The rapper Jay-Z has been crowned the first hip-hop billionaire. According to Forbes, his net worth (not income, a la Dr. Dre) is now ten digits. The diverse portfolio of sports, spirits and, of course, music all contributed to Jay-Z's wealth.
This is how he became a billionaire. This is how you can succeed, too.
Make value to get value
About a decade ago, a digital publisher called me to license the rights to my best selling book, Damon Brown's Simple Guide to the iPad. "We'd like to do a video book version of it. Who owns the rights?"
"Well, I do," I said. The book was wholly self-funded, developed and published by me.
We negotiated a deal on the spot. The following year, and for years to come, the repurposed book helped feed my family.
About five years ago, a handful of companies contacted my founders and me about acquiring our popular app, Cuddlr. "We'd like to acquire you. How can we further the discussion?"
"Well, we can talk now," we said. The app was wholly self-funded, developed and published by us three co-founders. We grew it to about a quarter million users.
We negotiated a deal through our legal representation. The final acquirer wired us the money just shy of our first anniversary. It was divvied up based on the ownership percentages us founders negotiated at launch.
Know what you bring to the table
This is why Jay-Z sacrificed nearly everything to get back his masters. Legally, owning your master recordings means you decide who does what with your music: You negotiate when and how they are used in commercials, video games or movies; you decide how much to charge for said use; and you get more money when your music is bought, streamed or otherwise enjoyed. The masters alone give Jay-Z about one-tenth of his net worth, and, as long as people listen to his music, they will continue to give his family worth well after he's gone.
But the ownership goes beyond the music he's made.
Instead of hopping on Apple Music or Spotify, Jay-Z bought the streaming service Tidal. He now curates other people's music - and makes money when they are streaming.
Rather than working with the domanate conglomerate Ticketmaster, Jay-Z started Roc Nation and puts other acts on tour.
Even Roc-a-fella Records, the home of Jay-Z's first album Reasonable Doubt, was an indie publisher founded by Jay-Z, Dame Dash and Kareem Burke.
The independent aesthetic has been Jay-Z's blueprint since 1996, just as much as my independent books, mugs and music are a natural part of my business mindset. This is why I respect his hustle and why, I believe, he wouldn't have become a billionaire any other way.
To paraphrase one of his lines, Jay-Z became a check writer instead of a royalty receiver. This is how you bring your worth. This is how you become a billionaire.
But first, you have to know that your work is worth defending. Jay-Z evidently does.