It’s a known fact that a celebrity’s career rarely includes only one single job. Any multi-faceted entertainer—be it actor, artist, or both—learns fairly quickly that the key to climbing the success ladder is through constant diversification. Making money in various markets guarantees a well-rounded (and long-lasting) career. With the fickle tastes and short attention spans of most audiences, it’s only necessary to jump into multiple roles, bulking up pockets and fan bases equally. Many artists have made the migration from musicians to actors, film producers, authors and all around entrepreneurs. Such transitory career goals have allowed many artists to garner successes they never achieved during their time solely working as musicians. As part of our continued Black Music Month coverage, BlackEnterprise.com has compiled a list of 11 celebs that started out as artists and have since evolved into well-oiled self-entities. —Kathy Iandoli
Initially known as the Fresh Prince, Smith was just another late ’80s rap phenom that made history (alongside partner DJ Jazzy Jeff) as the first rap group to score a Grammy for 1989’s “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” That success earned him his own hit sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which sparked the beginnings of a profitable second career. By 1996, Smith was breaking box office sales with Independence Day, which earned a staggering $306 million. The proven Hollywood star currently ranks as one of Forbes’ Top Earning Black Actors (with a net worth of $188 million) and has his own production company (Overbrook Entertainment) in talks with Jay-Z to team up for an Annie remake.
LL COOL J
Ladies loved Cool James the moment he stepped into the hip-hop arena with his shirt off sporting a leather bucket hat at the tender age of 15. The worlds of film and fashion soon became enamored with him as well. Making an appearance in the classic hip-hop movie, Krush Groove, LL ventured into the clothing business early on, working with hip-hop fashion line TROOP in the ’80s and later assisting in launch of FUBU and his own Todd Smith line. With four books under his belt (both personal memoirs and fitness books), a music social networking site called Boomdizzle.com, and a hedge fund Cedarview Capital, LL is keeping busy well outside the booth. His acting has also become a staple in his career, with roles in over 30 sitcoms and films, including his current role on NCIS Los Angeles as special agent Sam Hanna, which brings his net worth to an reported $80 million.
Since her early days as frontwoman in Destiny’s Child—one of the best-selling female groups of all time—Beyoncé has positioned herself as a musical dynamo with several platinum plaques to show for it. As she readies her fourth solo album 4 for the summer, Beyoncé continues to diversify. Her House of Deréon clothing line with her mother, Tina Knowles, added a junior line called Deréon. She moved into beauty with her fragrance Heat, as well as being a spokeswoman for L’Oreal and Revlon. While music is still Queen Bey’s bread and butter, her acting career is on the rise, most notably her starring role in Dreamgirls and her role as Etta James in the film Cadillac Records. Named one of Forbes’ Top Earning Black Celebrities, Beyoncé has a net worth of $300 million.
While Ice-T started his career as a gangsta rapper in the ‘80s, he best known now as NYPD Detective Odafin Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Ice’s screen time started with hip-hop classic films like Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, but it was his portrayal in New Jack City that put his acting skills on the map, leading to a recurring role on New York Undercover. With a current net worth of $30 million, Ice recently premiered his E! reality show with wife Coco, and released his memoirs, Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption – From South Central to Hollywood.
The Grammy Award winning soul singer wowed the masses with her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol.1. With punchy lyrics and flawless vocals, the album went double platinum and was followed with two certified gold albums, Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2 and The Real Thing: Words and Sounds, Vol. 3. Scott has a current net worth of $12 million, that’s sure to be bolstered by her foray into Hollywood. She’s appeared on several sitcoms and TV series (including her own on HBO), but made the biggest impact with her role in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? Also an entrepreneur, Scott has designed a line of bras for the “well-endowed” woman called Butterfly Bras with female fashion retailer Ashley Stewart.
As one-fifth of controversial rap group N.W.A., Ice Cube was an unlikely candidate to be a mainstream marketable brand. But through his on screen portrayal as Dough Boy in John Singleton’s debut film Boyz N the Hood, he showed there was more to him than meets the eye. Cube’s success as an actor made him a household name with a net worth of $100 million, but it’s his business acumen that’s notable. The pioneering rapper-turned-actor has managed to have a hand in the production of almost every project he’s a part of. Furthermore, his production company CubeVision turned two of his films—Barbershop and Are We There Yet?—into sitcoms. There was also his social experiment on racism for FX, Black. White..
Fans first saw Tyrese as a young boy singing on the back of a bus in a Coke commercial. He increased his exposure by modeling for Tommy Hilfiger before releasing his self-titled debut in 1998. Three years later he was starring as the lead in John Singleton’s Baby Boy. Since then, Tyrese has been part of two successful movie franchises with The Fast & the Furious and Transformers. The rise to the top wasn’t easy for Tyrese, as he reveals in his recent New York Times bestseller How To Get Out of Your Own Way. With his hands in many pots the acting singer has a net worth of $10 million and counting.
Williams, along with partner Chad Hugo, first made waves as the production duo known as the Neptunes, who crafted hits for the likes of Jay-Z, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg, to name a few. Through his imprint label, Star Trak, Williams kick started the career of Virginia rap group the Clipse, as well as breathed new life into the career of singer Robin Thicke. Fashionwise, Pharrell brought his love of skate culture to his lines Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream lines, even starting an Ice Cream Skate Team. Last year he launched a teen lifestyle site Kidult.com and was recently appointed as Creative Director of fashion conglomerate KarmaLoop, bring his net worth to around $77.5 million.
As the mastermind behind the Black Eyed Peas, will.i.am has seen the group grow from underground L.A. hip-hop group to a chart-topping crossover collective. As a producer, he’s worked with everyone from Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Britney Spears to Justin Timberlake and the late Michael Jackson. will’s transition into other markets is relatively new, but his steps have been gigantic. In addition to appearing alongside Hugh Jackman in comic book movie spin-off Wolverine, he gone deeper into digital innovation, landing a Director of Creative Innovation title at Intel. With a current net worth of $75 million, will started his own mobile app line called will.i.apps, with its debut product being BEP360 for loyal Black Eyed Peas fans.