Sean "Diddy" Combs hasn’t always agreed with Forbes' evaluations of his wealth. "[Screw] the Forbes list," he rapped on a Rick Ross song three years ago. "Let's tell the truth: I ate more."
These days, however, the hip-hop mogul is changing his tune.
"You started learning how to count right, I see," Diddy told Forbes earlier this year, referring to more recent estimates. "Thank God!"
He likely won’t find fault with our latest rankings, either: Diddy tops this year's list of hip-hop's top earners (aka the Cash Kings), pulling in $50 million over the past 12 months. He's one of rap's most diversified moguls, thanks to his Bad Boy record label, Sean John clothing line, and Blue Flame agency. But it's his agreement with Diageo's Ciroc vodka that brings in the bulk of his bucks. Next up: cable channel Revolt, which will debut this fall via Time Warner and Comcast.
Jay Z lost his hyphen this year but gained $43 million — good enough to earn the second spot on the list. He's been padding his coffers with his lucrative live shows, Armand de Brignac champagne, D'Ussé cognac, Roc Nation label and management firm, and a host of other ventures. His new album went platinum before its July launch when Samsung shelled out $5 million to buy 1 million copies.
Dr. Dre rounds out the Top 3 with $40 million. After winning last year's cash crown, he's down two spots because he's no longer boosted by a nine-figure payout for selling part of Beats by Dr. Dre in 2011. But he's still cashing in on the ubiquitous headphones, expanding the company to include a long-awaited streaming music service. He's also made time to mentor other artists on the list, including Kendrick Lamar, who makes his Forbes Cash Kings debut with $9 million.
"Definitely one thing [Dre] said is, you can’t accept everything for a dollar," Lamar explained. "If it's not right … if it's not something that you see has longevity in it, you have to pass it up."
When it comes to longevity, it's hard to top Cash Money Records, which has been among hip-hop's top labels for two decades. Its roster includes four names on the list — crossover star Drake ($10.5 million), rap legend Lil Wayne ($16 million), label cofounder Birdman ($21 million), and fourth-ranked Nicki Minaj, the only lady on the list ($29 million).
"I think we all have our own individual personalities,” Drake told Forbes earlier this year. "The powers that be within this company allow us to be ourselves, as opposed to trying to control what’s going on."
The Cash Kings list tracks pretax earnings for all living artists whose work is primarily classified as hip-hop or rap. To form the list, Forbes looked at income from touring, record sales, publishing, merchandise sales, endorsements, and other ventures. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted. Earnings are tabulated from June 2012 to June 2013 and based on data from Pollstar, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Nielsen SoundScan, and from interviews with numerous managers, lawyers, record executives and some of the artists themselves.
All in all, hip-hop's Top 10 earners pulled in $256 million — that's $15 million more than the 10 highest-paid DJs of the ascendant electronic dance music genre. Some hip-hop stars are actually being boosted by the EDM boom: with estimated earnings of $6 million apiece, rapper-producer Lil Jon returns to the list and Roots frontman Questlove makes his debut, both boosted by lucrative DJ gigs.
"I'm in the room for, like, all the midlife crisis people that don't want to move on," said Questlove, who also works as a drummer, producer, professor and author. "The first time I tried to do an EDM set, they were like, 'No, no!' I've never been to Vegas before where I was allowed to play break beats and old hip-hop."
There are more fresh faces among this year’s Cash Kings — and perhaps the most celebrated belong to the Seattle-based rapper-producer combo of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Their debut album, "The Heist," has sold more than 1 million copies in the U.S. and spawned hit singles, including the marriage-equality ode "Same Love" and frugality anthem "Thrift Shop"; they may have to rethink the philosophy behind the latter after pulling in $9 million over the past year.
As for Diddy, if he keeps up this pace, it won't be long before he joins an even more prestigious list: the Forbes 400.
"I don't want my career to be defined on [whether or not] I was quote-unquote a billionaire," he said. "But to be honest, I'd be blessed to be a billionaire … hopefully someday it'll come true and I'll be able to do some good with it."
Additional reporting by Natalie Robehmed.
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