Jay-Z, Kanye West, Diddy Top Forbes Hip-Hop List

Jay tops the list because he 'makes brilliant business moves but keeps putting out relevant music,' Forbes writer tells MTV News.

[artist id="1269"]Jay-Z[/artist] and [artist id="1230523"]Kanye West[/artist] are already poised to seize the top of the charts with Watch the Throne. But before the final sales figures are even tabulated, the superstar hip-hop duo are already rap's top cops, thanks to their #1 and #3 ranking on the Forbes Hip-Hop's Top Earners list.

Entrepreneur Jigga earned the first spot with more than $37 million in earnings, just outpacing another serious multi-hyphenate, Diddy, who was no joke just behind at $35 million. It's the fourth time Jay has worn the Cash Kings crown in the past five years. Kanye was a bit further behind at #3 with a not-too-shabby $16 million.

How did Jay do it? Partly from the earnings for his Blueprint 3 Tour, a major 10-year, $150 million deal with Live Nation, as well as his ownership stakes in the NBA's New Jersey Nets, his 40/40 club chain and the ad firm Translation. Interestingly, this also marks the first time he's outearned wife Beyoncé since they married in 2008.

Zack O'Malley Greenburg, Forbes staff writer and author of the Jay-Z biography "Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office," said Jay has become the "gold standard" to which hip-hop artists aspire when it comes to mixing business and music. "I'd put Diddy and Birdman up there too, but Jay is always at the top of the Cash Kings list because he makes brilliant business moves but keeps putting out relevant music," he told MTV News. "Others [on the list] are more one or the other, but he keeps doing both."

Diddy's cash came mostly from his stakes in the clothing lines Sean John and Enyce, his Bad Boy record label and marketing firm Blue Flame. In fact, only 20 percent of his earnings were from music, with the vast majority coming from his lucrative partnership with Ciroc vodka.

West, whose video with Jay for "Otis" is slated to premiere Thursday on MTV, is back in the top three for the first time since 2009, and considering that Watch The Throne hit #1 in 23 countries, it's likely he'll be in the running again next year. Even after spending much of last year in prison, Lil Wayne was tied at #4 with $15 million thanks to his relentless touring and strong album sales. He was locked up with mentor/ Cash Money boss Birdman at the #4 spot, who made major dough thanks to a roster that includes Weezy, Drake and Nicki Minaj.

Eminem was also tied at #6 with $14 million, mostly thanks to the smash 5.7 million in sales of Recovery, deals with Lipton and Chrysler, and his handful of shows with Jay in New York and Detroit, sharing the spot with his mentor, Dr. Dre, who made his scratch from producer fees and his Beats by Dre audio line.

Another Dre protégé, Snoop Dogg, also came in at $14 million, thanks to sales of his Doggumentary album, endorsement deals with Metro PCS and Pepsi Max, and his guest verse on Katy Perry's "California Gurls."

Others who made the list: Akon (#9, $13 million), Ludacris, (#19, $12 million), chart newcomer Wiz Khalifa, (#11, $11 million), Drake (#11, $11 million), Pharrell (#13, $10 million), Timbaland, (#14, $7 million), Swizz Beatz (#15, $6.5 million), the first female rapper to ever make the list, Minaj (#15, $6.5 million), Rick Ross (#17, $6 million), 50 Cent (#17, $6 million), chart newbie Pitbull (#17, $6 million), T-Pain (#20, $5 million) and yet another rookie, B.o.B (#20, $5 million).

As for the rookies (with the exception of Birdman, who has long been a big earner but was reclassified from just an executive to a multi-hyphenate this year), O'Malley Greenburg said they all had unique paths to the list. While touring is typically a way for major rock and pop acts to make various Forbes earners lists, he said for hip-hop artists, it's often their non-musical side ventures that get them in the running.

Pitbull put out two albums, had a number of hit singles and toured a bit during the reporting period the list covered, but he made the bulk of his money on endorsements, including a seven-figure deal with Kodak that earned him even more endorsement gigs.

Wiz, on the other hand, hit the road hard, making half of his $11 million from playing 133 shows, where he also racked up huge merchandise sales. "He toured far more than anyone else on the list, and as his star rose during the year, you could tell he was getting more and more per gig," O'Malley Greenburg said. "But he also sells a ton of merch and has managed to sell himself as a 420 lifestyle, which you think someone else would have taken advantage of." That toking lifestyle includes Wiz-branded rolling papers and weed grinders, hoodies with zippered pockets the size of dime bags and other pot-related knickknacks that have made him Hot Topic's #1 seller.

Minaj, however, did it the old-fashioned way by becoming one of the top-selling artists in terms of album sales on the list, while B.o.B is a combination of both, with solid money from touring, a hot album and guest-appearance fees, as well as a lucrative Adidas endorsement deal.

"They're all savvy artists," he said. "The beauty of hip-hop is that you look at this list and there are no two people on there for the exact same reason. Each has a slightly different template."

The figures were tabulated with estimates made from income earned from May 2010 to May 2011 from record sales, touring, digital downloads, films, merchandise sales, endorsements, books and other entertainment ventures.