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Are Rappers Really As Rich As The Luxurious Lives They Portray?

August 21, 2013
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rap riches

Ever wonder how a rapper who has just dropped one hot song all of a sudden is surrounded by top of the range cars and wearing so many chains around his neck he looks like he’s going to fall to the ground in his brand new music video? When a rapper releases a record he has to portray and maintain a successful image to his fans, friends and family but how true is this image that they feed to us through their lyrics, music videos and lifestyles?

When an artist signs a record deal they get a percentage on each CD sold, usually between 10%-15%. This amount is known as Royalties. So say an artist’s CD is sold for R100 and the artist agreed to 10% then they will get R10 for each album sold. Sometimes, retailers will add a mark-up to make that R100 selling price so an artist could get as little as R7 for each album. In America where artists can sell from 10 000 to a million copies in their first week they can make from R100 000 to 100 million rand just off of album sales alone. Say an artist sells 500 000 copies of their album then they will make 5 million rand in Royalties.

The thing is, Royalties aren’t paid out until the artist has recouped the money they owe the label and an artist will always be paid last. The label usually pays for the cost of the production, promotion and marketing of the CD as well as the music video costs. An artist can also get a loan from the label known as an Advance. In America, hip-hop artists can get as much as 2 million rands in Advance money to live on while working on the album. So say an artist gets a 2 million rand Advance, their first music video costs 2,5 million rand and the total costs of production and marketing are 1 million rand then they owe their label 5,5 million rand which is more than their Royalties so they didn’t even recoup the money they owe the label through album sales. They still owe their label half a million rand so they don’t get any money and are indebted to their label. Scale this scenario down to the South African industry where a certified-gold album is a mere 20 000 copies sold, a hip-hop artist is lucky if they sell a few thousand copies.

So album sales alone can’t buy a rapper a Bentley and a half a million rand chain. That is why rappers do a lot of shows. Known as “show money” this forms most of the money that is used to fund the luxurious and lavish lifestyle they lead us to perceive they live. Their popularity is directionally proportional to the amount of money they get per show and shows also help artists build that popularity. An artist can make from R20 000 to R10 million rand per show depending on their following and popularity.

“Show money” alone however doesn’t make a rapper wealthy. The real money-makers of the game, you know, the ones that are on Forbes Hip-hop Cash Kings list, haven’t earned their spots from rap only. They are on that list because of endorsements and other business ventures. Sean ‘P-Diddy’ Combs tops the 2013 Forbes Hip-hop Cash Kings list with a net worth of 580 million dollars. The bulk of this net worth is made up of non-musical ventures like his 8-figure deal with Ciroc. Jay-Z who is second on the list with a 475 million dollar net worth made his fortune from the 150 million dollar sale of Rocawear and having shares in the Brooklyn Nets, Barclays Centre and his 150 million dollar deal with Live Nation that led to the start of Roc Nation as well as his new Sports Agency, plus his endorsement deals that are too many to mention. Dr. Dre is placed no. 3 on the list and hasn’t released an album in more than a decade yet still has a net worth of 350 million dollars made mostly from his Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. 50 cent who has also been quiet on the music front yet still managed to make the top five this year largely from the payout of the selling of his stake in Vitamin Water. He has also started new companies namely SMS Audio and SK Energy that will produce headphones and energy drinks respectively. This list alone leads to the stark conclusion that rapper’s cannot be wealthy from kicking raps alone.

So when you see a new artist in his first music video with a shiny chain hanging around his neck throwing money around like its nothing as he’s surrounded by expensive cars and booze, don’t buy the dreams they are selling you. The cars were probably leased and the chains were probably borrowed. The clothes he wears are probably sponsored. The crib and car that he brags he owns in his rhymes are probably owned by his label. The Rolex and Audermars and chains he brags he owns are probably fake or borrowed because he doesn’t have enough liquid cash in his name to buy the real deal. When the second richest man in hip-hop raps “Fuck rap money I made more from grapes, fuck show money I spent that on drapes” and “The truth in my verses versus your metaphors about what your net worth is” – he lets us know that the average rapper is not wealthy. The rappers with real money didn’t make it from raps alone, they made it by expanding their brands into other business ventures and built it on the popularity and brand value that rap gave them.

If this is the harsh reality behind American rappers facades don’t be surprised then when you find out that a South African rapper has a 9 to 5 job just to put food on the table. It’s possible that you are in a higher tax bracket than your favourite rapper. Ladies don’t get mad when the rapper you’ve been vibing with in VIP who’s been giving you free drinks from those over-sized Grey Goose bottles tells you he lives in Houghton then when you go home with him he actually lives in a dingy apartment in Yeoville with a floor full of kicks but no decent mattress. Rappers exaggerate. It’s what they do. It’s what makes them so entertaining. Both kicks and bottles were probably given to him for free. It is tough to make a sustainable amount of money from raps alone. Endorsements and sponsorships are the butter and cheese that makes a rapper’s bread, both internationally and locally.

If you’re pursuing a rap career for the money only then save yourself the trouble and stress. You’re much better off getting a degree in a profession that actually earns you some money. If money isn’t your motivation but fame, easy girls and free things – then do you. But if spitting raps is in your mind, heart and soul, and that buy-a-house-in-Sandton-cash money is irrelevant then my love and respect to you. Because you sure ain’t gonna get that kind of money rapping.


Written By: Nomusa Mthethwa (@NomusaMT)

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