Zack O'Malley Greenburg is the Forbes writer who puts together the magazine's annual “Cash Kings” list, which estimates the earnings of the wealthiest rappers of the past year and ranks the top 20.
Their newest version came out yesterday; Jay-Z topped the list with $37 million, and L.A. is represented by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, who tied Eminem at number six with an estimated $14 million. We spoke with O'Malley Greenburg, author of an excellent recent book on Jay-Z's balance sheet, about how Dre and Snoop made their money, and why former inhabitants like Ice Cube, Game, and will.i.am are no longer on the list.
How did Dre make his cash this year? Is it mostly Eminem money?
Some, but he gets a lot of money with from his Beats by Dr. Dre venture with Jimmy Iovine. In fact, I'm not sure if it's an official mandate at or an informal one, but there's a mandate at Interscope that every artist — in every genre — has to have a Beats product in their video, unless the video is set in the past.
Also, in addition to Beats by Dr. Dre, there are other artists who have their own lines, like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Diddy, and Dre makes money off of all of them. As I understand, Dre and Iovine are equal partners in the venture, and I believe that counts for half of Dre's annual income.
D.O.C. says he got mostly stiffed for his work on albums like Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic. How much does Dre get from his classic works?
That's all lumped in there. About half of his money comes from Beats by Dr. Dre, and the other half comes from music. He's not touring, so I'm projecting he gets half of that other $7 million from royalties, and half from new productions.
How did Snoop make his money this year?
Snoop actually tours quite a lot. He did 89 shows during our scoring period, from May 2010 to May 2011. He's not as big a draw as a Kanye, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne or Eminem, but he certainly does well for himself, and when you do that many dates you get a lot of money. Touring and merch is roughly half [of his $14 million], and he had a new album, but he also has a lot of endorsements. He has MetroPCS and Pepsi Max, and a bunch more. He's done one for Chrysler, a couple years ago he did something for a German telecom company where he busts out of the TV and starts singing in German. He makes roughly half of his total take from touring, and of the remaining money he makes as much on endorsements as on recorded music.
In previous years L.A. rappers Ice Cube, will.i.am and Game were on the list. What happened to them?
Game didn't earn as much this year. Concerning will.i.am, at one point we counted him separately from the Black Eyed Peas, but we don't do that anymore. Black Eyed Peas actually made more than anyone on the Cash Kings list — $61 in the past year — but we don't consider them hip hop. As for Ice Cube, after 2007 we determined that he was more of an actor; putting him on the list at this point would be like putting Will Smith on it.