By Ryan J. Downey
Hip-hop icon Dr. Dre rocked Coachella with an all-star cast of collaborators past and present (and even deceased) this year with more skill than half the guys half his age who are promoting new albums, all while banking his way to becoming the highest paid rapper of the year.
How'd he do it? Beats by Dre, of course, which now accounts for more than half of the high-end headphone market. According to the brand-new list of hip-hop's highest-paid earners featured in Forbes magazine's September 24 issue, Beats by Dre was responsible for $100 million of Dre's pretax $110 million haul over the past year. The N.W.A. rapper/producer, who launched the careers of Snoop Dogg and Eminem, got into the speaker game at the urging of Interscope's Jimmy Iovine, who was one of the partners who benefited when handset maker HTC spent $300 million purchasing a 51 percent stake in Beats.
Dre managed to pass his peers like Diddy, Jay-Z, Kanye West and Lil Wayne, who rounded out the top five.
Like Dre, Diddy's annual payday had little to do with album sales or touring revenue. Most of his $45 million came from Diageo's Cîroc vodka, according to the Forbes report. More than half of Jay-Z's $38 million came from his pieces of the Brooklyn Mets, cosmetics company Carol's Daughter and other ventures. Jay helped Kanye make a bunch of his $35 million of course, thanks to the Watch the Throne album and tour. Tha Carter IV was a smash, but Wayne's cash from Trukfit (his clothing line) and his sponsorship deal with Mountain Dew certainly didn't hurt, either. Weezy pulled in a reported $27 million.
Young Money Entertainment and Cash Money Records stayed true to their names by landing a few more artists on the Forbes list, as well. Drake's $20.5 million was enough to put him in #6, with Cash Money co-founder Bryan "Birdman" Williams just behind at #7 with $20 million. The crew's own Nicki Minaj, the first ever female on MTV's Annual Hottest MC's list, was #8 with $15.5 million. For those keeping score, that's four slots in a row dominated by Young Money.
Eminem doesn't have any headphones, vodka or soda pop deals to deal with, but he still managed to make $15 million this year from his back catalog and shows. Last year, Marshall won a lawsuit against Universal Music Group involving royalties from digital sales of his music. As MTV's Rap Fix noted in a story, "Forbes magazine might have to make some room for Eminem," and indeed they did. Slim Shady was #9 on the Forbes list.
Dre wasn't the only rapper in the top 10 with headphones on the market. Soul, the headphone company launched by Ludacris, helped put him at the #10 spot with a $12 million take that also came courtesy of roles in "Fast Five" and "New Year's Eve," plus Conjure cognac and those smooth Radio Shack voiceovers.
The rest of the Top 20: Pitbull ($9.5 million); Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifia (tied with $9 million each); Snoop ($8.5 million); 50 Cent ($7.5 million); Swizz Beats, Pharrell Williams and Young Jeezy (tied with $7 million each); Mac Miller ($6.5 million); and Akon, Timbaland, Tech N9ne (tied with $6 million each).
Of course, all of the hip-hop entrepreneurs in Forbes' "Cash Kings 2012: Hip-Hop's Top 20 Earners" have some sort of history with the VMAs, as either performers, winners, presenters and/or spectators over the years. Tune in tomorrow to watch the music moguls do their thing!
The 2012 MTV Video Music Awards are set to go live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET/PT. But before it all goes down, don't miss our "Jersey Shore" special "Gym, Tan, Look Back" at 6 p.m. and our pre-show with Demi Lovato at 7 p.m.! And head over to VMA.MTV.com to vote on Best New Artist and Most Share-Worthy Video!