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Kanye West Is Now Officially A Billionaire—And He Really Wants The World To Know

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After months of requests, the hip-hop superstar shared financial records, revealing details about his wildly popular Yeezy sneaker empire — and his fixation on outside validation.

When last we checked in with Kanye West, the mercurial hip-hop superstar-turned-footwear magnate, I was tiptoeing through a parking lot crop circle composed of hundreds of pairs of his Yeezy sneakers. “I’m not a numbers guy,” he explained ten months ago. “To ask me to somehow translate this to numbers is to ask your grandmother exactly what the recipe of the cake was.”

There’s only one number that West cares about. A billion, as in dollars. And he cares a lot.

When we featured West on the cover of Forbes last summer, delving into his incredible success with Yeezy, he seemed pleased at first. His world-famous wife, Kim Kardashian West, even tweeted her congratulations, to the positive affirmations of 32,300 of their closest Twitter friends.But without sufficient documentation on his unusual stake, versus just his word and industry guesstimates, we didn’t call him a billionaire. And that grated on him. As the year wore on, he protested publicly. (“I showed them a $890 million receipt, and they still didn’t say ‘billionaire,’” he told an industry panel, about something that no one at Forbes remembers.) In private, he was more biting. (A “disrespectful article,” he texted this week, that was “purposely snubbing me.”)

After months of requests, the hip-hop superstar shared his financial records, revealing details on his wildly popular Yeezy sneakers empire—and his own net worth.
 JAMEL TOPPIN FOR FORBES

When our annual billionaires list appeared earlier this month, again with West absent—still no documentation, and now a pandemic to boot—West again reacted with hurt and venom. “You know what you’re doing,” he texted. “You’re toying with me and I’m not finna lye [sic] down and take it anymore in Jesus name.” At one point, he texted that Forbes was “purposely a part of a group of media” that was trying to suppress his self-made narrative because of his race. That sister-in-law Kylie Jenner did make the list also clearly stuck in his craw.

Then yesterday, a breakthrough: West directed his team to provide what we feel is an authentic numeric look into Kanye, Inc.

Three things became clear from this exercise. First, it reinforces why we put him on the cover in the first place—West, in just a few years, has created a brand that’s challenging Nike’s Air Jordan for sneaker world supremacy. It’s one of the great retail stories of the century.

Second, it reinforced that West, who claims both in words and in this paperwork that he’s worth more than $3 billion, is as overly boastful as his political idol, President Donald Trump. Not a numbers guy? We agree.

Finally, and perhaps most critically to West, it does confirm, based on our estimates, that his stake in Yeezy indeed makes him a billionaire. A bit over $1 billion, actually.

In the process, we can now share more details about Yeezy than ever before revealed—as well as some insight into what drives this extremely creative, extremely enigmatic ten-digit artist.

Yeezy is a complicated asset. West owns 100% of it. But it’s functionally tied, at least for five-plus years based on the documents we saw, to Adidas, which produces, markets and distributes the shoes. There’s also a separate apparel division that we don’t believe makes money. Last year, our sources projected the shoes would finish 2019 with revenue north of $1.5 billion (Adidas would not comment then, or now)—per recent conversations and internal documents, we believe the final revenue number ended up closer to $1.3 billion.

Our sources told us last year that West’s agreement calls for him to receive a royalty around 15% of Yeezy revenue from Adidas. Upon closer inspection, it appears some expenses are carved out of that slice, bringing his actual cut closer to 11%. At that rate, he would have received royalties of over $140 million from Yeezy sales last year. 

West’s aggressive $3 billion self-appraisal is clearly based on the idea that the business is infinitely portable. It’s not. Taking Yeezy away from Adidas seems almost prohibitively cumbersome, if not contractually impossible. A safer way to value it: as a royalty stream, like music publishing or film residuals. Multiples, based on services like Royalty Exchange or in large private transactions, can be as low as three for something faddish like Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” to 17 for an evergreen asset like the Eddie Murphy film Trading Places

A handful of experts surveyed felt West’s interest would fetch a multiple somewhere in the middle of that range, were it ever made available to outside investors. The convenience of the Adidas setup trumps publishing catalogs, where owners must actively collect payments from a complex web of sources—or outsource that labor to someone else in exchange for an administration fee. “His place in the capital stack is a preferred place to be,” says Royalty Exchange chief Matt Smith, who pegged the multiple at between 10 and 12.

Conservatively, as we typically are with such figures, a 10x multiple, applied to West’s Yeezy cut of $140 million, makes his stake worth about $1.4 billion. But that’s a private, highly illiquid $1.4 billion—our rule-of-thumb for private assets like that is to lop off at least 10%. That’s $1.26 billion.

A handful of experts surveyed felt West’s interest would fetch a multiple somewhere in the middle of that range, were it ever made available to outside investors. The convenience of the Adidas setup trumps publishing catalogs, where owners must actively collect payments from a complex web of sources—or outsource that labor to someone else in exchange for an administration fee. “His place in the capital stack is a preferred place to be,” says Royalty Exchange chief Matt Smith, who pegged the multiple at between 10 and 12.

Conservatively, as we typically are with such figures, a 10x multiple, applied to West’s Yeezy cut of $140 million, makes his stake worth about $1.4 billion. But that’s a private, highly illiquid $1.4 billion—our rule-of-thumb for private assets like that is to lop off at least 10%. That’s $1.26 billion.

Customized real estate often sells for less than the money put in (buyers in that range tend to want their own features, versus Kanye’s Belgian plaster). If you want to start scraping, there’s $3,845,162 for “vehicles,” $297,050 for “livestocks.” Then there’s the matter of his music. Documents we reviewed show West’s G.O.O.D. label—and his own recorded music and publishing rights—to be worth at least $90 million.

We tend to look at self-appraisals somewhat skeptically. Aside from the music, half of all this presumably belongs to his wife, although she’s no slouch and that math goes two ways. Given the illiquidity of these myriad assets and the lack of independent backup, we’re giving all of this a 50% haircut, leaving about $125 million in assets outside of his Yeezy crown jewel. Then, there’s debt: Between mortgages, advances and other liabilities, we saw about $100 million that West is on the hook for.

All told, our current net worth estimate for Kanye West: $1.3 billion, which he’ll be pleased to note is $300 million more than little sister Kylie.

The chip on West’s shoulder dates back to his early days growing up in Chicago, where teachers sometimes scolded him for sketching sneaker designs instead of doing his schoolwork. He later produced songs for Jay-Z but felt the elder mogul didn’t view him seriously as a solo act. Over the past decade, West instigated more than his share of narcissistic episodes, including a self-appointed nickname, tour and album, Yeezus, that never seemed to treat his savior complex with much irony. (Typical song: “I Am A God.”)

When viewed through that lens, his famous affinity for President Trump makes a lot of sense. (And it continues unabated—one text to Forbes’ chief content officer this week ended with “Trump 2020” and a raised fist emoji.) As does West’s net worth lobbying—an art practiced, with gusto, for decades, by Trump.

“It’s not a billion,” West texted us last night. “It’s $3.3 billion since no one at Forbes knows how to count.”

For years, Forbes had an informal “Trump rule”—take whatever the future president insisted he was worth, divide by 3, and start honing from there. Like mentor, like mentee. Welcome to the ten-digit club, Kanye. You may not like our number, but you’ve joined the highest company in that regard. 

Zack O’Malley Greenburg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

Additional reporting by Randall Lane

Billionaires

Tesla Vehicles Could Soon Become Completely Autonomous As Self-Driving Tech ‘Very Close’, Elon Musk Says

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Tesla vehicles could soon be completely autonomous as CEO Elon Musk said the electric vehicle firm is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology, during a virtual appearance at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai.

KEY FACTS

  • “I’m extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly,” Musk said.
  • He added that he is confident “basic functionality” for level 5 complete autonomy will be achieved this year.
  • The technology will allow vehicles to drive on roads without driver input.
  • Tesla, the world’s highest-valued carmaker after overtaking Toyota last week, already operates an Autopilot system that uses external cameras, radars and sensors, but it is driver assisted and does not make the vehicle autonomous.

KEY BACKGROUND

Tech firms, including Uber and Alphabet-owned Waymo, have pumped billions into developing self-driving cars, a futuristic idea that many had predicted would be ready by this year. But limitations around AI have stalled development of the technology. Last month, Waymo and Volvo announced they were teaming up to develop driverless cars for ride-hailing use.

TANGENT

In February, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tesla’s autopilot driver assistance was likely to blame for a fatal 2018 crash in California, leading to the board calling for more regulation of the technology, and for the company to better educate drivers on its limitations.

ADDITIONAL INFO

The road to completely autonomous driving has five levels: Level 0 describes no automation i.e. everyday cars. Level 1 represents features such as adaptive cruise control, while level 2 describes partial automation features that control speed and steering, such as those seen in Tesla vehicles. Level 3 and 4 represent limited driverless capabilities. Level 5 is the point at which a driverless vehicle can navigate all road conditions without human input, according to True Car.

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Billionaires

Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President

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After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

KEY FACTS

  • Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
  • Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
  • Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
  • West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
  • But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
  • It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
  • West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.

KEY BACKGROUND

West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.

American rapper and producer Kanye West embraces real estate developer and US President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office, Washington DC, October 11, 2018. West wears a red baseball cap that reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump’s campaign slogan. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

TANGENT

West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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Billionaires

Quote Of The Day

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We have grown past the stage of fairy-tale. As women, we have one common front and that is to succeed. We have to take the bull by the horn and make the change happen by ourselves.

– Folorunso Alakija, Billionaire Businesswoman

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