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

believes a successful nationwide rollout of Justin’s units will be heavily dependent on the nation’s economy. “If the economy turns soft, dining out is one of the first things to go.”

Though widely recognized as one of the hardest working young ex
ecs in the business, Combs couldn’t possibly oversee the day-to-day aspects of all of his companies. “To manage our growth, I hire people I believe in and trust that they can run the companies,” he says. Much of the fiscal responsibility falls to Derek Ferguson, 34, a former management consultant who is now chief financial officer for Combs’ various enterprises. “My primary interest was to become part of a team that had a chance to become a wildly successful entertainment company,” says Ferguson, who, in addition to keeping the books straight, helps Combs find seasoned executives to run the various operations.

To that end, Combs recruited Jeffrey Tweedy, the former vice president of Karl Kani Inc., to head up Sean John, his newly launched sportswear line. The line is produced by Christian Casey L.L.C., a joint venture between Combs and CGS, a New York-based apparel manufacturer and distributor. “We expect to reach $30 million in sales and this is our first year,” says Tweedy, Sean John’s executive vice president. His relationships have helped Sean John get space in department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, in addition to national specialty stores that are more likely to carry hip-hop-inspired clothing lines.

Combs’ next venture, Bad Boy Technologies, aims to extend the brand into cyberspace. Though mum on the details of the venture, Combs says he’ll invest whatever it takes to make it work: “Scared money don’t make none.”

“A 9 to 5 is the way to survive, but I ain’t trying to survive. I’m trying to live it to the limit.” –Jay-Z
“I’m a millionaire after taxes,” says Roc-A-Fella Records CEO Damon Dash from behind the wheel of his new Bentley, de rigueur for the hip-hop mogul set. (Puffy and Master P also own Bentleys.) Judging from the gawking onlookers, Dash paints an intriguing scene cutting through New York’s midday traffic, alternately yelling into his miniscule cell phone and pumping up the volume on his crystal-clear sound system. The Bentley was likely a gift to himself for a good year. According to Dash, 28, Roc-A-Fella Records netted $11 million in 1998. And he is sure to point out that the figure is after all of the expenses of his joint venture with Def Jam were recouped.

The rise of Roc-A-Fella Records to profitability coincided with the rise of the label’s marquee talent, Jay-Z, who, to date, has sold more than 7 million copies of his 1999 release, Hard Knock Life…Volume 2, worldwide. Dash, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) and Kareem “Biggs” Burke launched the company in 1996 when Dash, who also manages Jay-Z, couldn’t get his artist signed to a deal. “We put our money together and pressed up some copies and eventually we signed a deal with Priority to press and distribute our cuts,” says Dash.


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