Foreign Gists

How Jay-Z became a business mogul


Jay-Z is the wealthiest man in hip-hop, and since 1995, Hov has been bringing us quality music. From Reasonable Doubt to 4:44, the Brooklyn rapper has been around since the days of Big Daddy Kane and Biggie Smalls. As one of the first artists from the genre to achieve billionaire status, Hov (real name Shawn Carter) is considered to be one of the best rappers of all time. 

Born and raised in the drug-infested Marcy Projects, a public housing scheme located in Bedford-Stuyvesant of Brooklyn, Carter was raised by his mother. Brooklyn was a musical hotspot during the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially for hip-hop. As an adolescent, Carter attended George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School along with rappers The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes. 

Before Jay-Z exploded onto the scene in the late 1990s, he was an aspiring rapper who made a name for himself by being in every corner of the industry. He was ubiquitous and persistent in his aim to prove that he was a certified rapper and did so by constantly adapting and affiliating himself with those more prominent than him.

In his quest to attain exposure, during the 1980’s Jay-Z affiliated himself with Jaz-O. The rapper (real name Jonathan Burks) was a Brooklyn spitter, born and raised in the same housing scheme as Jay-Z, the Marcy Houses. Burks knew Jay-Z from his area, and in a bid to help a young Jay-Z, Jaz-O allowed him to become part of his entourage.

In 1995 Jay-Z, along with Dame Dash, created Roc-A-Fella Records to release his debut album, Unreasonable Doubt, and since then, Jay-Z has dominated hip hop. With his final musical endeavour being his 2017 album, 4:44, Jay-Z’s rap career was around 22 years in length. However, since then, Carter continued to take on all sorts of ventures in and outside of the music industry.

In this article, we explore some of the accomplishments the mogul has made outside of music.

How Jay-Z became a billionaire:

Roc-A-Fella Records (Roc Nation)

Jay-Z first set up Roc-A-Fella Records alongside his former friend and renowned businessman Dame Dash in 1994. The rapper primarily formed the record label due to his inability to land a major label record deal. As a result Carter decided to partner up with Dash and release Reasonable Doubt through his own label. The project was distributed by Priority Records. However, aside from distribution, everything regarding Jay-Z’s debut album was done independently with the money for studio time, artwork and vinyl pressing coming out out of his own pocket.

In 1997 after the release of his second album, Def Jam signed a deal with Roc-A-Fella Records in which they would provide the label with distribution and 50% of upfront costs for the making of an album. Carter and Dash would pay the other 50%. Both parties would receive 50% of profits made from In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. Roc-A-Fella would go on to sign artists of its own and would continue as a subsidiary of Def Jam recordings.

As an extension of Roc-A-Fella Records in 2008, Jay-Z would expand from just operating a recording label to operating an entertainment and management agency named Roc Nation, a $150 million partnership with Live Nation. As well as being a record label, Roc Nation would be talent agency, sports agency, record label, management agency and fashion house. This came as part of Carter beginning to break away from Dame Dash with whom he was in a major dispute with. Both companies ran simultaneously for five years. However, in 2013, all Roc-A-Fella artists were transferred to Roc Nation and the record label became defunct.

Rocawear

Stylised as Roc-A-Wear, another extension of Roc-A-Fella Records which still exists as a company to this day is the fashion brand Rocawear. Founded in 1999, unlike the music branch Rocawear ran completely independently until 2007 when Jay-Z sold the rights to the Rocawear brand to Iconix Brand Group for $204 million. Although Iconix has the rights to licensing rights of Rocawear, Jay-Z still oversees everything from marketing to product development.

TIDAL

In January of 2015, Roc Nation-owned company Project Panther Bidco bought the subscription music streaming service TIDAL for $56.2 million. This was an attempt to take back the rights to their music and compete withs services such as Spotify and Apple Music. In an interview with Billboard magazine Jay-Z stated, “We talked to every single service and we explored all the options. But at the end of the day, we figured if we’re going to shape this thing the way we see it, then we need to have independence. And that became a better proposition for us, not an easier one, mind you.”

A formal press conference was held which featured a vast array of celebrity names including Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and more who all became stakeholders of the company and were presented by Carter as the owners of TIDAL. However, the venture was somewhat of a miss for the rapper who couldn’t get fans to subscribe to TIDAL ahead of its competitors. In 2021 Jay-Z sold the majority share of TIDAL to technology conglomerate Block Inc. for $297 million. They are now the majority owners of TIDAL.

NBA and NFL deals

Jay-Z was once a part-owner of the Brooklyn Nets. However, although it seemed like a smart move and an excellent way to boost his net worth, it wasn’t necessarily good business. Proving to be a myopic decision, Carter was forced to sell his shares in the team. As well as agreeing to become a co-owner of the Nets in 2003, 2019 saw Jay-Z pen a deal with the NFL (National Football League), allowing his entertainment Roc Nation, to curate, develop and provide the entertainment and music for the league on all fronts, including the famed Super Bowl halftime show.

The deal aimed to increase the number of African-American people working in and around the organisation at an executive level. Additionally, the NFL pledged to continue their social justice activities, such as their ‘Change Initiative.’

Passive income from artists

Jay-Z makes passive income from all of his artists. As the founder of Roc Nation and former owner of Roc-A-Fella records Jay-Z makes money from artists that have been even more successful than him. Kanye’s highest-selling album of all time Graduation, was released through Roc-A-Fella as was his debut College Dropout. J Cole is signed to Roc Nation and artists including the likes of Lil Uzi Vert and Megan Thee Stallion are managed by Roc Nation.

Money from these artists (albeit a small percentage) finds its way back to Jay-Z. Both Def Jam Recordings and Roc-A-Fella make money from people streaming Kanye West’s music and other former Roc-A-Fella and Roc Nation artists, including Cam’Ron, Ma$e, Rihanna and Vic Mensa.

You can watch the JAY Z: How a Hustler From Brooklyn Became a Billionaire documentary in the video below.