Hip-Hop's Top Ea...To compile the Cash Kings list, which charts pretax earnings for all living artists whose work is primarily classified as hip-hop or rap, Forbes looked at income from touring, record sales, publishing, films, merchandise sales, endorsements and other ventures. Management, agent and attorney fees are not deducted; earnings are tabulated from May 2011 to May 2012 and based on data from Pollstar, the Recording Industry Association of America and Nielsen SoundScan, and from interviews with numerous managers, lawyers, record executives and some of the artists themselves.
Hip-hop’s top earners pulled in $415 million last year, the most since 2008’s $515 million. The more recent total got a heavy boost from Dr. Dre’s impressive haul, but it doesn’t mean he’s resting on his financial laurels. Earlier this summer, he and his partners bought back half of the 51% stake in Beats that they sold to HTC nearly a year ago—meaning that fans waiting for his new album might have to hold out a little longer.
With $110 million in pretax earnings, Dr. Dre is this year’s Hip-Hop Cash King—thanks largely to his Beats headphone line. He’s not the only one on the list who banks the bulk of his bucks outside the recording studio.
9. Marshall "Emi...Sometimes music is enough. Eminem sold more albums last decade than any artist in the world, and continues to cash in from his extensive back catalog and occasional tour dates. (C. Flanigan/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
8. Nicki Minaj (...Performances at the Super Bowl and the Grammys helped raise her profile while a new album, extensive touring and endorsements with Pepsi and others lined her pocketbook.
(Getty Images for Nokia)
7. Bryan "Birdma...He’s the co-founder and chief of Cash Money Records—home to listmates Lil Wayne, Drake and Nicki Minaj—and adds to his coffers with other ventures including clothing and vodka.
(Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
6. Aubrey Drake ...The former "Degrassi" star’s sophomore album moved 631,000 copies in its opening week, fueling his lucrative Club Paradise Tour. He also shills for Sprite and Kodak.
5. Dwayne "Lil W...The diminutive rhymester’s latest album, "Tha Carter IV," sold a million copies in its first week; he also launched clothing line Trukfit and a partnership with Pepsi’s Mountain Dew.
4. Kanye West ($...The rapper-producer had a big hit with his Jay-Z collaboration Watch the "Throne" and the ensuing tour; he also designs shoes for Nike and a line of women’s clothing.