3 Reasons Why Jay-Z Became Rap’s First Billionaire

Amardeep Parmar

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At 12 years old, Jay-Z shot his drug addict brother in the shoulder.

At 49 years old, he was the first rapper to be worth $1bn.

No one could have guessed a kid from the projects whose father abandoned him would have such an impact. He is a self-made billionaire in the truest sense of the term and his story is an inspiration to his millions of fans across the world. They look at him and think if he can do it then so can I. His wisdom is spread throughout his 13 studio albums.

To think of Jay-Z as just a musician is an insult to the genius of his business mind. There’s a long list of living singers who’ve sold more records than him including Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran. Yet there were only two other musician billionaires in the world and both were over 70. Jay-Z is where he is because of dedication and smart decision making.

If you need any more reason to follow Jay-Z, hear what Warren Buffett has to say:

“Jay is teaching in a lot bigger classroom than I’ll ever teach in. They’re going to learn from somebody. For a young person growing up he’s the guy to learn from.” — Warren Buffett

Back yourself to go from good to great

Let’s bust the myth Jay-Z was a prodigious performer and always destined to reach greatness. He didn’t release his first album until he was 26 and toiled for years without a record deal. For context, Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G had entire blockbuster careers and died without reaching this age.

Of course, he was talented but he didn’t become a billionaire because of innate ability. He spent years warming up crowds for bigger acts and honing his craft. The difference between Jay-Z and most aspiring artists is that he carried on even when others around him were more successful.

“All I got is dreams. Nobody else believes. Nobody else can see. Nobody else but me.” — Jay-Z

His first two albums did reasonably well but he finally reached the number 1 spot with his third album. Every album since then has topped the charts. His trophy cabinet includes 22 Grammys. He is now indisputably one of the greatest of all time.

How often do we see good people give up because they don’t instantly go to the top? The obsession of growing at high speed can leave us demotivated when things don’t go our way. Few people are willing to play the long game and keep changing lanes and looking for a different way. All you need to do is outlast others and believe in your ability. Your business doesn’t need to launch as the best in the world, it can grow to become that.

Jeff Bezos started Amazon in 1994 and it made losses until 2003! People will tell you now how it was obvious to invest in Amazon early but that’s just hindsight bias. Many other entrepreneurs would have given up in Jeff’s shoes yet he’s now the richest man in the world and they aren’t.

Take ownership of your craft

The key difference between Jay-Z and most other successive creatives is simple, he owns everything he’s ever made. Others sacrifice potential massive gains for smaller certain wins when they begin. This short-term approach may mean their bills will be paid but if their art is successful they’ll only get 10–20%. Jay-Z bet on himself and won the jackpot.

When Jay-Z was signed for the first time, he paid to break the contract and start up his own company instead. For someone who had never released an album, it could have been seen as a naive childish act at the time. But this decision set him on the path to where he is.

Roc-A-Fella Records was set up in a single tiny office but he sold half of the company for $1.5m when Def Jam, a larger record label, came calling. He kept creative control and was treated like a partner instead of a subordinate. He became CEO of Def Jam a few years later and as part of his payment, he was given control of his master records. This means any royalties from his music come straight to him.

These alone are worth $75m now.

Jay-Z realized ownership is what matters to become wealthy. Many of us focus on earning more income which is why we need to keep grinding. When you own the rights to your previous work then it can work for you instead. Are you working hard right now creating intellectual property to make someone else rich? Imagine if they were your assets instead.

“I’m not a ‘Business-Man’! I’m a Business… man!” — Jay-Z

Studies have shown 80% of a company’s valuation is held in its intellectual property. Tech giants will spend millions on small companies to get their hands on it. Apple and Samsung spent more money than most companies will ever make on lawsuits against each other.

What you must remember is whenever someone is willing to pay you for your idea, they must think it is worth more than that. They rely on you being unable to make as much from the idea as they can. If you can close this loop then you reap the benefits.

Adopt an ‘Empire State of Mind’

Brands have always been a big part of rap culture, some of you will remember ‘My Adidas’ by Run DMC or ‘Air Force Ones’ by Nelly. Rappers name-dropped the brands they liked to sound cool rather than make money. Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella records were quick to realize this fallacy. Why should they be helping others get rich for free?

It is rumored some rappers were paid to promote products but this wasn’t enough either. Just like ideas, if a company is willing to pay you to promote their brand, they must think the promotion will increase their revenues by more. Jay-Z built and bought his own companies instead. Now when he used his reach to mention a brand, he would get the rewards himself.

Look at how far his reach goes:

  • Premium alcohol brands Armand de Brignac and D’Usse $410m
  • Clothing brand Rocawear sold for $204m in 2007
  • Music streaming platform Tidal worth around $100m
  • Live event promotion through Roc Nation worth $75m
  • Sports agency Roc Nation Sports
  • Chain of sports bars called ‘The 40/40 Club’

The masterstroke is choosing industries that align strongly with his image already. People who enjoy listening to Jay-Z are also likely to buy into the lifestyle he promotes. Many of the world’s largest companies have used this mindset from Google to Disney. They dominated their industry then found complementary industries using their existing audience.

“Once a mountain climber climbs a mountain, he doesn’t stop climbing. He finds another mountain” — Jay-Z

It’s important to remember this is the last step and only possible if you’ve done the first two well. if you believe you’ve climbed as high as you can in your industry, focus on understanding your customers. What else would they trust your brand for? Do your research and find out their wants and needs then create something to fulfill it. Your reputation means you can overcome many of the obstacles facing a completely new startup, don’t waste it.

What you should take with you

Jay-Z’s journey to becoming a billionaire was all about his mindset. He worked hard even when others around him were getting noticed and he wasn’t. Unlike everyone else, he bet on himself and took control of his destiny. Not yet satisfied, he carved out opportunities in many complementary industries. It took more work than most people are willing to put in and he kept adapting.

“People look at you strange, say you changed. Like you worked that hard to stay the same.” — Jay-Z

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