Money is the root of all evil.
Money, in a capitalist society, is also the best way to measure how much someone’s contribution to the world actually matters. Aside from strict financial guys who make money by simply playing with money (i.e. soulless Wall Street men), net worth strongly correlates to the impact someone’s product/service has had in their respective field. Chances are the richer an athlete, politician, or businessman is, the more they’ve done in their respective game for better or worse.
This is especially true in hip-hop. The money game is just as important, if not more important, than the rap game. Even if you consider the money game to be part of the rap game rather than a separate race, you still have to consider it as equally important or more important than the actual music.
The way hip-hop artists brag about their wealth, you probably think every hip-hop artist on the radio paid for a ‘Rari 458 in cash and has a profitable brand. They’re all rich. It doesn’t matter how much more rich some are than others, they’re all pretty much rich.
But when you look at a list of hip-hop artists with the highest net worth, your financial literacy gets challenged. It’s also really fascinating to see who’s ahead of who, who’s on pace to move up the list, and who’s been disappointing.
Let’s play a game. I’ll list two hip-hop artists/figures and you have to guess who’s worth more. Okay?
- Kanye West or Pharrell?
- Wiz Khalifa or Ice T?
- Soulja Boy or Ludacris?
Do you have your picks?
Are you sure?
Okay, one by one now…
Kanye West vs. Pharrell
Between these two, the wealthier one iiiiis…
At $150 million as of 2017, Pharrell equals Kanye West ($145 million) plus Yo Gotti ($5 million).
Pharrell has been active for 4 more years than Kanye and has been a monster both in the music and fashion industry. But Kanye is doing pretty well considering he’s one of three people under the age of 40 in the top-15 of hip-hop/R&B’s wealthiest. The other two? Usher at $180 mil, and 34-year-old Lil Wayne at $150 mil, tying Pharrell.
Yes, Weezy is one of the GOATs, but WOW. You have to wonder how that happened. Considering the increasing value of Kanye’s clothing, the support of his socialite-entrepreneur wife, and his production credits, Weezy’s wealth speaks a lot to just how much of a star he’s been and for how long he’s been doing it.
UPDATE 9/25/2019: Kanye had a strong 2019 and is now worth $240 million according to Forbes. Pharrell’s net worth has remained unchanged.
Wiz Khalifa vs. Ice T
Ice T a real one, and his actor hustle is admirable. But despite Wiz being half this man’s age (29 years to Tracy’s 58), his net worth is $5 million up on him. Wiz ($45 million) has had way more commercial success with his music than Ice T ($40 million), and I’m sure his tours are significantly more lucrative than Ice T’s in his heyday. If he were to do more in front of a screen aside from Mac and Devin Go To High School, his fun-loving stoner persona could give him another leap. Just ask his unofficial mentor Snoop Dogg ($135 million) over at GGN.
UPDATE 9/25/2019: Ice T’s net worth has remained the same, but there’s an estimate of Wiz Khalifa’s wealth as high as $60 million. Considering how infrequently he’s been included in raging hip-hop debates since 2014/2015, his commercial viability is super impressive and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him touch $100 million before 40 years old.
Soulja Boy vs. Ludacris
Anything having to do with Soulja Boy these days is pure comedy. The only greater laugh-on-site figures in hip-hop/Black American culture today are Bow Wow and Orlando Brown.
That being said, Soulja Boy has always been savvy about paper. So much so that even a hip-hop veteran and respectable actor like Ludacris still falls short in terms of net worth. Soulja Boy ($30 million) hit his stride in 2007 with “Crank That” and took whole advantage of his small window of time at hip-hop’s commercial top. Off of ringtones, merchandise, and whatever else, DeAndre Way still cashes out. The royalties from Beyoncé’s “Hold Up” must be nice pocket change.
Considering that Ludacris ($25 million) has been such a big part of the Fast and the Furious franchise, has other notable on-screen and voice acting roles, and has been a better artist for a longer period of time with his own hit singles, this is a particularly frustrating comparison. But marketing and branding is a true x-factor amongst top content creators. We might clown Soulja Boy way more than we do Ludacris, but his name generates more buzz. His songs, his website, and his look are all more memorable, for better or for worse, than Luda’s.
It’s facts like these that make you realize the value of content isn’t in its objective quality but in its effect on people. Cases for the Google Pixel and the latest Samsung Galaxies being better than the latest iPhones are strong, but there isn’t a community built around those phones in the same way iPhone users have one. The Apple experience creates the unbeatable brand loyalty that is mostly responsible for the iPhone’s continued (and lately, unearned) supremacy over Android phones. Humans can be so silly.
Dang, Jeezy though? Mr. Tell Em deserves more praise if he’s worth double what Mr. 17.5 is.
UPDATE 9/25/2019: Soulja still sits at $30 million, and Ludacris is still at $25 million according to most sources. But Future is worth $40 million now sooo the title of this piece is dead. It was true at one point though so I ain’t changing it. Jeezy’s about the same and 50 Cent’s volatile financial life makes estimating his wealth difficult. 2019 estimates range from $30 million to $110 million.
Anyway, learning exactly how rich hip-hop figures are compared to each other is a trip. There’s money, and then there’s money. Even artists we consider washed up or whack have ways of flipping their value, and I think these aspects of hip-hop culture deserve more appreciation. Maybe it’s just a thing for nerds to keep track of. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to peep. You might learn a thing or two about how the world works.