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It's More Than Music for Jay Z and Cobain

Like Jay Z, 50 Cent also seems focused on other things these days. After making more than $100 million when Coca-Cola bought out his stake in Vitamin Water in 2007 and watching his album sales slump and his feud with Ja Rule fizzle into fodder for a Vh1 I Love The 2000s segment, 50 Cent has been intermittently doling out financial advice and distancing himself from a public image that leaned heavily on his Get Rich Or Die Tryin' story of surviving a shooting to start his rap career. In his mellowed life, there's little room for Miami Vice anymore.

"That's why I'm downsizing, I need somewhere where I can feel at home," he told Vibe about his sprawling estate a few years back. "It feels like I'm in a hotel."

The house is also a sprawling reminder of Tyson's multiple missteps including a rape conviction, threats to eat New York sports broadcaster Russ Salzberg's babies and his very real gnawing of Evander Holyfield's ear. It's a standing symbol of his conspicuous spending that included the $60,000 a year he spent on cat food, $9 million he paid out to actress Robin Givens after their divorce and six figures he routinely spent his vehicles. It was an outward display of status but, as 50 Cent and Tyson can both attest, it's not a lasting one. Then again, it doesn't always take reckless and criminal activity to make a fortune go away.

Caught up in all these lights and cameras But look what that s-- did to Hammer

It's easy to take shots at M.C. Hammer for amassing a $33 million fortune in the late 1980s and early 1990s on the strength of albums like Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em and Too Legit to Quit and blowing it on a $12 million house and a 200-person payroll costing nearly $6 million a year, but that kind of money wasn't exactly something hip-hop was awash in at that point in time. Other rappers had promotional deals, but Hammer had PepsiCo and British Knights sewn up, had Mattel produce an M.C. Hammer doll and had the Hammerman Saturday morning cartoon on ABC. Sure, LL Cool J and 3rd Bass took shots at him publicly, but no less than James Brown, Deion Sanders, Ice-T and Tupac Shakur had his back.

Hammer had the world's attention and had influence that had escaped hip-hop to that moment, and that was a far more valuable asset to squander than what, in today's terms, is a relatively small hip-hop fortune.

I know nobody to blame, Kurt Cobain, I did it to myself.

At a time when the ceiling for musicians appears to be signing an exclusive streaming deal with Spotify, it's tough to blame them for pushing for more. It's ambition not just limited to hip-hop either. Dave Grohl likely could have hung it up after Cobain's death 20 years ago in April, but has instead become a one-man foundation supporting what little remains of guitar rock. In the last five years, he's been active with Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age and Tenacious D; teamed with Paul McCartney on various projects, filled in for Chelsea Handler on E!'s Chelsea Lately and gave the keynote speech at this year's South By Southwest in Austin.

About half a decade ago, he and Foo Fighters bandmate gave an interview to Canada's CBC that alluded to much of what's been driving him over the last two decades.

"It was just time to keep playing," he said. "I'd been in bands a long time before that, I wasn't ready to give up music and there were times I really felt like it because it was associated with the death of a friend of mine."

Through that lens, what Jay Z and Kanye are looking for aren't all that different from what Grohl is seeking. They're looking to push on and accept the next challenge, but they're also looking to create something larger than themselves and create a legacy beyond the songs. Grohl mentions his daughter in the same interview and notes that much of the fear he'd held prior to her birth disappeared as his priorities shifted and he began to think about her well-being as well.

Both Jay Z and Kanye West have also recently become fathers and face similar questions about not only their legacies, but the urgency with which they should be building them. All three saw the role fame played in Cobain's demise and seem bent against allowing it to strip them of the same life and relationships Cobain let it take from him.

Cobain's absence, like that of Jay Z's mentor Notorious B.I.G., serves as a reminder of what can happen when fame obscures all else. That blindness left both men feeling trapped and led to horrific repercussions for each. Jay Z doesn't want his fans to have to grovel to community boards to name a street for him after he dies: He want enough influence to engrave his name on the face of New York City the way the Astors, Rockefellers and Carnegies did.

As Holy Grail suggests, fame is no longer the goal for the musicians mentioned above: It's the burden they bear for pursuing a greater purpose.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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