Earlier this month Jay-Z officially became the world’s first Hip Hop billionaire, and the concept of being a ‘mogul’ took on a whole other dimension. Whether we’re talking Jay’s $56 million dollar bid for Tidal in 2014, Dre’s $800 million pay off stake in the Beats by Dre Apple deal, or, God help us, Ja Rules Fyre Festival follow up venture with the launch of the app ‘Iconn’, Hip Hop is obsessed with tech. Whether you believe Hip Hop makes hustlers, or hustlers make Hip Hop, one thing should be universally agreed, Hip Hop artists know how to monopolise and exhaust a brand deal unlike any other – perhaps because they push for the American dream unlike any other. They all want to be a somebody. This mentality would be simply and famously summed up by Jay-Z on the remix of Kanye’s Diamonds From Sierra Leone, himself versing “I’m not a businessman – I’m a business, man”.
In today’s landscape where it’s just as normal to find figures like Jay or Dre on Wall Street as well as on stage, it’s important to understand how this cross over of not just industries but whole cultures, was made possible. In 1986, Angelo Anastasio, an Adidas Executive, was invited to watch Run-D.M.C perform their third album ‘Raising Hell’ at Madison Square Garden. While performing their track ‘My Adidas’the group asked the audience to hold their sneakers in the air. They did, and Anastasio saw unparalleled opportunity and wealth in audience loyalty. Soon after he signed a $1 million endorsement deal which saw the group release their own line of sneakers. This is largely cited as the very first endorsement deal in rap history. As to its importance in today’s world, this was least of all about selling shoes. As Run-D.M.C would put it so accurately, “This gave us some legitimacy. It took us from the streets to mainstream white America.” This exemplifies the power of influence specifically held by Hip Hop artists. Being trained up in battle raps on freestyle circuits, these artists seize opportunity and are the ultimate masters of marketing.
With the precedent set, what began as fashion deals now proliferates into much more. Everyone wants a part of Hip Hop. In the most unexpected of investments, in 2012 prominent Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz invested $15 million in the website Rap Genius, which annotates rap lyrics to explore their hidden meanings. More recently, Will.i.am announced at the C2 business conference this week that he was now a partner in the innovative Montreal AI company Stradigi which adapts AI Solutions for a host of industries. This makes perfect sense as (unknown to most) the former Black Eyed Pea’s member also serves on the board of the World Economic Forum’s Global Artificial Intelligence Council. He is also a partner in Atom Bank, the UK’s first mobile bank. In an odd juxtaposition of wanting what the other has, the world of tech invests in Hip Hop’s powerful image and loyal following. On the other hand, the Hip Hop associates appreciate the opportunity for legitimacy which derives from working with such corporate entities. And that not to forget the unbelievable pay offs earned on top of this. Remember altogether, Dr. Dre’s Apple deal was over $3.2 billion, the largest acquisition in Apple’s history.
Other deals however, often fall under the public radar with their monetary gains kept largely secret. Since 2014 Snoop Dog has invested in the social news site Reddit. Although an exact personal investment figure isn’t known, Snoop helped to amass the company over $300 million in funding with help from other investors such as Sequoia and Tencent. Additionally, hailed by some as a tech visionary, MC Hammer is now a respected entrepreneur, investor and advisor, building on his music career in the early 90’s. In 1991 alone he made $31 million. Now with two tech companies of his own, the mobile payment app Square and magazine app Flipboard, it seems almost like Hammer is experiencing a second life. In 2016 according to American Inno, Hammer became a limited partner in a Washington D.C. venture capital firm, SWaN & Legend Venture Partners. The power of Nas also cannot go unmentioned. Since founding QueensBridge Venture Partners in 2014, the venture capital firm has made over 129 investments to companies including Luxola, Lyft and Dropbox. And then of course, theres Jay-Z. Aside from Tidal, JetSmarter Inc is one of Hov’s largest investments. The app, largely cited as the Uber for private Jets, has raised over $157 million over several funding rounds, with the royal family of Saudi Arabia also being one of the investors. As well as buying the Armand de Brignac champagne brand for a reported $200 million in 2014, through his label Roc Nation, Jay created new platform ‘Arrive’ which invests in new start-ups, ultimately giving himself part ownership in them. This is where the Mogul mentality sets itself apart. It doesn’t just think for today, but for tomorrow – and for the next one hundred tomorrows. Its vision is so absolute and uncompromising, so tapped into the law of attraction, that even Jay knew when he was selling CD’s out of cars that one day, “he’ll be a business, man, and not just a businessman”.
Written by Sophie Webster