Nine years ago, two unlikely lunch partners sat down at the Hollywood Diner in Omaha, Nebraska. One, Warren Buffett, was a regular there. The other, Jay-Z, was not. The billionaire and the rapper ordered strawberry malts and chatted amiably, continuing the conversation back at Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway offices.
Buffett, then 80, walked away impressed with the artist 40 years his junior: “Jay is teaching in a lot bigger classroom than I’ll ever teach in. For a young person growing up, he’s the guy to learn from.” This moment, which was originally captured in our 2010 Forbes 400 package, made it clear that Jay-Z already had a blueprint for his own ten-figure fortune. “Hip-hop from the beginning has always been aspirational,” he said.
Less than a decade later, it’s clear that Jay-Z has accumulated a fortune that conservatively totals $1 billion, making him one of only a handful of entertainers to become a billionaire—and the first hip-hop artist to do so. Jay-Z’s steadily growing kingdom is expansive, encompassing liquor, art, real estate (homes in Los Angeles, the Hamptons, Tribeca) and stakes in companies like Uber.
His journey is all the more impressive given its start: Brooklyn’s notorious Marcy housing projects. He was a drug dealer before becoming a musician, starting his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, to release his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. Since then he’s amassed 14 No. 1 albums, 22 Grammy awards and over $500 million in pretax earnings in a decade.
Crucially, he realized that he should build his own brands rather than promote someone else’s: the clothing line Rocawear, started in 1999 (soldfor $204 million to Iconix in 2007); D’Ussé, a cognac he co-owns with Bacardi; and Tidal, a music-streaming service.
Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean, the superproducer behind some of Jay-Z’s biggest hits (“On To The Next One,” Beyoncé’s “Upgrade U”), looks at Jay-Z as something others can model: “It’s bigger than hip-hop … it’s the blueprint for our culture. A guy that looks like us, sounds like us, loves us, made it to something that we always felt that was above us.”
“If he’s a billionaire now, imagine what he’s about to be,” Swizz Beatz says. “Because he’s only just starting.”
What’s Jay-Z Worth?
To calculate his net worth, we looked at the artist’s stakes in companies like Armand de Brignac champagne—applying our customary discount to private firms—then added up his income, subtracting a healthy amount to account for a superstar lifestyle. We checked our numbers with a roster of outside experts to ensure these estimates were fair and conservative. Turns out, Jay-Z really is a business, man.
Armand de Brignac
Jay-Z has used his music to shill the $300 gold bottles of the “Ace of Spades” champagne since launching the brand with the 2006 video “Show Me What You Got.” More recently, his verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” put a half-billion-dollar value on the wine, which seems like a bit too bubbly a number.
Cash & investments
A vast investing portfolio includes a stake in Uber worth an estimated $70 million. He reportedly purchased his piece for $2 million back in 2013—and then wired founder Travis Kalanick another $5 million in an attempt to increase his holdings, but was rebuffed.
Jay-Z’s cognac, a joint venture with beverage giant Bacardi, moves almost 200,000 cases and has grown nearly 80% annually. “Jay-Z resonates with consumers who are attracted to the ultra-premium lifestyle,” says Eric Schmidt, Beverage Marketing Corp.’s Director of Alcohol Research.
In 2015, Jay-Z submitted a bid to purchase the Scandinavian streaming service’s parent company for just shy of $60 million. He relaunched Tidal later that year with a roster of celebrity investors including his wife, Beyoncé, and other music luminaries, from Kanye West to Calvin Harris.
This wide-ranging entertainment company started over a decade ago as part of a joint venture with concert giant Live Nation. Roc Nation represents some of the top stars in the entertainment through its sports agency (Kevin Durant, Todd Gurley) as well as its record label and artist-management arms (Rihanna, J. Cole).
Before the beginning of his stint as Def Jam’s chief in 2004, Jay-Z negotiatedthe eventual return of his master recordings from the aforementioned label that helped launch his career; in a separate deal with EMI, he clawed back his publishing rights. Wise move: his hits now clock close to 1 billion streams annually.
In the song “Picasso Baby,” Jay-Z boasted about a “Basquiat in my kitchen corner.” He probably wasn’t kidding. For over a decade, he’s been scooping up masterpieces like Basquiat’s “Mecca,” purchased in 2013 for a reported $4.5 million. “He’s rapped about it all in detail,” says Fab 5 Freddy, a contemporary and friend of the late painter. “Jay-Z helped educate millions of hip-hop fans mentioning Jean-Michel.”
After welcoming twins in 2017, Jay-Z and Beyoncé bought a pair of homes to match: a $26 million East Hampton mansion and a $88 million Bel Air estate. Jay-Z also owns a Tribeca penthouse, snagged for $6.85 million in 2004.
–Zack O’Malley Greenburg;Forbes Staff
The Creative In The Numbers Game
Desmond Blackmore has solidified his presence in Ghana’s afrobeats scene and is one of the few musicians to turn into a successful entertainment mogul.
It’s almost impossible to attend a party or wedding in Ghana and not be treated to one of Desmond Blackmore’s ubiquitous chart-toppers.
With hits like Personal Person, Vera and Seihor a must-have on any Ghanaian DJ’s playlist, the 32-year-old rapper known by the moniker ‘D-Black’, has managed to solidify his presence as a leading emcee in Ghana’s afrobeats scene in less than a decade.
And it isn’t just about churning out party anthems and catchy lyrics. Blackmore is also a sharp businessman, who has been building his larger-than-life stage persona into a brand that now extends to a night club, live events, apparel, content production, media and advertising.
His story is the stuff of movies. His father, a businessman who made his wealth importing agriculture machinery, had 10 children with five different women. By the time Blackmore was a teenager, his father had lost most of his wealth through bad investments.
Blackmore, along with his mother, a civil servant, and his little sister, moved to North Kaneshie, in Accra, in search of a livelihood. With a life devoid of any comfort, Blackmore had to depend on his wit and creativity to make a living and pay his own way through school.
Cue the summer of 2007. Opportunity came knocking and Blackmore decided to take it. Aphrodisiac, a night club and advertising company Blackmore was working for as an errand boy, had shut down operations and as he was leaving the office, he received a call from Coca-Cola, looking for advertising services.
The previous owner of the business advised him to take the deal if he felt he could deliver. He decided to take the chance. He registered his own company within a week and secured his first big contract with the mammoth brand.
“I have always been entrepreneurial at heart. I like numbers and I am a creative as well, so putting those two together was natural to me,” says Blackmore.
That deal paved the way for the then 20-year-old entrepreneur and exposed him to corporate Ghana. With the proceeds from the deal, he bought his first car and invested the rest into his music.
Blackmore’s is a story of dogged determination. He has gone from being homeless to becoming one of the most successful entertainers in Ghana. Case in point, in 2014, when Guinness Ghana Breweries Ltd (GGBL), a subsidiary of Diageo Plc. U.K., were looking for their official brand ambassador in Ghana, Blackmore was the only name on the list.
“D-Black is one of the few brands in Ghana’s music scene that embodies the Cîroc Vodka brand. The brand is championed by global megastars like P Diddy so we needed someone who matched the ethos of the lifestyle, flamboyance and entrepreneurship that the brand evokes and D-Black was the perfect celebrity partner to further enhance the luxury profile of Ciroc in Ghana,” says Nathaniel Ansong Manu, Head of the Luxury Brands portfolio at GGBL.
With a degree in fine arts and music from the University of Ghana as well as a brief stint studying economics at the University of Cape Coast, Blackmore had found the right combination of knowledge and talent to make his dreams of becoming a solo artist a reality.
With his cash injection from his first deal, he set out to be Ghana’s next big hip-hop artist. He decided early on in his career that he wanted his music to have international appeal and as a result, opted to rap in English, a move that was risky at a time where most of the chart toppers were singing in the local dialect.
“I met someone called Kweku T after university, who was rapping in English too. So we started recording together and we didn’t have enough money to shoot a video or anything, so we decided two pockets are better than one. We put together money and created a mixtape project and we shot three videos,” says Blackmore.
That partnership paid off. Blackmore received nominations from the prestigious Ghana Music Awards, as well as international acclaim from awards in South Africa. After a year and a half, the pair decided to go their separate ways with their individual projects. Then in 2010, he released his first solo album and embarked on a nationwide tour in Ghana.
“I won the hip-hop song of the year at the Ghana Music Awards for the first time in history as well as nominated for the BET Awards for Best African Artist. I went to Los Angeles but I didn’t win and came to New York, bought my own studio equipment, went back to Ghana, opened my own studio, then I dropped the biggest song in the country right after called Vera and the rest is history.”
Blackmore has broken boundaries in his young career as a music artist. He is one of the few musicians to transition smoothly from a successful rapper into an entertainment mogul.
He owns a record label Black Avenue Music to find fresh talent in Ghana. In 2015, he started Live Wire events, an event management company delivering corporate events, celebrity soccer matches, large concerts as well as festivals for the Ministry of Tourism in Ghana.
His early years working for Aphrodisiac gave him the experience he needed to also open his own lounge and night club, Onyx, in Ghana’s plush residential hub of Cantonments.
He also started a media and advertising company, Volcano. But Blackmore did not stop there. Spotting an opportunity in the content world, Blackmore also launched Black Avenue TV that produces movies and TV shows for some of Ghana’s biggest TV networks.
“All my companies are in the entertainment space because I wanted to provide brands with a 360-degree solution. If you want to do concerts, we have experience doing big stadium concerts or niche events, if you need a club or a lounge, you can use mine and when you need to advertise, we have a solution for that as well.”
However the hustle is not just all about making money.
“I started a record label to help those who still had not found a way to break through. It was a way of giving back to other people. So I was thinking if I spent $500 of my own money to help someone come up, it was a blessing.
“If I make my money back, great, and if I don’t, it was still a blessing. Sometimes, just providing studio time, paying for a music video to be shot by an artist who cannot afford it, will go a long way to help an artist and that is how I saw it. I have never made profit from any artist I have signed yet, it is always just about me helping them out.”
And that has been Blackmore’s greatest achievement so far, paving the way for people just like him to achieve their dreams through music.
‘If You Are An Artist, You Need To Be Out There As A Healer’
An artist and theater owner who interrogated his own cultural story.
When culture meets art at the revived Dance Umbrella Africa Festival, a rapturous applause offers the stamp of approval to the cast of Ubizo, The Calling who take their bows through the exaggerated plumes of smoke at the South African State Theatre.
Under the theme, Figure-ring – the state of dance in Africa, the annual festival which shut down a year ago, has been rebranded to incorporate a continental approach.
With over 54 shows performed, over 100 artists were given a platform to showcase their work from March 31 to April 7.
A diverse program celebrating narratives from beyond South African borders, the new home of the annual gathering encompasses a variation of dance genres, ranging from the local dance popular in townships, Isipantsula, to diverse classical contemporary performances.
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A tribute to Africa performed by the Inkaba Theatre Productions, Ubizo, The Calling enticed the audience with a riveting set.
A man dressed in a white and blue cassock wails on his back, as he stretches his arms to the ceiling, his rhythmic movements emphasized by the sounds of wind created by a plastic pipe.
He is pleading to his ancestors for a son.
The show was directed and performed by Sibusiso Mbokazi, the artist from Durban who came to Johannesburg to pursue a career in theater. Unable to explain to his father that the arts are a recognizable career, Mbokazi was left to fend for himself in his first year of studies in Johannesburg.
“I survived with a two-liter coke and a loaf of bread for a week. It was that hard, but my mother saw the passion and love. Today, every time I go back to KwaZulu-Natal, every high school wants my attention because they have that understanding that I worked hard,” he says.
Today, he owns a theater company with the focus of raising awareness of the arts in his hometown and communities across the country.
With Inkaba Theatre Productions, learners are given a platform to showcase their talent at a much younger age than he was at the beginning of his career.
A performance alongside South African entertainment personality Somizi Mhlongo changed his parents’ perception of the arts.
“We need to invite our parents; we need to be open with them too,” he says.
Mbokazi’s work is deeply embedded in spirituality which speaks to his personal and artistic life. He says art shouldn’t only be created for money but for passion.
“One thing you lose when you create your craft for money is the focus of your creativity. You will lose the audacity of your work. You will lose the understanding of who you are in your craft work. If you are an artist, you need to be out there as a healer…
“We create work with a storyline and a motive but the audience may read it differently.”
Performed for the first time in 2013, Ubizo, The Calling, amalgamates Christianity and African spirituality in order to interrogate misconceptions around rituals.
“When you are called by your ancestors, it becomes a calling. I realized that people think being called by your ancestors is stigmatized. If you trace it back, you will be told that religion and ancestry has not been separated,” he says.
He feels African artists need to go back and interrogate their own cultural stories in a way that will celebrate the authenticity of the continent.
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It starts with remembering, he says.
“We are running out of an understanding who we are because we do not have [a place] where we are teaching and giving the understanding of our own culture. To embody and remember them, is something we need to start teaching,” he says.
Mbokazi argues that a lack of self-love is what stands in the way of the future of most black artists.
‘There Will Always Be A Need For Live Art’
South African dancer Mamela Nyamza revived a 30-year-old dance festival to help local artists connect with the rest of the world.
An eight-year-old graces the pulpit of her hometown church capturing the attention of the congregants with her nimble dance moves. Little do they know she would go on to dazzle audiences on some of the world’s most prolific stages.
As the deputy artistic director of the South African State Theatre, it all still feels like a dream for the award-winning contemporary dancer who never imagined her passion for dance would lead her here.
Mamela Nyamza owes it all to her childhood.
Your upbringing will always find a way back to your artistic life.
From running in the rain to dance classes, with a leotard packed into a plastic bag, to curating one of the biggest dance festivals in South Africa, Nyamza is hoping to transform the art form in Africa.
Sitting in her office in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, she understands the responsibility of her position.
“I know how important it is for people to come and showcase their work in this theater because I came from a space where doors were not opened for me. The space I come from has taught me a lot as an artist and it has actually made me the artist I am today because everything I do will always reflect that life,” she says.
She hopes to merge the line between art and life by curating the Dance Umbrella Africa Festival.
The festival, formally known as Dance Umbrella Johannesburg, which downed its curtains in 2018 due to lack of funding, has been revived by Nyamza to incorporate a continental approach towards contemporary dancers.
She took it upon herself to revive the program that gave her an opportunity at the start of her career.
“I cannot sit back and watch a festival that groomed many artists in this country close in front of me while I am watching. If it was not for Dance Umbrella, I would have never performed internationally,” she says.
For Nyamza, the festival brought programs to South Africa which opened a gateway for artists to connect with the rest of the world, allowing them to showcase their body of work on international stages.
Institutions that support the dance community are needed to assist both aspiring and established dancers, she says.
“You cannot do it alone; you need these structures to help you help others. Our role here is to serve the patron, the audience, the artists and everybody.”
The position seemed daunting to her, at first, but she soon realized it was time for change in the industry.
An office job has not tethered the artist’s free spirit.
“I was not going to leave the industry; it is all about leading the industry. I still go out there and work, I still practice my art and I feel, as an artist, I have done Mamela a lot. So why am I still holding on to me? It is time to give back. Right now, being here, I feel like there is a reason for being here. I feel like this is a calling.”
Heeding the call to make a difference, Nyamza, who is dressed in African print, recollects the challenges she faced when she turned her hobby into a profession.
As a black woman, taking it on as a career was the hardest part, thus turning a love into a strange relationship.
Being the only black woman in her dance classes made her feel like “the other” at all times.
“It [ballet] was not accepting me as a black woman. It made me interrogate [ballet] as an artist. Hence, most of my work will always go back to ballet,” she says.
“I was deconstructing something that I know. I was not just talking about ballet, I was deconstructing something that did not accept me as a black woman or did not accept my body.”
This interrogation is reflected in most of her work.
Surprised by the high number of artists in their early 20s who showcase their work at the State Theatre, Nyamza applauds the transformation that has made these spaces accessible since her early 20s.
A kind of access she had to fight for.
“Right now, my son does not know that we used to walk while it was raining to go to ballet classes. We were not dropped off in cars. It was not easy, it was something you did for love and that is when passion is created. Because of the different times that we come from, it took me years to even put my work at the Artscape [Theatre Centre in Cape Town]. You always look at these differences and not that you are against them, you always just say ‘wow, this is great’.”
As much as there has been the incorporation of digital innovation to ease access to dance and performance, the need for live theater will always be imperative for her.
“There will always be a need for live art because it touches different parts [of us]. When something is live, you remember the liveness of it, the body of it. With technology, you can see it [a performance] there and also have it here, it is easy access but a live body is not easy access and that is what people forget. You have to go out there, pay money, support and watch it live because that live memory stays with you,” she says.
“As artists, it is hard for us to say, ‘here’s my DVD’ and as artists who perform outside of the country, people ask ‘can you show me something online?’. I tell them that they can see me online but it is not the same. It is never the same. It is all about liveness and experiencing it live.”
The upside is that it opens the window of opportunity for African artists on international stages, which, at times, may pose cultural barriers.
“By being a solo artist, it has been easy for international people to get the whole history of South Africa from one artist and you don’t have to bring the whole [cast of] 80 people to talk about the story. It is easy because you are in South Africa, you are South African. Your work is South African. How you do it is up to you because you are an artist and as an artist, you can interpret your work in any way.
“When showing your work, there is already the assumption that you are from Africa and you need to do celebratory work or ceremonial work and if you don’t do that, there is a question of, ‘I did not accept that from an African woman’. There are so many ways people engage with us as artists coming from Africa,” Nyamza says.
At times, it was easier for men to succeed in the industry, she says.
“When we came as women, we didn’t entertain too much. There was an element of [not all men, some], ‘we are men showing six packs and the body’ and actually giving exactly what the other wants to see. With women, we came with issues that needed to be interrogated and debated. We provoked things and sparked some conversations that will stay with people. We were talking about things that are happening in our country and became the window to our country.”
But back home, the locals are still grappling to understand the art industry, leaving artists like Nyamza with a greater popularity beyond African shores. Locally, she feels the audiences are not as supportive and open to attending live shows.
“At home we don’t have that culture of knowing what is good and understanding our own artists. It is not something our people have grown up with. Much like me studying dance was questioned as ‘what else do you do?’ Nobody will know that I am an international artist. They know us internationally but at home they will ask ‘who is Mamela?’ Not that I want them to know. I am an artist, I just do my work and it speaks for itself.”
Looking at the growing interest for ballet-dancing among black people in South Africa, Nyamza argues that ballet is moving away from the traditional format of only wearing pink tutus and has become more accessible, thus allowing locals to make their own interpretations of the artform. However, the lack of continuity concerns her.
“I always see young black kids doing ballet and then later on there are none. Where are they? What happened to them? But then again, I think this situation is because we don’t have many black female dance teachers who these kids can relate to and aspire to be.” It is a fact most artists and art managers agree on.
The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative managing and artistic director PJ Sabbagha says the arts are socially marginalized but it is the artist’s responsibility to change the way it is viewed. Through exposure in his community-based work in Mpumalanga, Sabbagha has realized that an appreciation for the arts is increasing.
“The art is very alive in communities and so is dance, in various forms. We still live in a world where people don’t view the arts as being real. They view it as a hobby or part-time activity. It partly has to do with the way art has positioned itself and also the way society views the arts, it has, basically, never really been seen as a real economic driver with potential for social change.
“The older generation doesn’t see how people’s lives are impacted through the arts. They can earn an income and that it can be a meaningful career or that it can benefit society. Although, things have changed, the economy in the country does not help; there is less investment in the arts because we need to save failing infrastructure,” Sabbagha says.
These are nagging concerns to answer. Because the work of many unknown artists is based on personal impact and interpretation, it becomes challenging to assess what art in small pockets of the world mean to those viewing it. Perhaps, the greater question is, what can be done to get people interested enough to attend an art show? Should it all lay at the feet of artists or should people be more proactive about who and what they view?
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