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Favorite Rapper Actually Poor? Truth Behind Music Industry's Money

(Note: This is part of an ongoing series breaking down the truth behind hip-hop's smoke and mirrors financial game. For previous entries, click here.)

There's nothing like some actual facts to separate the truly wealthy from the merely right (from the outright lying). While, as anyone who's been reading this series already knows, there's no shortage of rappers claiming that they're making filthy sums of money, but nearly none of them actually are. Instead, their cash flow's being eaten away by baby mommas360 dealstaxesadvances, and stupidly large jewelry. 

However, there are a select few urban artists who are actually pulling in major, major dollars. Actually, according to Forbes' list of the top ten highest earning musicians, there are only three: BeyonceJay-Z and the Black Eyed Peas. First, let's take a look at the list:

1 - U2 ($130 million)
2 - AC/DC ($114 million)
3 - Beyoncé ($87 million)
4 - Bruce Springsteen ($70 million)
5 - Britney Spears ($64 million)
6 - Jay-Z ($63 million)
7 - Lady Gaga ($62 million)
8 - Madonna ($58 million)
9 - Kenny Chesney ($50 million)
10 - Black Eyed Peas, Coldplay and Toby Keith ($48 million)

Right off the bat, props to Beyonce. Good lord Queen B, that's some serious cash. Crucially, it's not Beyonce's music that's bringing in the paychecks. Instead, her music has served as the entry to some truly lucrative business offers, including huge endorsement deals from make-up company L'Oreal and her own House of Dereon fashion line. Let me break that down even further. Beyonce isn't a musician, she's a brand, and brand international corporations want to do business with. Do you think there's a long line of Fortune 500 companies lining up to have Soulja Boy rep their products? 

I know a lot of men are uncomfortable with their wives making more money than them, so how do you think Jay-Z feels? The man's the most powerful rapper on the planet, and his wife's still clearing more than $20 million a year more than him. I hope Beyonce made him sign a pre-nup. Actually, for all I know, Jay doesn't have a problem with it at all. Either way, it's got to be nice to live in a household worth over $100 million. Again, even with the success of "BP3", Jay's not making that money because of album sales. It's the international tour, the 40/40 nightclub chain, the Broadway show "Fela!" and the share in the New Jersey Nets that's making the trips to the island possible. Notice a theme here? 

On a larger scale, the one thing all the biggest acts have in common is an enormous tour following. Just take U2. The average ticket for one of their shows cost $94. Multiply that by the 50,000 person arenas they can pack, times a 90-stop worldwide tour, and Forbes reports that they cleared $130 million from touring alone. As Gary Bongiovanni, the editor of Pollstar, a concert trade publication said, "In today's world artists have to tour to make money because they can't just sit at home and collect their royalties and expect to make their mortgage payments." The Bongiovannister doesn't lie. 

But there's bad news on the horizon there too. Ticket sales have fallen 17% over the last year because of the recession and increasingly impressive home entertainment systems; do you really want to pay $100 for a U2 ticket when you can watch the tour DVD on your enormous flat-screen in your underwear? Maybe, but it's a lot closer than it was ten years ago. 

In other words, if rappers really want to make that major, major money, they have to operate less like a musician, and more than a corporation. Or as Jay would put it, you can't be a businessman, you've got to be a business, man. Actually, considering the rankings, I should probably close with a Beyonce quote instead: "Stop the track, let me state facts / I told you give me a minute and I'll be right back / Fifty million round the world / and they said I couldn't get it."

That's more like it.



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