Hip-hop is, by a staggering amount, easily the biggest genre of music in the world. Spotify's most-played lists are dominated by the biggest names in the genre today, and some of the most successful rappers of the last two decades are revered as icons.
One of the biggest rappers of that time period is Jay-Z. Born Shawn Carter in Brooklyn, Jay-Z became one of the few real examples of a self-made multimillionaire, carving out a name for himself, becoming one of the highest-selling rappers of all time and practically redefining the term multi-hyphenate with his various business projects.
With over 100 million records sold around the world in his career and a media empire, how much is the hip-hop legend worth?
Jay-Z Net Worth
On June 3rd, 2019, Forbes announced that Jay-Z's ever-growing assets totaled a worth of $1 billion. This made Jay-Z the first ever hip-hop artist to reach billionaire status. Many rappers have tried the rapper-turned-businessman pivot that Jay-Z has, and some have done it very successfully, but he is the first to reach the $1 billion mark.
Forbes recently published a list of hip-hop's most wealthy artists, and at the time Jay-Z came first with an estimated net worth of $900 million. The only other rappers anywhere near his worth were Diddy and Dr. Dre, both more business moguls than rappers now, and he was well ahead of stars like Eminem and Drake. Jay-Z has never stopped working since even before he got famous, and never stopped adding new projects and business endeavors. Now, he's a near millionaire. Combined with the similarly impressive net worth of his wife Beyoncé, a legend of her own, and you've got one supremely wealthy family.
Jay-Z, at this point, has several careers. Let's start with the obvious one.
Frustrated with his inability to find a label that would sign him, Jay co-created Roc-a-Fella Records, an independent label. After finding a distributor, his debut album "Reasonable Doubt" was released in 1996. An instant hit with critics, it achieved enough chart success (including the single "Dead Presidents" getting certified Gold) to get him noticed by a wide audience - as well as a new distributor: Def Jam Records.
With his new distribution deal, he released "In My Lifetime, Vol. 1," an album that sold well but failed to produce a major hit single. But ever the prolific artist, in 1998 he put out his third album in three years, "Vol. 2... Hard Knock Life." It was his breakout from respected artist to superstardom, an album that went platinum 5x over and got Jay his first top 20 singles, "Can I Get A..." and "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)." Both went platinum.
1999 saw the release of yet another album, "Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter," another multiplatinum album, and saw him reach another milestone: his first appearance on a Billboard number one hit, thanks to a verse on Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker."
Though he never reached album sales like he did with "Vol. 2," Jay cranked out hit album after hit album and continued to climb the charts with his own singles. 2000's "The Dynasty: Roc La Familia" saw him reach new heights of his own on the Billboard Hot 100 as "I Just Wanna Love U (Give it to Me) peaked at No. 11, his highest yet on his own track. The next year, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," off "The Blueprint," would be his first solo top 10 hit.
His 2002 followup "The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse" ended up being his highest-selling album since Vol. 3, and featured first first top five hit in "03 Bonnie & Clyde," a duet with Beyoncé. Following that up with "The Black Album" in 2003 with hits like "99 Problems" and "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," Jay-Z had released eight albums in eight years. He was one of the biggest stars in all of music, and one who received significant critical acclaim as well.
After these eight albums, Jay claimed to be retiring from making albums, but was still a force in music, releasing a collaborative EP with Linkin Park in 2004. He returned to albums with "Kingdom Come" in 2006, which was his seventh straight album to top the charts and spawned a top 10 hit in "Show Me What You Got." But it ended up being his lowest-selling album since 1997. His 2007 follow-up, "American Gangster," sold even less. Yet Jay's star power was such that both of them went platinum.
Jay-Z returned to music dominance in 2009 with "The Blueprint 3," which saw his first ever number one hit where he was credited as the main artist: "Empire State of Mind," featuring Alicia Keys.
Now both rap royalty and one of the most relevant stars in the world, Jay-Z had the ability to make whatever he wanted. What he wanted was "Watch the Throne," a collaborative effort with Kanye West that proved to be yet another chart-topping platinum hit.
In fact, Jay-Z still hasn't done a solo album that didn't top the charts since Vol. 1 in 1997. His last two albums, 2013's "Magna Carta... Holy Grail" and 2017's "4:44," each topped the Billboard 200. In 2018, he and Beyoncé teamed up as The Carters to put out the album "Everything is Love." They had to settle, unfortunately... for No. 2.
In 1999, Jay and his co-creators at Roc-A-Fella expanded and created Rocawear, a fashion retailer. As his star grew, so did Rocawear. By the time Iconix Brand Group bought the company in 2007 for $204 million, the New York Times reported that its annual sales totaled $700 million. Despite the huge sale, he decided to retain his stake in the company and maintain a role with it.
Roc Nation Sports
One of his most surprising ventures was in 2013, when it was announced that Jay-Z was creating a sports agency, partnering with Creative Arts Agency to make Roc Nation Sports. Jay-Z was going to become an agent, focusing on baseball and basketball (having to give up another successful investment, a share of the Brooklyn Nets in the process).
Roc Nation was seen as something of a joke when it was first announced. It was seen as much less of a joke when then-Yankees superstar Robinson Cano dropped Scott Boras, the biggest agent in baseball, to join Roc Nation. And it was seen as even less of a joke when Roc Nation got Cano a 10-year contract worth $240 million from the Seattle Mariners between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Roc Nation Sports still exists today, and boasts clients like:
- CC Sabathia, New York Yankees pitcher
- Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets outfielder
- Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors forward
- JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver
- Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams running back
- Jeremy Lin, Toronto Raptors point guard
According to Forbes, through September 24, 2018, Jay-Z had made $28.9 million in agent commissions that year.
In 2015, Jay-Z purchased Aspiro, a Norwegian company that ran a music streaming service called Tidal.
Tidal's big selling point that was meant to separate it from services like Spotify was its lossless audio. It also, at the start, had the selling point of having exclusive rights to artists like Jay-Z, Beyoncé and Kanye West. However, that exclusivity and the high subscription price that came with the high-quality audio also drew substantial criticism.
One of Jay-Z's most enduring partnerships has been with Live Nation Entertainment, who originally signed a 10-year contract with him in 2008 to produce and promote his events.
In 2017, as that deal was coming to an end, it was announced that Live Nation had agreed to another 10-year contract with Jay, this time worth $200 million.