Hip-Hop Moguls: Beyond The Hype

As rap music has exploded, so too have the fortunes and businesses of some of today's hottest young music executives

such a bad man so soon.

In five short years, Combs, 29, has gone from a “hot producer of the moment” to one of the most successful and recognizable rapper-executives in the industry. His million-dollar production deal has morphed into a 50-50 joint venture with a share of the masters reportedly worth over $50 million. Joint ventures usually include more latitude in decision-making and a split of the profits, though not necessarily 50-50. The most successful joint ventures typically enable entrepreneurs to negotiate for shared ownership of the masters. Of his newly renegotiated deal, Combs says, “Part of my ultimate plan was to have ownership in my masters and the other part was to get a whole lot of money so I could do other things that will give me economic stability.”

This stability has come in the form of investments in Justin’s restaurants, the Sean John clothing line, Notorious magazine, Daddy’s House Recording studio and Bad Boy Television and Film. “The overall concept of my brand is entertainment,” explains Combs. “It’s the music you listen to, the concert you go to, the clothes you wear to the concert, the food you eat after the concert, the magazine you read the next day.”

Although Combs has moved beyond just the music business, many believe the viability of his outside ventures is contingent on the success of Bad Boy Records, which has averaged sales of $80 million in the past two years. Among other things, slow sales of his solo follow-up album, Forever, and the high-profile departures of Bad Boy artists The Lox, have naysayers predicting the fall of the house of Puff.

Spurred by what they believed to be the mishandling of their careers and their money, The Lox mounted a public “Let the Lox Go” campaign during an interview on Hot 97, New York’s No. 1 rap station. Combs downplays the incident as the natural friction between artists and labels. At press time, Ruff Ryder/Interscope Records was negotiating with Bad Boy to buy out the The Lox contract for a reported $2.5 million.

“None of my companies are based on the success of the record company,” says Combs. “People are still going to read magazines and good food is still good food.” In fact, Combs is planning to expand his Justin’s soul food restaurants (currently there are Atlanta and New York locations) across the nation. “The restaurant business is one of the riskiest businesses you can get into, but both of our restaurants are profitable,” says Combs, though he won’t release sales figures.

“They’re doing quite well,” says Milford Prewitt, senior editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, a restaurant industry trade journal. “Justin’s [NYC] typically turns its tables twice or three times a night, on par with other profitable restaurants.” The New York location has just passed the three-year threshold that typically separates the wannabe restaurateurs from the ones that have a shot at long-term success. However, “Atlanta has plenty of soul food restaurants and Sylvia’s has had trouble in that market,” says Prewitt, who

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