One of America’s most successful musician, Jay-Z’s entrepreneurial vision and wealth have grown exponentially since the rapper’s career took off in the early 1990s.
The rapper who turned entrepreneur made his first major business move in 1995, when he founded Roc-A-Fella Records.
As his rap career prospered over the ensuing decades, Jay-Z also began an insatiable pursuit of new business opportunities, including the founding of several companies and making a number of other shrewd investments that extended beyond the rap world.
From starting record labels and a clothing company, to making major moves into sports management with Roc Nation Sports, and into the competitive world of streaming with Tidal, Jay-Z’s wide-reaching entrepreneurial efforts continue to embody one of his most famous lyrics: “I’m not a businessman / I’m a business, man.”
See excerpts below from American writer, John Lynch’s opinion on the music mogul.
The following is a brief history of Jay-Z’s most notable businesses and investments, the total of which have made him the second richest hip-hop artist in the world, with an estimated net worth of $950 million:
In 1995, Jay-Z used the money he received from signing a deal with Payday Records to start his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records, alongside his former associates, Damon “Dame” Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke.
Roc-A-Fella started out in a small office space in a low-rent part of downtown New York City, operating as an imprint of the Island Def Jam Music Group. Its first release was Jay-Z’s debut album, “Reasonable Doubt,” which dropped in 1996 to critical acclaim and modest commercial success.
The label would go on to release some of the best and most commercially successful rap music of the late 1990s and 2000s, including Kanye West’s first six albums, and every Jay-Z album through 2013’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail.”
Roc-A-Fella went defunct in 2013, five years after Jay-Z had started his second successful label, Roc Nation.
In 1999, Jay-Z and Damon Dash created Rocawear, an urban clothing line that would go on to have annual sales of around $700 million during its peak in the early 2000s, according to The New York Times.
After having a falling out with Dash in 2006, Jay-Z took the company over. He then sold the rights to Rocawear to the Iconix Brand Group in 2007 for $204 million.
He no longer has a stake in the company.
The 40/40 Club
In 2003, Jay-Z opened The 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar and restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. He co-owns the club with his business partner Juan Perez, who would go on to be the president of Jay-Z’s sports management firm, Roc Nation Sports.
Jay-Z name-dropped the club for the first time on his 2003 hit “Dirt off Your Shoulders,” rapping, “Now you chillin’ with a boss, b—- / Of course, S.C. on the sleeve / At the 40/40 Club, ESPN on the screen.”
The restaurant chain expanded to new five new locations over the next 11 years, including spots in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
After a productive stint as the CEO and President of Def Jam Recordings (between 2004 and 2008), Jay-Z left his longtime label and teamed up with entrepreneur Jay Brown to found the entertainment label Roc Nation in 2008.
Rihanna, Jay-Z’s star signee from his Def Jam executive days, left Def Jam in 2014 to join Roc Nation, adding to a roster that now includes the likes of J. Cole, Shakira, DJ Khaled, T.I., and Big Sean.
Roc Nation is owned by the entertainment company Live Nation, and it has offices in New York City, Nashville, Los Angeles, and London. It launched its own sports management division, Roc Nation Sports, in 2013.
In April 2017, Roc Nation announced the launch of Arrive, a venture capital firm that provides brand services and business development to early-stage startups.
Roc Nation Sports
In 2013, Jay-Z made a huge move into sports management when he launched Roc Nation Sports in a partnership with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
Jay-Z previously had a minority share in the Brooklyn Nets basketball team. In 2013, a year after he orchestrated the team’s name change and move from New Jersey to the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Jay had to give up his stake in the team in order to legally manage players.
Roc Nation Sports currently represents star athletes like Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, and Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Canó.
Michael R. Yormark, Roc Nation’s president and chief of branding and strategy, described Jay-Z as having an “entrepreneurial spirit that is absolutely contagious.”
“When I joined Roc Nation, he immediately encouraged me and my team to take chances with Roc Nation Sports because you can’t have an ounce of fear when you’re building a business,” Yormark told Business Insider.
“Thanks to Jay’s leadership and strategic vision over the years, Roc Nation Sports has grown exponentially by signing world-class athletes across a vast array of sports. We believe there’s nothing we can’t accomplish and that is a testament to the attitude that Jay and Roc Nation Sports President Juan Perez has instilled in us.”
After Jay-Z acquired the Norwegian tech company Aspiro in March 2015, he quickly relaunched the company’s streaming service, Tidal, with a flashy press conference.
Sixteen major artists, including Jay-Z, Kanye West, Madonna, and J. Cole, stood on a stage in New York City on March 30, 2015, and were introduced as the co-owners and stakeholders of the first “artist-owned” streaming service.
The service’s business model has centered around hosting exclusive releases from artists like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Kanye West.
In March 2016, the company claimed to have reached 3 million global subscribers, but an internal report from January 2017 showed that it only had 1.2 million subscribers. Since Jay-Z relaunched the service, Tidal has also seen a consistent exodusof top executives.
Though Tidal has certainly not been smooth sailing for Jay-Z, in January 2017, he sold sold 33 percent of Tidal to the phone company Sprint for $200 million. It was reportedly worth $56 million when he bought it in 2015.