Nine years ago, two unlikely lunch partners sat down at the Hollywood Diner in Omaha, Nebraska. One, Warren Buffett, was a regular there. The other, Jay-Z, was not. The billionaire and the rapper ordered strawberry malts and chatted amiably, continuing the conversation back at Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway offices.
Buffett, then 80, walked away impressed with the artist 40 years younger than him: “Jay is teaching in a lot bigger classroom than I’ll ever teach in. For a young person growing up, he’s the guy to learn from. This moment, which was originally captured in our 2010 Forbes 400 package, made it clear that Jay-Z already had a blueprint for his own 10-figure fortune. Hip-hop from the beginning has always been aspirational,” he said.
Less than a decade later, it’s clear that Jay-Z has accumulated a fortune that conservatively totals $1bn (about N360bn), making him one of only a handful of entertainers to become a billionaire—and the first hip-hop artist to do so. Jay-Z’s steadily growing kingdom is expansive, encompassing liquor, art, real estate (homes in Los Angeles, the Hamptons, Tribeca) and stakes in companies like Uber.
His journey is all the more impressive given its start: Brooklyn’s notorious Marcy housing projects. He was a drug dealer before becoming a musician, starting his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, to release his 1996 debut, ‘Reasonable Doubt’. Since then he’s amassed 14 number 1 albums, 22 Grammy awards and over $500m (about N180bn) in pretax earnings in a decade.
Crucially, he realised that he should build his own brands rather than promote someone else’s: the clothing line Rocawear started in 1999 (sold for $204m – about N74bn – to Iconix in 2007); D’Ussé, a cognac he co-owns with Bacardi; and Tidal, a music-streaming service.
Shawn Corey Carter, born December 4, 1969, known professionally as Jay-Z is an American rapper, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, record executive, and billionaire. Considered among the best rappers of all time, he is regarded as one of the world’s most significant cultural icons and has been a global figure in popular culture for over two decades.
Born and raised in New York City, Jay-Z first began his musical career after founding the record label, ‘Roc-A-Fella Records’, in 1995, and subsequently released his debut studio album ‘Reasonable Doubt’ in 1996. The album was released to widespread critical success and solidified his standing in the music industry. He has gone on to release 12 additional albums, which have all attained generally positive critical reception and universal commercial success, with ‘The Blueprint’ (2001) and ‘The Black Album’ (2003) albums later being heralded as modern musical classics. He has also released the full-length collaborative albums ‘Watch the Throne’ (2011) and ‘Everything Is Love’ (2018) with Kanye West and wife, Beyoncé, respectively.
Outside of his musical career, Jay-Z has also attained significant success and media attention for his career as a businessman. In 1999, he founded the clothing retailer ‘Rocawear’, and in 2003, he founded the luxury sports bar chain – 40/40 Club. Both businesses have grown to become multi-million dollar corporations and allowed Jay-Z to fund the start-up for the entertainment company ‘Roc Nation’, which was founded in 2008. In 2015, he acquired the tech company ‘Aspiro’ and took charge of their media streaming service ‘Tidal’, which has since become the world’s third-largest online streaming company. His marriage to musician – Beyoncé – has also been a source of substantial media attention.
Jay-Z is among the most critically acclaimed musicians and one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 100 million records sold worldwide. He has won a total of 22 Grammy Awards, the most by a rapper, and holds the record for the most number-one albums by a solo artist on the Billboard 200, with 13. He has been ranked by Billboard and fellow music publication Rolling Stone as one of the 100 greatest artists of all time. In 2017, he became the first rapper to be honoured into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2018, received the commemorative “Salute to Industry Icons award at the 60th Grammy Awards.
Carter was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City and was raised in Marcy Houses, a housing project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood. After their father, Adnis Reeves, abandoned the family, Shawn and his three siblings were raised by their mother, Gloria Carter. Reeves would later meet and reconcile with Jay-Z before dying in 2003. Jay-Z claims in his lyrics that in 1982 at age 12, he shot his elder brother in the shoulder for stealing his jewellery. Carter attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn until it was closed down. He then attended the nearby George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School with future rappers – The Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes – followed by a stint at Trenton Central High School in Trenton, New Jersey, though he did not graduate. According to his interviews and lyrics, during this period he sold crack cocaine and was shot at three times.
According to his mother, Carter used to wake up his siblings at night banging out drum patterns on the kitchen table. She bought him a boom box for his birthday, sparking his interest in music. He began freestyling and writing lyrics. Known as “Jazzy” around the neighbourhood, Carter later adopted the showbiz/stage name “Jay-Z” in homage to his mentor Jaz-O.
He owns 100 per cent of Armand de Brignac and has partial ownership of the other companies. The breakdown of his worth is as follows:
Armand de Brignac – $310m (N110bn)
More recently, his verse on Meek Mill’s “What’s Free” put a half-billion-dollar value on the wine, which seems like a bit too bubbly a number.
Cash and investments – $220m (about N80bn)
A vast investing portfolio includes a stake in Uber worth an estimated $70m (about N25bn). He reportedly purchased his piece for $2m (about N720m) back in 2013—and then wired founder – Travis Kalanick – another $5m (about N1.8bn) in an attempt to increase his holdings, but was rebuffed.
D’Ussé – $100m (about N36bn)
Jay-Z’s cognac, a joint venture with beverage giant, Bacardi, moves almost 200,000 cases and has grown nearly 80 per cent annually. “Jay-Z resonates with consumers who are attracted to the ultra-premium lifestyle,” says Eric Schmidt, Beverage Marketing Corporation’s Director of Alcohol Research.
Tidal – $100m (about N36bn)
In 2015, Jay-Z submitted a bid to purchase the Scandinavian streaming service’s parent company for just shy of $60m (about N22bn). He relaunched Tidal later that year with a roster of celebrity investors, including his wife, Beyoncé, and other music luminaries, from Kanye West to Calvin Harris.
Roc Nation – $75m (about N27bn)
This wide-ranging entertainment company started over a decade ago as part of a joint venture with concert giant Live Nation. Roc Nation represents some of the top stars in the entertainment through its sports agency (Kevin Durant, Todd Gurley) as well as its record label and artist-management arms (Rihanna, J. Cole).
Music catalogue – $75m (about N27bn)
Before the beginning of his stint as Def Jam’s chief in 2004, Jay-Z negotiated the eventual return of his master recordings from the aforementioned label that helped launch his career; in a separate deal with EMI, he clawed back his publishing rights. Wise move: his hits now clock close to one billion streams annually.
Art collection – $70m (about N25bn)
In the song, ‘Picasso Baby’, Jay-Z boasted about a “Basquiat in my kitchen corner.” He probably wasn’t kidding. For over a decade, he’s been scooping up masterpieces like Basquiat’s “Mecca,” purchased in 2013 for a reported $4.5m (about N1.6bn). “He’s rapped about it all in detail,” says Fab 5 Freddy, a contemporary and friend of the late painter. “Jay-Z helped educate millions of hip-hop fans mentioning Jean-Michel.”
Real estate – $50m (about N18bn)
After welcoming twins in 2017, Jay-Z and Beyoncé bought a pair of homes to match: $26m (about N9.3bn) East Hampton mansion and $88m (about N32bn) Bel Air estate. Jay-Z also owns a Tribeca penthouse, snagged for $6.85m (about about N2.5bn) in 2004.