Months-long tours and endorsement deals with companies such as Sprite and Hennessy enabled the highest-earning hip-hop artists on our annual list to bring in an average $44 million over the past year. Some of them also have acquired lucrative equity stakes, including Nas, 44, who makes the list for the first time a quarter-century after releasing his debut album. A few years back, Nas kindled a friendship with venture capitalist Ben Horowitz at a dinner party and has since snagged stakes in Silicon Valley darlings (Lyft, Coinbase) and online media (Genius, Mass Appeal).
His interest in these startups is only natural, he says. “[Hip-hop artists] are always advancing technology—from one turntable to two turntables and a fader.” He has already enjoyed some exits, including the reported $1.1 billion sale of doorbell startup Ring to Amazon in February. “There wasn’t a time when [rappers] didn’t think about investing. It just so happens that the world is opening up.”
Nas pulled in a career best $35 million in all, but that’s only good for No. 6 on the list—this year’s king of hip-hop cash is his former rival, Jay-Z, who returns to the top spot with a staggering $76.5 million haul. The multifaceted mogul hit the road in support of his album 4:44 after welcoming twins with wife, Beyoncé, in 2017. This year he’s kicking it up a notch with the launch of Everything Is Love, the couple’s first joint album, and a stadium tour, On The Run II.
After topping our list three years in a row, Diddy slips to the second spot with $64 million but still makes bank thanks largely to a beverage empire that includes Ciroc vodka, DeLeón tequila and Aquahydrate alkaline water. Kendrick Lamar rounds out the top three with a career-best $58 million tally while packing arenas from Los Angeles to London on his solo tour and as headliner of TDE: The Championship Tour. He’s also been cashing in on deals with Nike and American Express.
“Any kind of business outside of art and culture and hip-hop, I have to have full creative control,” he told Forbes last year. “And having that control, I always wanted to have something that represents more than just a price tag.”
These heady earnings totals shouldn’t come as a surprise: Hip-hop is now the most-consumed genre in America, and its artists are cashing in accordingly. The 10 highest-paid rap stars earned well over $400 million, easily besting the most prolific moneymakers in country ($304.5 million) and EDM ($260 million). And the genre boasts a deep bench, with the top 20 all earning $15 million or more.
Our list tracks pretax annual income from touring, record sales, streaming, publishing, merchandise sales, endorsements and other business ventures. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted. Earnings are calculated from June 2017 to June 2018 and are based on data from Nielsen SoundScan, Pollstar, Songkick, Bandsintown, the RIAA and interviews with managers, lawyers, executives and many of the artists themselves.
Some of hip-hop’s biggest names can be found further down on the list. Drake (No. 4, $47 million) is the world’s most consumed musician, with some 5 billion streams in the past 12 months, but he slowed down his touring pace and fell from last year’s list No. 2 finish. Dr Dre (No. 6, $35 million, tie) is still collecting compensation from his landmark Apple deal—along with income from his extensive back catalogue, enough to keep him high on our list. DJ Khaled (No. 11, $27 million) had another banner year, thanks to his usual musical output and touring as well as deals with Apple, Ciroc and Weight Watchers.
“You can want a Hyundai if that’s what you want,” he told Forbes in 2017. “Me, I want a Rolls-Royce.”
Though Nas made his debut as a cash king well into his career, the list is packed with newcomers old enough to be his children. Other fresh faces include Astroworld rapper Travis Scott (No. 14, $21m), streaming sensation Lil Uzi Vert (No. 17, $19.5m), gaming enthusiast Logic (No. 19, $17m), DIY multihyphenate Russ and newly-liberated Meek Mill (tied at No. 20, $15m)–aside from the latter, all well under age 30.
The list may be diverse in terms of age, but hip-hop still has a woeful void of women among the ranks of its top earners. Moneymaking mainstay Nicki Minaj missed the cut this yea—she didn’t tour, and her new album, Queen, came out after the end of our June-to-June scoring period. But a successful return to the road should put her back in the running, along with new superstar rival Cardi B.
If Jay-Z and Nas can patch up their differences after one of the more notorious feuds in hip-hop history, perhaps Cardi and Nicki can do the same en route to next year’s edition of this list.
“I’ve never been afraid to walk into the boys’ club,” Minaj once told a Forbes contributor. “Ever. Ever, ever, ever.”