Ray Charles was not only a talented music star for more than three decades, but a shrewd businessman as well. In the early ’60s, he was one of the first Black music artists to gain ownership of his own master recordings in brokering his deal with ABC-Paramount. Having written nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. —Janell Hazelwood (Additional reporting by Kahliah Laney)
Janet Jackson from the cover of her Janet album
In August 1991, Prince inked a $100 million deal with Warner Bros., making him the highest-paid artist at the time. The deal included two joint record companies as well as a vice president post for him. In 1993, the pop and rock icon would become “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince” during a legal battle with the label over artistic and financial control of his music. After a long, highly publicized battle, in which he began performing in protest using only a symbol as his name, he was able to gain release from the contract, serving as one of the most prolific public examples of an artist’s success in standing up for his artistic beliefs and financial due.
Master P was the first rapper to gain 100% ownership of his masters in the ’90s, a feat that was not common in the entertainment industry. Many labels retained much of the publishing rights of their artists, so P striking a deal for full ownership was a groundbreaking milestone. The Southern hip-hop pioneer, who was also the first hip-hop artist to make $100 million, founded his own label, No Limit Records, in 1990, with a platinum-selling roster of talent, and was also the first Black rapper to own a cable TV channel, Better Black TV, 2009.
Jay-Z inked a $150 million deal with Live Nation in April 2008, making a groundbreaking move in the music industry with a 360 model that benefits both the artist and the music tour giant. The hip-hop entrepreneur left his longtime label Def Jam for a deal that includes financing for his own entertainment venture, as well as recordings and tours for the next decade.
Hip-hop powerhouse Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson worked with Glacéau to create his own VitaminWater drink, Formula 50, in 2004, and got a stake in the company. After Coca-Cola’s $4.1 billion purchase of Glacéau in 2007, Jackson earned an estimated $100 million, a major move for a hip-hop artist at the time.