Back in 2007, Kanye West released a song called “Big Brother”—an ode to Jay-Z. Indeed, catching on with the mogul’s Roc-A-Fella Records two decades ago was West’s first big break. Jay-Z even had a hand in coining West’s nickname, Yeezy, which now graces his eponymous shoe line with Adidas.
“There was a beam of light on the idea of me making athletic footwear,” West explained in an interview for the August cover of Forbes. “A paradigm shift. Like the Yeezy is desired as much as a Jordan.”
Yeezy is expected to top $1.5 billion in sales this year—or about half of what Nike’s Air Jordan pulls in—boosting West’s pretax income to $150 million over the past year and making him hip-hop’s cash king for the first time ever. Another career first: West out-earned Jay-Z, who ranks second on this year’s list with $81 million, buoyed by the tail end of his On The Run II tour with wife Beyoncé. Drake, the most-streamed artist of any genre, rounds out the top three with $75 million.
All in all, the top 20 acts in hip-hop banked a combined $860 million, up 33% from $648 million last year. The bar for entry is $18 million, the highest it’s ever been. Our numbers represent pretax income from June 2018 to June 2019 before deducting fees for agents, managers and lawyers; figures are based on data from Nielsen Music, Pollstar, Bandsintown and interviews with experts, handlers and some of the stars themselves.
West isn’t the only familiar name to have a career year, even in his own family. Travis Scott, seemingly set to become an uncle to West’s children, rode his Astroworld – Wish You Were Here Tour to a $58 million payday and the No. 5 spot on the list. That’s two places ahead of DJ Khaled, who notched a personal best $40 million annual haul after overcoming his fear of flying in the wake of his son’s birth—and expanded his touring business while adding partnerships with Air Jordan and Luc Belaire.
“Khaled is the guy you want on your team,” says the DJ and third-person enthusiast. “Khaled is a guy that is going to hit that home run ‘cause his work ethic is incredible. His heart is in the right place. His mindset is focused. Heâs ahead of his time.”
Live music, however, isn’t the only path to profit. Diddy (No. 4, $70 million) raked in the bulk of his bucks from his lucrative deal with Diageo’s Ciroc vodka; Birdman (No. 16, $20 million) owes his payday to his appropriately-titled label Cash Money Records; and Nas (No. 18, $19 million) returns to the list for the second-straight year thanks largely to multimillion-dollar exits in startup investments like PillPack and Lyft.
There are two newcomers on this year’s list. The highest-paid among them is Donald Glover (No. 10, $35 million), who padded his coffers with his work on Atlanta and his This Is America Tour (as Childish Gambino). Cardi B (No. 13, $28 million) follows close behind—at age 26, she’s the youngest artist in this year’s rankings—and joins Nicki Minaj (No. 12, $29 million) as one of only two women on the list, the latest example of a pay gap that has long plagued hip-hop.
Though Minaj recently announced plans to retire, there are plenty of young female emcees who should soon be pushing for spots on the list. Among those to keep an eye on: Meghan Thee Stallion, Tierra Whack and Rico Nasty, all of whom are in the midst of building lasting fan bases. Or, as the latter put it to Forbes earlier this year: “This is my opportunity to make these people lifelong friends.”
Full List: The World’s 20 Top-Earning Hip-Hop Stars
20. Pitbull ($18 million)
19. Wiz Khalifa ($18.5 million)
18. Nas ($19 million)
17. Future ($19.5 million)
16. Birdman ($20 million)
15. Meek Mill ($21 million)
14. Swizz Beatz ($23 million)
13. Cardi B ($28 million)
12. Nicki Minaj ($29 million)
11. J. Cole ($31 million)
10. Childish Gambino ($35 million)
9. Migos ($36 million)
8. Kendrick Lamar ($38.5 million)
7. DJ Khaled ($40 million)
6. Eminem ($50 million)
5. Travis Scott ($58 million)
4. Diddy ($70 million)
3. Drake ($75 million)
2. Jay-Z ($81 million)
1. Kanye West ($150 million)
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