Reporting Scott T. Sterling
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A quick glance at Forbes’ latest music moneymakers list, “Cash Kings 2013: The World’s Highest-Paid Hip-Hip Artists,” turns up the cavalcade of usual superstar suspects: Diddy (who leads the list with $50 million generated over the past 12 months), Jay Z ($43 million), Dr. Dre ($40 million) and Nicki Minaj ($29 million) hold down the top four spots.
A closer look at the full line-up, however, reveals a handful of most unexpected artists among rap music’s top finance generators. Amidst hip-hop’s current crop of cash cows are indie rap legends, former chart-toppers turned entrepreneurs and one mid-‘00s pop culture hero who’s found new life in the neon-soaked world of EDM.
Ludracris (No. 9, $12 million) In the early 2000s, Ludacris was among rap’s biggest stars, releasing multi-platinum albums like 2001′s Word of Mouf and the 2003 follow-up, Chicken-n-Beer. Rocking club dance floors and radio playlists with such smash hits as “Area Codes” and “Stand Up,” Luda was on top of the rap world. While he no longer burns up the charts with the same ferocity, the man born Chris Bridges diversified wisely, and rank’s among hip-hop’s top earners through his own headphones line (Soul by Luda), co-ownership in the Conjure cognac brand, and a lucrative acting career, most recently starring in the summer 2013 blockbuster Fast and Furious 6.
Tech N9ne (No. 18, $7.5 million) Nestled between producer Swizz Beatz and rapper 50 Cent is Kansas City indie rap legend Tech N9ne. Hardly a household name, Tech N9ne has built his own Midwestern empire with the Strange Music label, where he’s released more than a dozen successful full-length albums, the most recent being 2013′s Something Else, which boasts an impressive range of collaborators including Serj Tankian of System of a Down, the Doors and Kendrick Lamar.
Lil Jon (No. 20, $6 million) Atlanta’s Lil Jon is another rapper/producer who enjoyed an early 2000s heyday, responsible for a long list of hits with his group, the East Side Boyz, as a solo act and serving as the knob-twiddler for a cavalcade of superstar artists. Usher (“Yeah!”) and the Yin-Yang Twins (“Salt Shaker”) were among those who benefited from Jon’s Midas touch. He even earned an ongoing parody on Dave Chappelle’s legendary TV show. Now Lil Jon rakes in big bucks as an EDM DJ, rocking major festivals like Ultra in Miami and even making tracks with such electronic mainstays as Steve Aoki and Laidback Luke.
Questlove (No. 20, $6 million) Long revered in the hip-hop world as the drummer for Philadelphia’s legendary Roots crew, the drummer’s profiled hit the masters when the Roots famously became the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Now the longtime spinner grows his income with upwards of 200 DJ gigs a year, including high-profile slots in Las Vegas and a roaming midday lunch mix event in New York City. He also found the time to write a book, Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove.