Hip-Hop Cash Princes 2014: The Top Ten

Yahoo Music
Yahoo Music

Seven years ago, Forbes released its inaugural Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, the first-ever ranking of the genre’s top earners. The package prompted Jay Z, 50 Cent and Diddy, who occupied the first three slots, to record “I Get Money (The Forbes 1-2-3 Billion-Dollar Remix).” As Diddy observed, there was “a lot of money on this record.”

The aforementioned triumvirate now lives up to its ten-figure moniker, with a combined net worth north of $1 billion. But who’s next? A new generation of up-and-coming artists is finding its own path to financial success. And this year, for the first time, we’ve given them a name: the Hip-Hop Cash Princes.

These 10 artists are the rising stars with the best chance of vaulting to the next level of commercial viability—and they’re the ones most likely to make the leap to the Cash Kings list in the near future. Only artists under the age of 30 are eligible to be crowned Cash Princes.

To assemble the list, we turned to judges Bryan "Birdman" Williams, cofounder of Cash Money Records and a veteran Cash King himself; Fab 5 Freddy, a hip-hop pioneer and longtime host of Yo! MTV Raps; and Kevin Liles, founder of KWL Enterprises and former president of Def Jam Recordings. They joined Natalie Robehmed, a Forbes reporter and former DJ for WBAR, and yours truly in voting on the Top 10.

A$AP Rocky (Age: 25)

A$AP Mob’s ringleader has been riding the success of 2012’s "Long.Live.A$ap," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling over 400,000 copies to date. He is also DKNY’s latest poster boy, appearing in a recent commercial. It’s no wonder "Long.Live.A$AP"’s single “Fashion Killa” name drops 27 brands.

“Fashion is all around us,” Rocky told Forbes in a recent interview. “As a kid, I was just always into it.”

Azealia Banks (Age: 22)

The only female on the Cash Princes list has yet to release an album, but has already toured extensively. Between June 2012 and June 2013—the scoring period for our Cash Kings list—Banks pulled in over $1 million before management and lawyer fees, mostly through live shows. Her EP has sold about 32,000 copies in the U.S.

Banks tells Forbes: "Feminine strength is the most superior strength and that’s why female rappers are more exciting because it’s like, 'Oh shit, a girl's doing something a man can do and she’s stronger and better and feminine and beautiful, too.'"

Big Sean (Age: 25)

Three years after Big Sean’s debut album pronounced him as such, the diminutive rapper is indeed finally famous. Several high-profile singles including the Nicki Minaj track “Dance” and Kanye West’s “Clique” brought his voice to radio; his 2013 sophomore effort "Hall of Fame" landed at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The Detroit native has since launched a line of custom Adidas sneakers and announced his engagement to "Glee" actress Naya Rivera. “I believe this city can turn around,” Sean told Forbes. “I do feel a little responsibility but I don’t let that alter who I am.”

Chance the Rapper (Age: 20)

Chicago newcomer Chancelor Bennett’s 2013 free mixtape, "Acid Rap," notched over 500,000 downloads and catapulted him to critical acclaim. Following unauthorized sales on iTunes and Amazon, the 13-track record even landed on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart—a rare feat for a bootleg.

The unsigned 20-year-old has already brought his dynamic flow to the mainstream, appearing on Justin Bieber’s “Confident.” Whether he joins a major label or follows in the footsteps of independent hip-hop greats like Tech N9ne, Chance’s versatile talent is a much-needed refresher.

French Montana (Age: 29)

Born in Morocco and transplanted into the Bronx as a youngster, French Montana is already developing a healthy portfolio of brand extensions. He now boasts a record label, clothing line and a live show that grosses over $30,000 per night.

Diddy, hip-hop’s reigning Cash King, executive produced Montana’s debut studio album, "Excuse My French." The record, which featured guest appearances by top moneymakers like Birdman, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, Drake and Lil Wayne, debuted last May and sold 56,000 copies in its first week.

J. Cole (Age: 29)

The first artist signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation, J. Cole has been making good on the promise that led the rap mogul to sign him—and is already surpassing some of his early-career idols. His second studio album, "Born Sinner," moved nearly 300,000 units its opening week, nearly outselling Kanye West’s "Yeezus."

That success—on top of his new Dreamville label, housed within the Interscope family—is part of the reason J. Cole was the only Hip-Hop Cash Prince to earn a spot on Forbes' broader 30 Under 30 list. “I feel honored and privileged to be mentioned in a category with people of this status,” he said. "But I do feel worthy at this point, because I know what I’ve done—and what’s coming." (More on J. Cole here.)

Meek Mill (Age: 26)

Since 2012’s "Dreams and Nightmares," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, the Philadelphia rapper and Rick Ross protégé has turned his hand to endorsements—headphones with Monster Energy Drinks, a series of Puma sneakers and a forthcoming clothing line.

Per his 2011 hit, Meek Mill certainly knows how to host a house party—guests at his recent celebrity-studded post-Grammy soiree included a monkey, a camel and a lion. "We spent $200,000 just putting it together," Meek told Forbes. "But it was a great night."

Travis Scott (Age: 21)

With guidance from veteran Cash Kings including Kanye West and T.I., the Houston-born rapper-producer has helped craft tracks for the likes of West and Jay Z. His mixtape "Owl Pharaoh," released last May, earned high praise from the hip-hop press.

In an interview at Forbes' New York headquarters, Scott attributed some of his success to the guidance of mentors like T.I., who taught him "how to manage time, manage what you’ve got … how to put everything you want into a pyramid, create a flow."

Tyga (Age: 24)

Pop quiz—which Young Money/Cash Money artist has a clothing line, a watch line, and a shoe deal with Reebok? A hint: his last two albums also reached the top of the hip-hop charts. The answer isn’t Drake, or Lil Wayne, or even label boss Birdman. It’s 24-year-old Los Angeles native Tyga.

"It’s not just about rap," he says. "It's about branding and what you represent, your whole subculture. If you look at artists … it’s just building something, a brand that people can relate to on a day to day [basis], that’s what we do."

Wale (Age: 29)

The Washington, D.C.-bred MC is already knocking loudly at the gilded door of our Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, pulling in about $5 million in 2012, just shy of the mark for that year’s list. His average nightly gross has surpassed $25,000—and if that trend continues, he’ll continue his journey toward the throne.

"I don’t want to be one of those guys that you see who made $4 million, invested $3.5 million, and now you work at Wendy's," he told Forbes a year ago. "I want to get the highest score on Pacman or Frogger … [and] I want to make sure I’m on the FORBES list in a year or two." So far, so good.