“If you don’t move your feet then I don’t eat so we like neck to neck.”
That’s what Andre 3000 said on the song “Elevators (Me and You)” from Outkast’s “ATLiens” album. He was referring to the importance of a single, album or concert tickets selling big numbers so he can simply live and take care of himself.
Andre delivered those memorable lyrics in 1996 at a time when a rapper’s main revenue stream was music and if those physical copies of CDs, tapes and vinyl didn’t fly off the shelves, most were in trouble.
But these days, music is probably one of the last ways an artist makes money, and an album is often used to establish their brand to spark other business ventures. It’s similar to what a film reel does for a filmmaker or what a business portfolio does for a business person.
Whether it’s creating a fashion line, starring in movies or being a product’s spokesperson, there are all kinds of money-making opportunities for rappers outside of the recording booth.
This hasn’t always been the case. At one time partnering with a major company was heavily frowned upon and one could be considered a sellout. Today, however, that term is completely dated and there are no rules on how a rapper can earn their keep.
In the 80s, for example, MC Hammer was practically vilified by the rap community for being Pepsi’s spokesperson, although a few years later rappers started partnering with mainstream brands in the same way. In fact, Hammer was one of the first to team up with a huge company and give a glimpse into what a rapper could achieve in terms of endorsements and lucrative deals.
Since those days of Hammer, countless rappers have obviously come and gone, but there are some who’ve weathered the cruel test of time successfully by doing other things besides constructing rhymes — and not just the JAY-Z’s and Dr. Dre’s of the world.
Below we’ve listed seven of those rappers, who’ve all carved out remarkable careers for themselves and created new ways for rappers to exist outside of the finicky music space.
LL Cool J
Although he was the first rapper to ever receive a Kennedy Center Honor, sometimes it’s hard to give LL his full credit and realize all that he’s done. That may be because he’s still active and adding to his legacy, and the full scope of his accomplishments may come into better view when he slows down.
Just think about it, groups like Run-DMC are actually LL’s musical peers. He’s been in the game that long.
Outside of his storied music career, the kid from Queens has been acting in either movies or the small screen since 1991’s “The Hard Way.” He’s also one of the first major stars to be the spokesperson for a Black-owned company in FUBU.
If there’s anyone who created a blueprint for rappers to be successful in various ways, it’s Mr. Cool J for sure.
Without question, very few can say they’ve had a past couple of years like Donald Glover. From scoring both critical and commercial success with his FX show “Atlanta,” not to mention getting two Golden Globe Awards and two Primetime Emmys, he’s become a darling of the Black community.
But despite the success he’s had outside of the recording booth, he’s not doing too shabby with his music since his ubiquitous song “Redbone” racked up three Grammy Award nominations at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards, including song of the year.
The trailer for the second season for Atlanta recently premiered as well.
You may not think of the New York rap legend as a successful businessman but nothing could be further from the truth. Years back he founded the venture capital firm QueensBridge Venture Partners, and as of 2016 he invested in over 40 start-ups.
So far Nas made early investments in companies like Lyft and Dropbox, so his finger seems to be on the pulse of what’s potentially lucrative. In a past interview, he talked about what sparks his interest in a company and gave a little insight into why he opened QueensBridge Venture in the first place.
“I love to bet on great people that inspire me and make me think or see things differently,” he told CNBC. “I’ve always wanted to be surrounded by the smartest people in the world and didn’t want to limit that to just music.”
From cosmetics to clothing, to the silver screen, Nicki Minaj has made music just a small part of her overall success. One could say she’s opened doors for other female rappers to capitalize on their brands as well. In fact, it’s something she talked about in a 2017 interview.
“My role in hip-hop has been super unique because when my first album came out, there had been so much time where there wasn’t a female rap album out that went platinum,” she said. “There wasn’t a big female rap presence right before I got in. So, my role was really reintroducing the female rapper to pop culture.”
“I aligned myself with a lot of brands, and I was able to show that a female rapper was able to sell products,” Nicki added. “I don’t think [female rappers] got that much credit. I think female rappers have always been dope and influential, but I think I sort of came in at a time where big business was paying attention, so I was able to capitalize off of a lot of deals and business ventures.”
T.I. has certainly made his well-worded rhymes work out for him on a business level. Throughout his impressive career, he launched his own nightclub, opened up a restaurant and has endorsement deals with major companies like Chevrolet.
Plus, he recently invested in a new mobile software company called Mulaah started by two engineering grads from Georgia Tech. Tip also partnered with a tech startup called Sudu, so he’s done a good job of planting a lot of financial seeds in case the money from music slows down.
From underground rapper to Academy Award winner, Common’s career seems nothing short of a storybook.
In the very same year the Chicago native released his seventh studio album “Finding Forever,” he also made his debut on the big screen in the film “Smokin’ Aces.”
From there, he’s had memorable roles in films like “American Gangster,” “Just Wright and “Selma” to name a few. He’s also moved behind the camera as well and is one of the producers for Showtime’s “The Chi.”