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Put Your Money Into These Rhythmic Beats

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Nigeria leads the proliferation of Africa’s new sounds in the West.


In an Africa fresh from economic liberalization, music found a new voice, thanks to social media and platforms like YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music, which streamed thousands of African songs into the homes of millions in the diaspora.

The western world, suddenly, was introduced to Africa’s new sound, Afrobeats. Free from the shackles that had previously plagued the Nigerian movie industry, known locally by the moniker, Nollywood, artists, now empowered with this new distribution platform, could begin to experiment in different languages, sounds and genres that had, until then, remained confined to only regional pockets.

The past few years, however, have seen a rapid evolution of the Afrobeats scene across Africa and Nigeria is leading its explosion globally.

Events such as the One Africa Music Fest, an African musical experience showcasing Africa’s best and brightest talents, have solidified Africa’s position in the global entertainment industry.

BROOKLYN, NY – SEPTEMBER 09: Yemi Alade performs on stage at 2018 Essence Street Style Festival on September 9, 2018 in Brooklyn City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Essence)

Afrobeats has not only captured a new western audience but has also influenced the sounds of some of America’s biggest artists.

“Afrobeats is absolutely taking over. In 2016, Drake’s One Dance, which featured Wizkid, was arguably one of the biggest sounds globally. Then you had French Montana with Unforgettable, which was also huge and both videos were shot in Africa. So, this thing is becoming a movement,” says D-Black, a Ghanaian Afrobeats artist and founder of Black Avenue Muzik record label.

It’s almost impossible to attend a party or wedding in Africa and not be treated to one of Afrobeats’ ubiquitous chart-toppers.

With hits from artists like Davido, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and many more pounding out of speakers across the continent, the movement of Afrobeats not only covers major cities in Nigeria, but also some far-flung locales.

“You cannot really talk about Afrobeats without talking about Lagos. The music scene is very fast-paced and colorful. Each local area has its own unique sound. On the mainland, we have the heart music being pushed by artists like Small Doctor.

“We also have the live Afrobeats scene and then the Alte scene, which is a different music on its own. People like to identify Alte sound with the western crowd and mainly people who live on the island,” says Paul Yusuf, DJ and founder of Music Revolution Nigeria.

But that doesn’t mean that the artists are benefiting from the buzz. Similar to Nollywood, piracy remains rampant making it impossible for artists to sell their music.

“There are several ways of accessing music locally in Nigeria, from the streets, where you have street vendors selling illegally obtained music or in a well-known tech hub called computer village, where consumers can download thousands of illegally obtained new music onto their hard drive from as little as N2,000 ($5),” Yusuf says.

“In Africa, the model is different. It is all about putting out as much free music as you can without necessarily charging, then you become a big artist once you have enough hit songs and then make your money back from being booked on shows. When you think about it, some of the biggest stars in the United States make most of their money from tours,” says D-Black.

Despite these challenges, the advent of Web 2.0 and community marketing mean the Afrobeats scene has been digitalized, providing savvy entrepreneurs like Don Jazzy, with a new revenue model.

“Back in the day, we didn’t care too much about online streaming platforms like YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify, but now it is a major focus for generating revenue. Nigeria still lags behind on online platforms but there are people in the diaspora who because of the growth and exposure of the Afrobeats music patronize us online by buying from these streaming platforms.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 01: Davido performs onstage during the 2018 Made In America Festival – Day 1 at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 1, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Lisa Lake/Getty Images for Roc Nation)

“The numbers from Nigeria is not big because most people prefer to download from free sites and most of them use Android, boom play apps and others to get access to the music,” says Jazzy.

Born Michael Collins Ajereh, he is a record producer, singer, songwriter and entrepreneur. He is also the founder of one of Nigeria’s most successful record labels, Mavin Records, with a roster of stars including Tiwa Savage and Korede Bello.

He pioneered the proliferation of Afrobeats into countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US) when he created his first record label, Mo’ Hits Records, with former partner, D’banj. The pair was signed by US music mogul, Kanye West, to his GOOD Music imprint, at a time when the industry was still in its infancy bringing global attention to the world of Afrobeats.

“Everything changed with D’banj. Oliver Twist opened up the labels to want to invest in Africa because that was the first single that was pushed by a label properly. Kanye West signed D’banj and Don Jazzy and that was big news. When Mo’ Hits came out with their sound, it was easy to get the world’s attention on Afrobeats, coupled with improved production and quality music videos,” says the London-based DJ Flex.

According to Jazzy, the digital revolution of the Afrobeats sound has led to the proliferation of the music into the diaspora, leading to different sub-categories like Afro-pop, Afro-dance and Afro-reggae. This has also affected the revenue model of the business.

“When it comes to Afrobeats, we have to look at two main revenue streams. The type of songs that impact the clubs and Nigeria locally; and secondly, the type of sound that moves numbers online, thus digitally. So, you have to be very conscious of the type of music you make at the moment. You have to consider whether you are trying to do this song so that you will be popping in Nigeria and thus offline or are you doing the song for international.

“For example, Korede Bello has Godwin, which was a very big song offline and translated into him going for more shows and getting club plays and party plays. But a song does like that, if you go on YouTube, Spotify and Apple, the numbers are ridiculously crazy because the diaspora market preferred that kind of sound and they streamed it more. So, you definitely have to be conscious about what you want to achieve,” says Jazzy.

Don Jazzy. Picture: Getty

Social media has played a big role in this new trend by making artists connect with audiences outside Nigeria. It has also influenced the new sound of Afrobeats by giving Nigerian and African artists a window into the world of pop culture in America by removing geographical barriers.

“You no longer have to travel to the US to see what your favorite artists are doing because they are all vying for attention on social media platforms out of fear of dying out,”  D-Black says.

With a population of 180 million in Nigeria, its music industry is projected to grow, buoyed by the increase in smartphones and platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry,  the global recorded music market grew by 8.1% in 2017, reaching $17.3 billion that year on the strength of digital streaming revenue.

The big question is, with a largely unregulated industry, how are these artists making their money?

“Money comes in when you have a good product and you make FX from digital sales and when that artist starts growing and you go for shows, then they get paid and you split the proceeds, depending on the sharing ratios you have with the artist.

“Different artists have different sharing ratios and that depends on how long you have been with the artist and how badly perhaps you want the artist. There are also endorsements from brands as well,” Jazzy says.

His Mavin Records label recently made news for securing an undisclosed investment from Washington DC-based investment firm Kupanda Capital, a firm with the goal of creating, capitalizing and scaling up pan-African companies. 

“We are trying to build a long-term structured platform that can connect African music on the continent and beyond for further global consumption. We intend to use the investment for distribution of our own music, product development and hire new staff to take the brand to the next level,” Jazzy says.

The alleged multimillion-dollar investment by Kupanda into the Nigerian record label presents yet another compelling case for the Afrobeats genre, which presents revenue generating opportunities that are too big to be ignored.

LOS ANGELES, CA – AUGUST 13: French Montana performs onstage during the Teen Choice Awards 2017 at Galen Center on August 13, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Can Diddy’s Ciroc Recipe Work On Alkaline Water?

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The first time Sean “Diddy” Combs took a sip of Aquahydrate alkaline water—given to him by pal Mark Wahlberg at a Las Vegas boxing match in the early 2010s—he found it to be an ideal antidote for evenings spent consuming adult beverages.

“I went out that night and had a Vegas night, and I woke up and had a Vegas morning,” Diddy told me in 2015. “I drank two of the [Aquahydrate] bottles and it was, like, the best tasting water that I’ve tasted. And it really, honestly helped me recover.”

Diddy became the face of the company alongside Wahlberg shortly thereafter, and the pair invested $20 million in Aquahydrate over the years while billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa added another $27 million.

READ MORE | Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019

They aren’t the only ones with lofty ambitions for the brand: last week the Alkaline Water Co., the publicly-traded purveyor of competitor Alkaline88, bought Aquahydrate in an all-stock deal that valued the latter at about $50 million.

For Diddy, who ranks No. 4 on our recently-released list of hip-hop’s top earners and boasts a net worth of $740 million, alkaline water holdings are just a drop in his financial bucket. His Diageo-backed Ciroc vodka—and its myriad flavors, from Red Berry to Summer Watermelon—is responsible for the lion’s share of his wealth. But it’s clear he thinks alkaline water, flavored variants included, could swell his portfolio. So do his new partners.

Diddy
CRAIG BARRITT AND ALEXANDER TAMARGO/GETTY IMAGES. DESIGN: NICK DESANTIS/FORBES

“You put both these brands under one public company, it makes a ton of sense,” says Aaron Keay, Alkaline’s chairman, of the Aquahydrate deal. “We see synergies on distribution, we see cost-savings on cost of goods. On production, on logistics, on staffing. … And we don’t see both brands actually then competing for the same target market.”

In the past, flavored water has enriched investors including some of Diddy’s hip-hop world comrades. A little over a decade ago, 50 Cent famously took Vitaminwater equity in lieu of stock as payment for his endorsement—and walked away with some $100 million when Coca-Cola bought its parent company for $4.1 billion in 2007.

A ten-figure valuation for an alkaline water company seems an outlandish target even for the notoriously bombastic Diddy. But Keay notes Alkaline clocked $33 million in revenues over the past fiscal year and had been expecting $48 million in 2020; now, with Aquahydrate on board, he projects closer to $60-$65 million. That compares favorably to Core Water, which was doing some $80 million as of last year before getting acquired.

“For two or three years, Core Water was just another clear water,” says Keay. “Then they added about a half dozen flavors. Sales doubled. They got bought for $500 million. I mean, for us, $500 million would be a big number off of where our market cap is right now.”

Diddy appears to be an ideal ally in achieving that goal. With Ciroc, once a middling vodka in Diageo’s roster, he was able to articulate importance of the brand’s defining trait: it was made from grapes, not grains (never mind that this might technically disqualify it from being considered a vodka). His contention, according to Stephen Rust, Diageo’s president of new business and reserve brands, is that grapes are simply sexier than potatoes.

“One of his favorite things [to say] is, ‘If you can have a vodka that comes from a history of winemaking, why would you do that versus the history of coming from potatoes?’” Rust explained in an interview for my book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, And Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise. “That’s Sean.”

With alkaline water, Diddy has demonstrated a similar knack for sizing up a product and extracting an elemental notion that passes muster with consumers (if not necessarily scientists). If “you’re full of acid,” Diddy once explained to me, you need to “get your body leveled out.”

Vodka and water, of course, are two very different products, and the same tactics won’t necessarily translate from one business to another. Flavored water itself seems to have been over-carbonated of late, as the recent struggles of brands like La Croix show; Alkaline’s shares have slumped this year as well.

Perhaps that’s why Alkaline is looking beyond its flagship bottled water business. Future plans call for a move towards cans in a nod to environmentally-conscious customers, as well as expansion into the nascent CBD-infused beverage space. Keay figures Diddy and Wahlberg, along with fellow celebrity investor Jillian Michaels, should provide a boost across the board.

“Once the FDA makes a ruling about how CBD is going to be distributed through those chains and channels, those guys are going to want trusted brands, brands that they know already have a consumer following,” says Keay. “And that was another big reason why it made sense to bring [Diddy, Wahlberg and Michaels] in, because it’s only going to help.”

Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes

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The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth

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A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.

READ MORE | Marvel Money: How Six Avengers Made $340 Million Last Year

“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.

It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.

He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.

READ MORE | ‘Black Panther’: All The Box Office Records It Broke (And Almost Broke) In Its $235M Debut

While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office. 

That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise. 

“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes. 

READ MORE | Worldwide Box Office, The Best It’s Ever Been

Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers. 

Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million. 

The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.

The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019

10. Will Smith

Earnings: $35 million

9. Paul Rudd

Earnings: $41 million

8. Chris Evans

Earnings: $43.5 million

6. Adam Sandler (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

6. Bradley Cooper (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

5. Jackie Chan

Earnings: $58 million

4. Akshay Kumar

Earnings: $65 million

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Earnings: $66 million

2. Chris Hemsworth

Earnings: $76.4 million

1. Dwayne Johnson

-Madeline Berg; Forbes

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Comedian Jim Gaffigan Rakes In $30 Million By Ditching Netflix And Betting On Himself

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Gripping a lukewarm Heineken, Jim Gaffigan hunches his six-foot-one frame over a peeling table in the green room of the An Grianán Theatre in Letterkenny, Ireland. Summer nights are never terribly hot in these parts, but this one is warm enough to need some air conditioning, which the theater almost never uses. It’s hardly a glamorous moment. But then again, glamour isn’t really his thing.

“There’s nothing sexy about Jim Gaffigan,” he says, sweat dotting his brow. “I’m not young. I don’t have a full head of hair. I’m out of shape. I don’t talk about having dinner with Kanye.”

Fortunately for him, he is funny. Just ask the more than 300,000 people in 15 countries who’ve paid an average of $56 to see his latest routine. For the 53-year-old father of five, it’s been a grueling schedule: more than 75 cities in the past year, including whistle-stops like Letterkenny, a northern community of 20,000 that was once lauded as the Republic’s “tidiest town.”

READ MORE | Trevor Noah Is Laughing All The Way To The Bank

They may not offer much sizzle, but places like this are the lifeblood of Gaffigan’s business. He has raked in $30 million this year, putting him at No. 3 on Forbes’ list of the highest-earning stand-up comedians. Half of that was earned by putting “butts in seats.”

The rest comes from spreading his punch lines far and wide. And in this business, if those jokes are funny enough—and your reach wide enough—you can fill a lot of seats with a lot of butts. With the right distribution deal, those jokes can deliver exponential returns. But that’s where it gets a bit tricky.

“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting,” Gaffigan says. “So you’d better be building a new house.”  

Gaffigan’s been building. In 2016, he agreed to partner with Netflix, the industry’s dominant force and home to original specials from all but one of the comedians on Forbes’ ranking. Last year he cut loose from the kingmaker and placed a bigger bet on himself, pairing up with Comedy Dynamics, an independent producer, to release his next special everywhere but Netflix. 

Gaffigan will star in the first original stand-up special on Amazon, which is going after the streaming giant with a push into comedy. Quality Time goes live today, and it can be shopped on the open streaming market when its exclusive run with Amazon Prime Video is up in two years. And that market is only expanding.

Gaffigan has learned a bit about home building in the entertainment industry. He cut his teeth on the club circuit in the early 1990s, when HBO was the primary destination for stand-up specials and Comedy Central was a fledgling cable network.

READ MORE | Executive Travel: Mpho Popps’ Ghana

In 2000, he landed what was then the holy grail of comedy success—a broadcast sitcom—which was the source of the fortunes the creators of Seinfeld and Roseanne minted once they had enough seasons on the air and could sell the series into syndication.

Gaffigan’s shot proved to be short-lived, but six years later he scored a second chance and headlined a Comedy Central special called Beyond the Pale. This time it paid dividends, landing him his first theater show a month later. The butts were now coming to the seats, and while his rise was live, in person, with microphone in hand, his breakout was digital.

At the time, YouTube was changing the rules of the game, providing comedians a global platform with unprecedented distribution. Then Twitter emerged, giving comedy bookers a real-time assessment of who was attracting audiences.

READ MORE | The World’s Highest-Paid Comedians Of 2018

Then came the debut of streaming on Netflix, which latched onto comedy as a cheap and effective way to lure subscribers, while some, notably the now disgraced Louis C.K., used streaming to control their own distribution, making their shows available for fans to purchase directly.

“It was a technological wave that crashed over the stand-up world,” says Wayne Federman, a comedian and professor of the history of stand-up at the University of Southern California. “And we’re still all trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Gaffigan’s first original Netflix special aired in 2017, long after the company had reshaped the industry. It was a promising place to be: Aziz Ansari and Ali Wong were propelled into superstar status through their Netflix specials, while household names like Dave Chappelle and Jerry Seinfeld reportedly cashed in with $60 million (Chappelle) and $100 million (Seinfeld) paydays in exchange for long-term, multi-program deals. Gaffigan’s first special, Cinco, sold for a more modest seven-figure sum.

Jim Gaffigan stand up comedy specials for Netflix and Amazon Original
COURTESY

It was more than just a check; it was access to a potential audience of nearly 94 million. Although Netflix’s subscriber base has grown since then, so has its stand-up library. The platform now shops nearly four times the number of original stand-up specials than when Cinco debuted.

That makes it harder to stand out in the scroll. Plus, the streamer often holds onto specials in perpetuity, including Cinco. The up-front money is nice, but there is no ability to earn on the back end. 

Gaffigan used his next special, 2018’s Noble Ape, which was directed and cowritten by his wife, Jeannie Gaffigan, to test the waters. Comedy Dynamics bought the rights and made it available everywhere Netflix wasn’t. It had a theatrical release and could be purchased and rented on multiple services, including  iTunes, YouTube and Walmart’s VUDU.

Later, there were short streaming windows on Comedy Central and Amazon Prime. According to Comedy Dynamics CEO Brian Volk-Weiss, it was even syndicated to planes and cruise ships. The up-front payment to Gaffigan from Comedy Dynamics was lower than at Netflix, but the wide distribution allowed him to earn on the back end, bringing in a total of $10 million, according to Forbes estimates.

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And new services are on the way from Apple, WarnerMedia, NBCUniversal and Disney, any one of which could choose to pursue cheap-to-produce and popular stand-up specials. 

Because of this widening field, stand-up specials may have more life (and revenue) in them, and that could be good for comedians looking to gamble on their success with deals that offer back-end participation. “We have titles in our library that are making more in year 12 than they made in year one,” says Volk-Weiss, whose company also owns specials by Bob Saget, Iliza Shlesinger and Janeane Garofalo.

Still, leaving Netflix means walking away from a partner that has now established itself as a formidable entertainment company. Netflix has some 180 original hour-long stand-up specials and is singularly focused on exploiting content around the world. Gaffigan, though, is content to keep the bet on himself.

“In the entertainment industry, every house is made of ice and it’s melting. So you’d better be building a new house.”

In the stuffy backstage room in Letterkenny, Gaffigan reviews some of the new material he tried out on stage. A joke about Ireland’s nonsensical roads killed it. He stumbled with a bit about the English. The classics played well—“My dad never went to a parent-teacher conference; my dad didn’t know I went to school.”  

And he’s well aware that Amazon’s core mission is to sell stuff, even though it has won critical acclaim for shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Transparent. With plans to deliver three more specials over the next five years, he’s got time to see just how good a partner the retailer might be. Along the way, he may decide it’s time to find a new neighborhood.

“The reason I went to Amazon is to expand my audience,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re gonna do and I don’t fully understand their marketing might. I might be pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s a huge corporation. They could probably make more selling socks.”

-Ariel Shapiro; Forbes

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