Kyle Stanford February 23, 2016
“I'm not a businessman, I'm a business, man!” – Jay Z
Rappers are in the business of themselves, and successful rappers are great at it. From creating their beats and tracks to selling out concerts and building their brands, artists know just what it takes to grow their worth. A number of rappers—as well as other musicians—have been able to use their business acumen to become successful angel investors, partners at VC firms and business founders as they create avenues to grow their brand beyond rap.
Here are 11 notable rappers that have found success in the world of venture capital.
Nas (Nasir Jones) has put out more than 10 albums in his career, with several going platinum, and is known around the globe. His investment career will also be seen as successful when all is said and done. Nas, along with his manager Anthony Saleh and others, founded Queensbridge Venture Partners, which holds Dropbox, Lyft, Bitfury and Casper in its portfolio.
Snoop Dogg (Calvin Broadus, Jr.) may be the ultimate brand ambassador, after marketing himself as someone far more than just a rapper. Still creating music, Snoop is also involved with Casa Verde Capital, a VC fund investing in early-stage marijuana startups. The firm has made several investments, including EazeSolutions and FunkSac, the latter of which has partnered with Snoop on programs that promote safety and security of its products.
Nicki Minaj, one of the highest-paid rappers currently in the game, has invested in Music Messenger, a service allowing users to send and receive full music tracks from their smartphones to anyone on their contact list. The $30 million deal (not wholly funded by Nicki), completed a year ago, reportedly valued the company at $100 million and received participation from other artists including will.i.am and European DJs David Guetta and Tiesto.
Will Smith holds a sizeable portfolio of private investments, including the beauty salon Julep, which he invested in alongside Andreessen Horowitz and Madrona Venture Group, among others. He has also made investments in shopping platform Fancy, as well as Chromatik, a site that offers a full catalog of sheet music so users can practice reading and playing their favorite songs.
Rap mogul Jay Z (Shawn Carter) purchased high fidelity music streaming company Aspiro last March and re-launched it as Tidal, battling for market share with Apple Music and Spotify. As investors in Tidal, he grabbed other artists such as Kanye West, who will only release his new album through the service. Jay Z has made several minority investments in companies such as JetSmarter, a startup offering scheduled, private flights around the world, and is also a backer of Julep.
50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) made big money from a minority investment in Vitamin Water, which scored big when it was bought by Coca Cola. He had even helped develop his own flavor for the company. 50 Cent's other business ventures include his SMS brand headphones, G-Unit clothing line and a video game titled 50 Cent: Bulletproof.
Pusha T (Terrence Thornton) gained fame as part of the duo Clipse. This past year, he was named president of G.O.O.D. Music, Inc, a record label started by Kanye West, and is also the founder of streetwear brand Play Cloths. In 2013, Pusha T invested alongside Nas in Mass Appeal, a magazine with content spanning music, art and style curated from a street perspective.
Ludacris (Chris Bridges) may be most well-known for his rapping, but he has built himself into an actor (Fast & Furious, Crash, etc.) and also co-founded Disturbing the Peace, a record label that now operates under Universal Music Group and is distributed by Def Jam Records. Luda's venture investments include participation in the $10 million Series A of Roadie, an "Uber of package delivery" ($36M valuation according to the PitchBook Platform). He invested in the company alongside TomorrowVentures and several other angels.
Russell Simmons has founded a record label (Def Jam), started several clothing lines (Phat Farm, Argyleculture and yoga line Tantris) and launched several other business ventures. The Run-D.M.C. promoter has invested with Acorn Ventures and MAG Ventures on a $5 million seed funding of Flyp, a company that enables the use of multiple phone numbers on a single device (e.g. one for work and one for family).
Diddy (Sean Combs) has been known by many different names—Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Puffy—similar to the number of hats he wears as a businessman. He worked his way up to an executive position at Uptown Records, launched his own record label (Bad Boy Entertainment) and signed big names including Notorious B.I.G. Diddy was an angel investor in TinyChat, a video chat platform that was acquired by Paltalk in 2014.
Chamillionaire (Hakeem Seriki) joined Upfront Ventures as an entrepreneur-in-residence in 2015 after previously being involved in multiple investments and business ventures. Chamillionaire, who is the founder of record and entertainment company Chamillitary Entertainment, has also spoken at a few investment seminars, including a Global Innovation Tournament at Stanford.