Hip-Hop’s Wealthiest Artists 2022
There’s been a remix of hip-hop’s five richest acts—featuring new highs for Jay-Z, new dips for Kanye and Dre, billionaire status for Diddy and the arrival of newcomer Berner.
“I’m not a numbers guy,” Kanye West once told me in an interview about his Yeezy sneakers. “These things are made to bring incalculable joy.”
West, who now goes simply by “Ye,” hasn’t been bringing much joy of late. His recent outburst of hate speech, namely a string of Anti-Semitic remarks, prompted Adidas to pull the plug on the wildly lucrative footwear deal that made him a billionaire two years ago. As a result, his two-year run in ten-figure territory is over—and hip-hop’s wealth hierarchy has seen its biggest shakeup to date.
Jay-Z reclaims the top spot on the list as his fortune increases to $1.5 billion—a personal best—buoyed by the success of a diversified empire, with investments in everything from records to real estate and spirits to startups. Diddy ascends to billionaire status, while Dr. Dre gets further from it. And newcomer Berner is making the case that he could one day be the wealthiest of all.
All in all, the genre’s top five acts are now worth a combined $3.8 billion. I last published a hip-hop wealth list in 2019, back when I was an editor at Forbes. Since then, the world has changed quite a bit, but the five richest artists’ combined net worth has jumped 20% from a pre-pandemic total of $3.17 billion.
The past several years have yielded increased scrutiny over the role of the mega-rich in society, with many understandably questioning if there should even be billionaires at all. And within hip-hop, where the wealthiest moguls had to conquer a multitude of systemic barriers to achieve their success, there remain plenty of questions to answer—and more hurdles to overcome (for instance, the genre’s glaring gender wealth gap).
But whether or not you’re a numbers person—and regardless of the joy generated by such exercises—it’s hard to argue that the stories behind these figures aren’t fascinating. Read on for the full breakdown.
“Nobody touched a billi[on] until Hov did,” Jay-Z raps in his recent verse of DJ Khaled’s recent track “God Did,” and it’s true. Hip-hop’s first billionaire is once again its richest practitioner, boosted by a wide range of ventures. His Armand de Brignac champagne and Roc Nation entertainment company may get the most ink, and still make up the largest chunks of his fortune. Just don’t sleep on his venture capital portfolio, which includes stakes in startups like Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line as well as a bevy of lesser-known consumer-facing brands. Reports of an impending sale of his half of D’Ussé cognac, especially in the wake of Jay-Z’s other recent cash-outs, make me wonder if he’s not gearing up for a major acquisition. NFL team, anyone?
2. Sean “Diddy” Combs ($1 billion)
Diddy becomes the third billionaire minted by hip-hop, surging past Ye on the strength of several assets that have weathered the pandemic remarkably well. The value of his incredibly resilient Cîroc partnership with Diageo—which functions like an equity stake while creating cash flows for Diddy in the neighborhood of $60 million annually—continues to account for the bulk of his fortune. The success of other assets including DeLeón tequila (he owns half) and Revolt (he’s the majority shareholder), as well as his music catalog, startup investments and a considerable collection of worldly possessions, have finally pushed the impresario into ten-figure territory.
3. Kanye “Ye” West ($500 million)
Though the premature end of his Adidas sneaker deal erases West’s billionaire status, he remains quite wealthy—on paper, anyway—due to three centimillion-dollar assets. First, there’s his 5% stake in ex-wife Kim Kardashian’s $3.2 billion shapewear line. Second, West retains some rights to his master recordings and music publishing. Then there’s Yeezy. Kanye still owns the trademark to his footwear line, but Adidas stated it remains “the sole owner of all design rights to existing products as well as previous and new colorways under the partnership.” Nobody I spoke with could agree on Yeezy’s current value, but there’s a consensus it’s still worth a lot more than nothing. To estimate the value of the now-dormant brand, I modeled what Yeezy’s value might look like, based on discounted cash flows in the event of a return to glory five years from now, assigning a probability of 10% for this scenario. In any case, with nearly all his wealth tied up in highly illiquid holdings, West could be headed for a cash crunch if he continues his current trajectory, potentially forcing him to sell or take out loans against his major assets. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see him revive Yeezy with a right-wing sporting goods company or an overseas brand with less to lose than Adidas.
4. Gilbert “Berner” Milam ($410 million)
The Bay Area rapper’s Cookies cannabis empire sells 70 strains of weed and 2,000 different marijuana-related products across its 55 stores in seven countries and 20 U.S. states. It’s also the foundation of Berner’s fortune, thanks to an unusual business structure that could one day allow him to buy out local partners and create a unified multibillion-dollar cannabis conglomerate. He’s managed to retain an estimated 30% stake in the company (I calculated the value of his holdings by using industry-standard multiples to value a hypothetical combined entity, then subtracted the likely costs of buying up his partners and applied a fairly aggressive private company discount). With legalization coming to more and more states—and perhaps the entire U.S. eventually—he’s uniquely positioned. “If it goes federal, and the market wants to see us with all these stores and production, then we’ll roll ‘em all up,” Berner told me earlier this year. “So we’re achieving what these other companies are doing without having to put up our own capital.”
5. Andre “Dr. Dre” Young ($400 million)
The super-producer proclaimed himself the “first billionaire in hip-hop” in a grainy video on the eve of his Beats headphones empire’s sale to Apple nearly a decade ago, but things never quite worked out that way. Dre’s net worth peaked at $800 million after taxes took their bite of his cut from the $3 billion sale. His output hasn’t exactly been prolific since, though his spending (both philanthropic and personal) has. In 2013, he and Beats cofounder Jimmy Iovine paid $70 million to create a music academy at the University of Southern California; the following year, Dre shelled out $40 million to buy Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen’s Los Angeles mansion. Documents from Dre’s recent divorce revealed his net worth had dwindled to just over $450 million before the first half of a $100 million settlement was paid to his ex (the second half is said to be due by the end of 2022).
To form the list of hip-hop’s wealthiest artists, I drew on my decade-plus of experience covering the business of hip-hop for various publications and in several books, valuing every known asset and liability in each artist’s portfolio. I also applied some useful knowledge I’ve gained (hello, diminishing perpetuity!) while taking classes at Columbia Business School this year as part of the university’s Knight-Bagehot fellowship. And of course, I leaned on a wide range of sources throughout the music industry, ranging from managers to lawyers to some of the artists themselves.
Zack O’Malley Greenburg is the author of four books, including the Jay-Z biography Empire State of Mind. His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Forbes, where he served as senior editor of media & entertainment.