Hip-hop is now officially America's most-consumed musical genre, and the streaming-fueled results are evident in the staggering paydays of its top acts. As I revealed in the latest issue of Forbes, hip-hop's top ten cash kings pulled in more than $400 million over the past 12 months, easily besting the highest-paid in country music and EDM.
Of course, it's not just the music. The top two names on the list--Jay-Z ($76.5 million) and Diddy ($64 million)--boast vast and diversified business empires. Even Nas, who appeared on the list for the first time just days before his 45th birthday, earned $35 million, buoyed by a burgeoning career as a startup investor. His portfolio includes stakes in companies from Lyft to Mass Appeal, and recently enjoyed a slice of the payout for the sale of smart doorbell outfit Ring, which Amazon bought for north of $1 billion earlier this year.
“There wasn’t a time when [rappers] didn’t think about investing,” Nas told me. “It just so happens that the world is opening up.”
The Queens native also happens to be an important player in my next book, which I'm very excited to announce: tentatively titled The Fame Squad, it will tell the story of a small group of billionaires, managers and celebrities who helped unite the worlds of entertainment and tech. If you enjoyed my Forbescover story on Ashton Kutcher, you'll love this one--I've already interviewed stars from Shaq to Joe Montana and behind-the-scenes players from Guy Oseary to Troy Carter. The book will be released by Little, Brown (publisher of 3 Kings) in late 2019 or early 2020.
In the meantime, I've got some more reading material for you. First, there's my magazine piece on how a digital entrepreneur from Long Island is making a mint on the most analog of businesses: selling vinyl record players under the Victrola brand. Here are my thoughts on Taylor Swift's expiring record deal. And my interview with DJ/producer Afrojack at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Amsterdam earlier this month (email me directly if you're interested in attending our flagship event in Boston, which runs Sept 30 - Oct 3).
Lastly, on a sad note, here are my reflections on Mac Miller, another 30u30 alum--one with the grim distinction of being the first Hip-Hop Cash King to pass away, with many goals left to complete. “Making history is super-cool,” he told me when I first interviewed him in 2011. “I still don’t think I necessarily ‘made it’ … my whole thing is always, no matter where I get, to never be satisfied.”
JULY 29, 2018
Bruno's Bonanza, Celeb 100, 3 Kings' Reign
Shortly before the first time I interviewed Bruno Mars, he appeared on the hit song "Billionaire" and expressed his desire to--among other goals--buy all of the things he never had and be on the cover of Forbes magazine. Bruno still hasn't gotten the latter (aside from this glorious fake cover), but he is getting closer to ten-figure status, raking in $100 million over the past year.
Bruno's bonanza is the subject of my latest Forbes feature (one of our new visually delicious digital daily covers), "$100M Magic: Why Bruno Mars And Other Stars Are Ditching Their Managers." The story, which I've spent the better part of a year researching, explains the previously unreported factors that went into Bruno deciding to part ways with his longtime manager in 2016. It also delves into the state of music management and why many of the top-earning acts are choosing to fly solo, while also exploring the reasons others don't.
Speaking of top-earning acts, now would be a good time to mention that the Bruno story is but one piece of the annual Forbes Celebrity 100 list, which made its debut last week. The package, now at its 20th anniversary, ranks the world's highest-paid entertainers from sports to film to comedy to music and beyond. You probably already heard about my colleague Natalie Robehmed's incredible cover story on Kylie Jenner, the No. 3 highest paid celeb on our list behind top-ranked Floyd Mayweather and No. 2 George Clooney; also be sure to check out her piece on The Rock and how he's revolutionizing the way movie stars get paid.
Since we're going in reverse chronological order here and starting with the project that occupied me for June and July, I'll now mention my big adventure for May: a trip to the Holy Land for the Forbes Under 30 Global Summit, which brought together 700 young movers and shakers for panel discussions, public service, a music festival and much more. On my end, activities ranged from a one-on-one keynote with Dr. Ruth in Tel Aviv to judging a startup competition with Palestinian entrepreneurs in the new town of Rawabi. I could go on for dozens of pages, if not hundreds, and would welcome the chance to trade impressions of this incredibly complicated part of the world at greater length. For now, I'll leave it at this: I truly hope matters in the region will break from the dark direction they seem to be heading, particularly in recent days.
I spent the rest of my spring exploring somewhat less globally worrisome yet still intriguing topics, like how a relatively unknown headphone line managed to garner a $70 million investment from the likes of Drake and Michael Jordan; why Jeff Sessions sort of technically controls the fate of the Wu-Tang Clan's not-so-secret-anymore album; and how Alex Rodriguez has found redemption through business and baseball (and J.Lo).
Lastly, a status update on my last book, 3 Kings: as you may have gleaned from previous newsletters, it's alive! And out in the world, walking on its own feet. You may have already seen it excerpted in Forbes and Complex, highlighted in NPR's Marketplace, praised by Rolling Stone, etc. Since then, the book has also popped up at SXSW, on WNYC and even in a Skype panel in Indonesia featuring yours truly along with a handful of local hip-hop experts and rap stars. If you haven't gotten your copy yet, whether you're into Kindle, audiobooks, or good old-fashioned print, you can snag one here.
MARCH 6, 2018
New Book Alert: 3 Kings!
At long last, 3 Kings is here! You can find it in your favorite bookstore -- or in your mailbox, if you order on Amazon. Anyone interested in the history of hip-hop, the lives of its three wealthiest practitioners and the blueprints for their entrepreneurial success should find it a fascinating read.
But don't take my word for it. Steve Forbes says it “reads better than an adventure novel and provides highly useful entrepreneurial lessons for anyone who wants to achieve success," and Arianna Huffington believes "3 Kings will inspire hip-hop newcomers and deepen the appreciation of aficionados." DJ Khaled adds: "I’ve been blessed to work with Diddy, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, and let me be honest: 3 Kings gives you the major keys to how the biggest bosses on the planet keep winning."
The reviews are regal, too. Rolling Stone praised 3 Kings in print, calling it one of the "four great music books to read right now"; Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and labeled it "an excellent look at hip-hop that combines cultural and financial history." USA Today named 3 Kings one of the five can't-miss reads. The book was also featured in the New York Times, excerpted in both Forbes and Complex, and highlighted in NPR's "Marketplace," America's most widely-heard program on business and the economy.
But in order to make 3 Kings a bestseller, I need your help!
So, if you could do any of the following, I would be eternally grateful:
*Order the book on Amazon or buy a copy at your favorite local bookstore.
*Spread the word about 3 Kings via Facebook and/or Twitter -- create your own post or retweet mine.
*Write a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.
Thank you so much for your support -- I couldn't be a writer without readers! And if you still want more, you're in luck: I'll be doing several speaking engagements around the country this month in support of 3 Kings.
Dates and locations:
*March 7, 2018, New York, NY: 3 Kings reading at Corner Bookstore, 6-7:30pm (details here)
*March 14, 2018, Austin, TX: Moderating panel with Kurtis Blow, Grandwizzard Theodore and Rocky Bucano, 2pm (more information here)
*March 19, 2018, Boston, MA: 3 Kings reading at Trident Booksellers, 7pm(details here)
*March 29, 2018: New Haven, CT: 3 Kings discussion at Yale (time and location TBD)
Hope to see you there!
DECEMBER 29, 2017
3 Kings: Due Out March 6, 2018!
From Khaled To Kendrick To 3 Kings: My Year In Review
Somehow, 2017 has simultaneously been a big year for hip-hop--which took its place as America's most-consumed genre--and someone who's not exactly a friend of the movement: Donald Trump. I spent the year chronicling the latter's impact through the lens of music, telling the stories of an Iraqi-America oud player, a Cuban crossover collective and an ersatz Russian pop star, among others; I chronicled the former with the above covers on Kendrick Lamar and DJ Khaled, all while plugging away at my new book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Hip-Hop's Multibillion-Dollar Rise, due out on March 6 (order your copy here).
So without further ado, let's go back to January and take a look at the year that was in music, as covered by yours truly. I kicked off 2017 by unveiling the 30 Under 30 Music Class of 2017, complete with a wide-ranging interview with callout Gallant. The "Weight In Gold" singer offered a wise prediction for the coming year. "2016 was already pretty political," he said. "I think 2017 is going to be a little bit even more passionate in terms of reacting to politics, social issues that people feel very strongly about."
Indeed, Trump talk was front and center starting with the inauguration concert and continuing through the Grammys and Oscars. I explored the business of international touring in the Trump travel ban era, from the story of Iraqi oud virtuoso Rahim AlHaj to the travails of Syrian and Iranian musicians in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. "You’re banning human beings who are enriching this country,” AlHaj told me. “We’re talking about professionals. We're talking about doctors and engineers and scientists and musicians and artists.”
In the dead of winter, I took a break and jetted off to the tropical paradise known as Norway to do some reporting for 3 Kings. I came away with some scoops on Jay-Z, who landed a $200 million investment from Sprint in his Tidal streaming service while I was in Oslo. The spring brought interviews at South By Southwest: Garth Brooks talking Amazon, Sammy Hagar on private jets (literally) and Nirvana's Krist Novoselic on grunge and government. Then came more international adventures, this time in the form of a piece on Ghana's best (and only) startup incubator and a trip to the Forbes Under 30 Summit EMEA, where I curated a concert that brought Palestinian and Israeli musicians to perform together in an ancient fort in Jerusalem.
Throughout 2017, one of the biggest storylines was the continued rise of streaming--and I dug into that with a Forbes Celebrity 100 cover story on The Weeknd. Along with Canadian Invasion pals Drake and Bieber, nobody has generated more spins over the past two years. "I really wanted people who had no idea who I was to hear my project," the Weeknd told me. "You don't do that by asking for money."
After noting how Jay-Z found a way to make apologizing lucrative with 4:44, I explored Trump era Cuban collaborations, gypsy punk, "Despacito" and political intrigue behind an ersatz Russian pop star before undertaking perhaps my most hazardous assignment yet: going car shopping with DJ Khaled.
September brought the release of the Forbes Centennial anniversary issue--and interviews with the world's 100 greatest living business minds. I tackled ten, most notably Paul McCartney (who talked about what he learned from losing the Beatles' publishing catalog), Berry Gordy (who reminisced on releasing an album by Martin Luther King, Jr.), Richard Branson (who recounted lessons from bungee-jumping into a party and losing his trousers), Diddy (who discussed the importance of customer service) and Bono (who explained his thoughts on the free market).
"Capitalism is not immoral, but it is amoral," he said. "And it requires our instruction. It's a wild beast that needs to be tamed, a better servant than master."
Then it was on to another Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, complete with a music festival for a good cause and keynote interviews--and, as always, chronicling hip-hop's top earners. It was a banner year for Diddy, Drake, Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. The latter earned a spot on the cover of our 30 Under 30 issue. And the year came to a close as it had began, with the unveiling of another class of 30 Under 30 Music stars, led this time by Cardi B, Joe Jonas and Khalid.
In November, I traveled to Princeton and debuted a brand-new TEDx talk dubbed "Stardust: How to make the fame economy work for you." The idea is to study the careers of celebrities like Dr. Dre, Ashton Kutcher and Jessica Alba, picking out tips that normal people can use in real life. Check it out here.
Before heading off for vacation, I added a few more stories in December: a look at how pumping poop can be profitable (and good for the planet), a ranking of the world's highest-paid musicians (Diddy did it!), a piece on a startup that aims to sync beats your motion on the run (and in the bedroom) and some year-end music predictions (as well as reflections on a big year for hip-hop and what the music business must do in the wake of the #MeToo movement). And I got a terrific year-end present in the form of the first early review of 3 Kings, from the usually-salty publishing maven Kirkus Reviews:
"3 Kings offers a pleasingly broad perspective of hip-hop as economic triumph. Greenburg’s vivid descriptions--a small sampling includes the ‘farty bass lines’ of Dre’s G-funk period; Suge Knight in his notorious 1995 Source Awards appearance ‘looking like a gang-affiliated Kool-Aid Man’; and Diddy dressed like ‘a very fashionable porcupine’--make for engaging reporting that will satisfy neophytes and devotees alike. A wide-ranging survey of the first four decades of hip-hop that vividly brings some of the culture’s biggest success stories into one place.” (Did I mention you can pre-order?)
Next up: the Grammys in January, as Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar look to continue hip-hop's momentum and turn their combined 15 nominations into some golden gramophones. And if they don't, there's still plenty to be learned.
"It's really about failure, not being in fear of that," Lamar told me. "Once you tackle that and block that idea, and you know it's okay to actually make a mistake or to fail at something, you get back up and try it again."
2017 was a tough year in many ways. Let's take a cue from Kendrick, dust ourselves off and give 2018 all we've got.
SEPTEMBER 21, 2017
3 Kings: Due Out March 6, 2018!
Please judge my upcoming book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Hip-Hop's Multibillion-Dollar Rise, by its cover -- revealed publicly for the first time just now.
To create the iconic red crown you see on the cover above, my publisher and I enlisted hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy -- a contemporary of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol who helped bring graffiti from the subways of New York to the finest art galleries on the planet, going on to host the hit show Yo! MTV Raps. Fab explains the process behind his latest creation in 3 Kings' foreword; the book will be released by Little, Brown in hardcover and eBook editions on March 6, 2018, available in your friendly neighborhood bookstore and online.
PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF 3 KINGS ON AMAZON
3 Kings traces the history of the business of hip-hop through the lens of its three most profitable practitioners -- Diddy, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z -- and offers a blueprint for entrepreneurs of all stripes looking to follow in their footsteps.
All three lifted themselves from childhood adversity into tycoon territory, amassing levels of fame and wealth that not only outshone all other contemporary hip-hop artists, but with a combined net worth of well over $2 billion made them the three richest American musicians, period. Yet their fortunes have little to do with selling their own albums: between Diddy's Ciroc vodka, Dre's $3 billion sale of his Beats headphones to Apple, and Jay-Z's Tidal streaming service and other assets, these artists have transcended pop music fame to become lifestyle icons and moguls.
These men are the modern embodiment of the American Dream, but their stories as great thinkers and entrepreneurs have yet to be told in full. Based on a decade of reporting, and interviews with more than 100 sources including hip-hop pioneers Russell Simmons and Lovebug Starski; new-breed executives like former Def Jam chief Kevin Liles and venture capitalist Troy Carter; and stars from Swizz Beatz to Shaquille O'Neal, 3 Kings tells the fascinating story of the rise and rise of the three most influential musicians in America.
But don't take my word for it. Here's some advance praise from a few names you may know:
"There is no keener, more knowledgeable and scintillating observer of the modern cultural scene than Zack Greenburg. He proves it with this definitive, absorbing history of hip-hop and its three mega-giants. It reads better than an adventure novel and provides highly useful entrepreneurial lessons for anyone who wants to achieve success."
"Hip-hop is one of the most significant cultural forces of the past half-century, not just in music but in art, fashion, film, technology, politics and business. Greenburg provides a comprehensive review of hip-hop history on all fronts. It will inspire newcomers and deepen the appreciation of aficionados, while explaining just how hip-hop took its current place on the world stage."
"I've been blessed to work with Diddy, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, and let me be honest: 3 Kings gives you the major keys to how the biggest bosses on the planet keep winning."
PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY OF 3 KINGS ON AMAZON
SEPTEMBER 21, 2017
New cover alert.
Just in time for the latest Hip-Hop Cash Kings list, I went car-shopping with DJ Khaled and wrote a cover story about it for ForbesLife. "What I love about Rolls-Royce is, you look at me, it's like you're looking at a Rolls-Royce," he told me. "It's just powerful; it's smooth; it's iconic." We also did some not-so-safe things in a convertible on the West Side Highway--video evidence here. If that's not enough Khaled for you, here's a look inside the cover shoot at his Beverly Hills home and a sneak peek at his son's nascent Rolls-Royce collection. And another one.
Diddy did it -- again.
The aforementioned DJ Khaled pulled in $24 million over the past year, good for No. 9 on the Cash Kings list, but the No. 1 spot goes to Diddy once again. The artist formerly known as Puff Daddy pulled in a staggering $130 million over the past 12 months, boosted in part by a $70 million windfall from the sale of a chunk of his Sean John clothing line. Drake, the world's most-streamed artist over the past two years, ranks No. 2 with the best showing of his career--$94 million--and Jay-Z rounds out the top three with $42.5 million. Full list of 20 here.
Happy birthday, Forbes!
I can only hope I look this good at 100. In honor of the big Centennial anniversary, we tracked down the world's greatest 100 living business minds, interviewed them and photographed them. You will definitely want to check out the insights from Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Oprah, Elon Musk and more in our beautiful interactive web feature. If the music industry is more your bag, read my contributions: Bono on the philanthropic power of capitalism; Paul McCartney on the importance of owning your work; Diddy on the value of customer service; David Geffen on why you should never do something you don't love; Russell Simmons on the business of yoga; and Richard Branson on why people will love you even if your pants fall down at a party.
This weekend, I'll be heading to Boston for the Forbes Under 30 Summit. The festivities kick off Sunday at 6pm with the U30 Music Festival--curated by yours truly and powered by Global Citizen--featuring performances by Skylar Grey, Playboi Carti and Zedd. On Monday and Tuesday, I'll be running our Create stage and interviewing Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Ruth, Okieriete Onoadowan, Zedd and more. Other big names on the agenda include Ashton Kutcher, DeRay McKesson and Karlie Kloss. Tickets are still available. When I get back, I'll be doing my final read of 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Hip-Hop's Multibillion-Dollar Rise, due out in March! More on that, including a very special announcement about the cover, next time...
JUNE 18, 2017
Ready for The Weeknd
Over the past two years, Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye has clocked 5.5 billion streaming spins, more than any musician on the planet besides Drake. The Weeknd pulled in $92 million over the past 12 months, good for No. 6 on the latest Forbes Celebrity 100 list of the world's highest-paid entertainers -- and he's the subject of my latest cover story. It's on his big year and the new streaming economy, which is finally paying direct and indirect dividends for top live acts.
"We live in a world where artists don't really make the money off the music like we did in the Golden Age," he told me. "It's not really coming in until you hit the stage."
Putting together the Celebrity 100 package has occupied the bulk of my time over the past couple months; in addition to my piece on The Weeknd, I wrote about how Diddy earned more than any other front-of-camera entertainer this year; I interviewed Garth Brooks about why he doesn't like playing stadiums; and I explored the origins and implications of a musical phenomenon I've dubbed The Canadian Invasion (Drake, Justin Bieber and The Weeknd all hail from the Toronto area).
The Celeb 100 came on the heels of another popular Forbes list: our ranking of the world's wealthiest hip-hop acts. This year's version was topped by reigning king Diddy at $820 million, but thanks to Sprint's $200 million investment in Tidal (the move values the streaming service at $600 million), Jay Z has leapfrogged Dr. Dre in the race to $1 billion. He now sits just shy of the top spot with $810 million.
Of course, this isn't the biggest news of the year for the Carter family. You may have heard that Jay Z and Beyonce welcomed twins to their family this weekend (congratulations to music's first couple). You can rest assured that their progeny will be in excellent financial shape: Jay Z and Beyonce officially became a billion-dollar couple, as I explained recently on Forbes.com.
I also spent a good amount of time in recent months exploring the financial realities of lesser-known musicians in stories like "Playing Oud In The Age Of Trump" and "Driving Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road." And I moonlighted as a concert promoter, helping to bring together an Israeli rocker, a Palestinian rapper and an interfaith youth chorus onstage at the second annual Forbes Under 30 EMEA Music Festival in Jerusalem.
In other international news, I finally published the two magazine stories that emanated from my trip to Ghana last fall. The first is a profile of Jorn Lyseggen, the Korea-born, Norway-bred, California-based entrepreneur who founded Meltwater, a company that created a service like Google Alerts before Google Alerts; the second is a brief look at MEST, the startup academy he founded in Accra. As Lyseggen likes to say: "Talent is talent, everywhere."
MAY 22, 2017
Zack’s latest book, 3 KINGS–a history of the business of hip-hop told through the lens of its three most successful mogul-artists (Dr. Dre, Jay-Z and Diddy)–will be published in early 2018 by Little, Brown. The news was first reported by Entertainment Weekly.
The book sets out to achieve three main goals: serving as a biography of Diddy, Dre and Jay-Z; offering a history of the business of hip-hop that’s exhaustive yet not exhausting; and delineating each mogul’s unique blueprint for success, something that should be of interest to any aspiring entrepreneur or professional. Through interviews with some of the biggest names in hip-hop–on the music side, the business side and both–the journeys of these multifaceted moguls will be told together for the first time.
For over a decade, Zack has been covering the business of hip-hop for Forbes–charting the wealth of Diddy, Dre and Jay-Z, who tend to rank 1-2-3 in varying order (the trio was also painted as royalty in the Kings of Hip-Hop series pictured above by Michael Jackson, Inc. cover artist Borbay). Zack first launched the three kings concept as a TEDx talk in late 2014 — but it wasn’t until he picked up a copy of Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators a year later that he realized he had a book on his hands.
Technology has Steve Job, Bill Gates and Larry Page. Hip-hop has Diddy, Dr. Dre and Jay-Z. And just as Isaacson went from writing a biography of Jobs to doing a great minds narrative, it occurred to Zack that he could bounce from his Jay-Z book to a tome on this triumvirate of rap. Fortunately, the folks at Little, Brown agreed. The book’s editor, John Parsley, has experience with legendary entrepreneurs: he worked on Brad Stone’s excellent Jeff Bezos biography, The Everything Store. Of course, just like tech, hip-hop has more than three giants: for every Ada Lovelace or Alan Turing, there is a DJ Hollywood or Kurtis Blow. Zack’s narrative will incorporate that reality.