The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The empire strikes back… Hip hop artists turning talents into gold

Sean “P-DIDDY” Combs  Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press
Sean “P-DIDDY” Combs Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press

by Katie Hudson-Martinez
feature editor

Hip hop culture has come a long way from its beginnings in 1970s New York, taking the world by storm and growing into a multi-billion-dollar industry.

In 2007, an estimated $12.6 billion was spent on hip hop media and merchandise—everything from CDs and movies to clothing and even beverages such as Nelly’s Pimp Juice and Jay-Z’s Armadale Vodka.

In the past, recording artists received a fraction of the wealth they generated, but following the lead of Def Jam CEO Russell Simmons, hip hop entrepreneurs have set the standard for making an artist into a mogul.

Artists these days are producing their own albums, relying on the industry solely for distribution and keeping the largest portion of profit from album sales in their own pockets.

The most successful hip hop artists have invested that money into a wide assortment of hip hop-related businesses and have seen their wealth grow exponentially.

The artists have become successful through hard work, dedication and business savvy, and they have come full circle to give back by being active in politics and becoming founders and supporters of a wide array of charitable organizations at home and abroad.


Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z walks the red carpet at the 2007 MTV Music Awards.  Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press
Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z walks the red carpet at the 2007 MTV Music Awards. Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press

Sean Carter, the wealthiest of the hip hop moguls, is the true embodiment of a rags-to-riches story.

Born in the notoriously rough Marcy Projects in Brooklyn, Carter was abandoned by his father at a young age and had to take on the man-of-the-house role to assist his mother in supporting the family. He spent part of his youth as a street hustler, doing what he felt necessary to survive.

Carter had always been known around his neighborhood as a talented lyricist. In the mid-’90s he received offers from several production companies for lucrative contracts. Carter held out though, and in 1996 released his first album, Reasonable Doubt, through his own production company Roc-A-Fella records, which he co-founded with Damon Dash.

This move turned out to be one in a series of right-on business decisions that have made Jay-Z the wealthiest man in hip hop. His businesses under the Roc-A-Fella empire include the Roca-Wear clothing line, Roc-La-Familia and Roc-A-Fella films.

In addition to being the president and CEO of Def Jam (which is in partnership with Roc-A-Fella records), Carter also holds part-ownership of the New York hotspot 40/40 nightclub and the New Jersey Nets NBA team. He also is the sole U.S. distributor for Armadale Vodka and a full partner in a real estate development venture named J Hotels.

Carter recently worked with the United Nations on an international tour to raise awareness about water shortages in third world countries and raised funds to build “play pumps” (merry-go-round style well pumps that bring fresh water to villages).

His scholarship foundation provides opportunities for youth who never thought an education possible. Recipients hail from very poor backgrounds, may have been previously incarcerated or dropped out of high school.

After Hurricane Katrina, Carter and Sean Combs donated $1 million of their own money to a victim-aid fund.


Sean “P-DIDDY” Combs  Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press
Sean “P-DIDDY” Combs Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press

Sean Combs was born in Harlem in 1971 just before the birth of hip hop. His father was murdered when he was just a toddler, and he was raised by his mother in Mount Vernon, N.Y.

From a young age, Combs was seemingly ingrained with a deep sense of entrepreneurialism. While attending Howard University, where he majored in business administration, Combs produced elaborate dance parties and ran an airport shuttle service.

Combs found his true element with an internship at Uptown Records, where he quickly garnered the title of talent director. In a short time, he climbed all the way to vice president. In the early ’90s he left Uptown to found his own production company, Bad Boy Entertainment.

The label attracted such big names as Mariah Carey, Babyface, Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin, Boyz II Men, Notorious BIG, TLC and Faith Evans.

Combs made millions from Bad Boy, a business he started from home. Following in Russell Simmons footsteps, Combs diversified his investments and amassed an empire of corporations that includes Notorious Entertainment, the Sean John clothing line, Blue Flame Marketing and Advertising, Justin Combs Music Publishing, Bad Boy Marketing, Bad Boy Productions, Janice Combs Management, Justin’s Restaurants, Daddy’s House Studios, Bad Boy Technologies, Bad Boy Films and Bad Boy Books.

Also like Simmons, Combs has come full circle in giving back to the communities that gave him his start. He recently donated $1 million to Howard University to assist the school in educating and encouraging blacks. He founded Daddy’s House Social Programs, which assists inner-city youth, and has been actively involved in supporting HIV awareness programs and encouraging youth to vote.


Russell Simmons  Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press
Russell Simmons Photo by Nicolas Khayat/Abaca Press

Russell Simmons, who is often referred to as the Godfather of hip hop, began promoting hip hop block parties and club events in 1978 while a student at City College of New York in Harlem.

He quickly rose to the top of the hip hop movement and was managing acts like Kurtis Blow and his younger brother’s group, Run DMC.

In 1984, Simmons met up with Rick Rubin, and the two founded Def Jam records with an investment of just a few thousand dollars.

Soon they were set up with distribution contracts through major labels and were well on their way, signing acts like LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys.

After Rubin left Def Jam in the late ’80s, Simmons began to branch out and spawned the HBO series Def Comedy Jam, which jump-started the careers of many of today’s household names in black entertainment: Jamie Foxx, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Steve Harvey, Bernie Mac, Chris Tucker and Cedric the Entertainer.

A year later, he launched the Phat Pharm clothing line and began producing films such as Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor and also launched the hip hop magazine, One World.

In 1999, Simmons sold his remaining shares in Def Jam for a reported $100 million (remaining as CEO) and has since devoted more time to giving back to the community that helped make him who he is today.

He has used his influence to fight legislation he believed was negatively slanted against blacks and has taken an active role in politics and encourages youth to educate themselves and vote.

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