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

the album went gold (500,000 copies), the same companies that had denied Jay-Z a deal were now trying to lure Dash and Roc-A-Fella into the fold. “When record companies were first courting us, they came to me with the nigga deal where they make you think you own a label and you really don’t,” says Dash. “I wanted a joint venture because I knew I was going to be successful and the equity would be worth something down the line.” Eventually he struck a 50-50 joint venture with Def Jam in which Roc-A-Fella owns half of the masters.

Dash took the same tact when negotiating with a manufacturer to create and distribute his Roc-A-Wear line of clothing. “I came in with the same concept I had when I did my joint venture. I’m not licensing to you. I want to own half of the company.” He put up no initial capital for the Roc-A-Wear co-venture with New York City-based manufacturer Comet. “I may not know how to manufacture and design clothing, but I have a brand that I can bring to it,” says Dash.

It’s the same brand he brought to 1999’s Hard Knock Life Tour. “I researched it, got the booking agency and put the whole thing together,” says Dash, who encountered resistance because of the perceived threat of violence. The 50-city tour, headlined by Jay-Z (and featuring Redman, DMX and Method Man), went off without a hitch. According to Pollstar, a Fresno, California-based research firm that tracks concert sales, the tour was definitely a record breaker for the rap genre, selling out most of the shows in large arenas. “The company says the tour grossed over $13.7 million, making it No. 10 in sales for concerts for the first half of this year.

“He who becomes prince by help of the nobility has greater difficulty in maintaining his power.” –Niccolò Machiavelli
Despite the success of Combs, Dash and the like, major labels retain the upper hand in most joint-venture arrangements. “Joint ventures aren’t necessarily the best arrangements because the overhead puts you in debt before you put out a record,” says Lance “Un” Rivera, CEO of Undeas Entertainment and Untertainment Records in New York, whose marquee act is Lil’ Kim. “I came into this business with a production deal and I’m learning the business side,” he says. Rivera was one of the first young CEOs to have joint ventures at two different major labels. Undeas is a joint venture with Atlantic Records and, until recently, Untertainment was a co-venture with Epic Records.

Epic recently dropped the venture after creative control issues slowed the release of Cam’ron’s second album. The album, tentatively titled Sports, Drugs and Entertainment, was the subject of a lawsuit by the NBA for misappropriation of its logo, which Untertainment initially used to promote the album. “The record label backed us, but Sony corporate wouldn’t,” says Rivera, 33. While savvy young executives exercise more control than their predecessors, they are far from autonomous. Even No Limit, while it retains autonomy,

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