few weeks.
Greenburg writes that overall the top five hip-hop acts are worth a combined estimate of $3.8 billion, with the list toppers’ combined net worth rising 20% from a pre-pandemic (2019) total of $3.17 billion. Coming in at No. 1 is Jay-Z, whose fortune Greenburg estimates has increased to a personal-best $1.5 billion thanks to a diversified portfolio that includes investments in everything from music (Roc Nation entertainment) to real estate, spirits (Armand de Brignac champagne) and startups including Rihanna’s wildly successful Savage X Fenty brand.
Hip-hop’s first billionaire easily edged out Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, whose $1 billion fortune has reportedly surged thanks to his Ciroc vodka brand, half-stake in DeLeón tequila and entertainment brand Revolt, as well as his music catalog, start-up investments and what Greenburg dubbed, “a considerable collection of worldly possessions.”
The news was not as great for Ye, whose billionaire status was cut in half after the loss of a lucrative Adidas deal and a raft of other marketing and branding deals over the past few weeks. West still came in at No. 3 this time around thanks to his 5% stake in ex-wife Kim Kardashian’s lucrative Skims shapewear line and the rights to his master recordings and music publishing.
Greenburg said that he could not reach anyone who could agree on the current value of Ye’s Yeezy brand, “but there’s a consensus it’s still worth a lot more than nothing,” adding that “West could be headed for a cash crunch if he continues his current trajectory, potentially forcing him to sell or take out loans against his major assets.”
The biggest surprise on the list was the new No. 4: Bay Area rapper Gilbert “Berner” Milam, whose 30% stake in the Cookies cannabis empire — which sells 70 weed strains and thousands of marijuana-related products in 48 stores in 7 countries and 20 U.S. states — is the foundation of his fortune. “If it [marijuana] goes federal, and the market wants to see us with all these stores and production, then we’ll roll ‘em all up,” Berner told Greenburg earlier this year about the prospect of marijuana legalization rolling out nationwide. “So we’re achieving what these other companies are doing without having to put up our own capital.”
The top 5 is rounded out by another former reported billionaire, Dr. Dre. The producer who a decade ago called himself the “first billionaire in hip-hop” actually peaked at $800 million according to Greenburg after tax payments took a big chunk of his cut from the $3 billion sale of his Beats empire to Apple. The writer said a combination of personal and philanthropic spending has further reduced Dre’s fortune to around $400 million, including the $70 million he and Beats co-founder and former Interscope boss Jimmy Iovine spent to found a music academy at the University of Southern California, as well as the $40 million Dre spent to buy Tom Brady and ex-wife Gisele Bundchen’s former L.A. mansion.
Greenburg also noted that paperwork from Dre’s recent divorce revealed his net worth to be in the $450 million range before the first half of a $100 million settlement to his ex-wife. The writer said he tabulated the figures by combining his decade-plus of experience covering the business of hip-hop along with valuing every known asset and liability in each artist’s portfolio and tapping a “wide range” of sources in the music industry, including managers, lawyers and the artists themselves. Billboard is not able to independently verify Greenburg’s reporting.