Culture is future » Innovation and digital


Contribution : "The rapper-businessman, a familiar artistic and economic success." by Stéphane Domengès

If they play the game of provocation, rappers win their independence by becoming cunning businessmen. Looking back at a few million dollar success stories.

Eminem, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy and also La Fouine, Booba, or Soprano… The names of artists from the American and French rap scene not only share a mutual talent that enriches hip-hop culture. But they also built a prosperous business that overruns simple musical production. What is the root behind this switch from singer to businessman?

A musical and social phenomenon that won its place on the market.

The movement is born in the United States of America during the late 70s inside the American black ghetto within a particular context, between social and politic conflict (as an example, it happens during the same time that the “Black Panthers” made the buzz). This wave spread and arrives in France in the early 80s. It starts with the French youth who take interest in dance and graffiti[1]. The first French rap groups only appear in the late 80s stemming from this American acculturation, forming legendary group like NTM, IAM, ASSASSIN etc. Many newly created experimental radio stations, through their programs, spread knowledge of the movement. It is around this time, that France became the second country for rap in the world. The majority of these culture actors are people from ghettos, with a precarious life, and similar futures. So rap set itself as a new outlet and a space of freedom. Rap breaks pre-existing codes and reinvents them. It is the first signs of a phenomenon that will grow in a large scale that is largely seen. Today rap has become an entry ticket to the business world. Many rappers are become business executives, creators of clothing brands, fashion accessories and even cigar and vodka brands. What better example can be given than Jay-Z, world star rapper, married to Beyoncé with 520 million dollar portfolio[2], who before being a rapper, was just a little drugs dealer.


Rockers are a little too alternative for me” wrote Benjamin Chulvanij[3] who summarizes well the mindset of this industry. “While the rappers, they’re likewe want to make money!” and that, that talks to me.” This viewpoint is all the more understandable given that these actors generally come from poor backgrounds and evolve in a strong American culture where seeking money and success is something normal. It is within this vision of economic advancement that the rap scene evolves. In 2000, the world of music enters a staggering period: The record crisis. But nothing can stop the ascension of these young businessmen. We then saw them develop new ways to capitalize on their names. Clothing brands and other products are developed to fight the rise of illegal downloads. Today it is common to find in these artists’ boutiques products such as tee shirts, badges, posters, etc. Almost every rapper has a clothing brand. Buying clothes, it is somehow a way to show that one is part of the artist’s universe, a bit like medieval knights wearing the coat of arms of the king. The musician that becomes a brand, and a cultural product also becomes a communication medium. A whole process to embody the artists identity takes place via the image conveyed by the brand of the artist with its codes and references.

At a time where Jay-Z is launching his new streaming platform named “Tidal” and Dr. Dre became a billionaire (Apple’s acquisition of his headphones brand “Beat” for 3 billion dollars) and Kanye West overlooking his clothing brand on a runway during the Fashion Week, we can’t help but consider that everything had started with the music. A few notes at the back of a room, a few words scribbled at a stroke of a pen have brought a few million dollars in the bank. No need to worry for our French artists. Artists such as La Fouine or Booba are taking the same direction. If there is a magic formula, it’s Jay-Z: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.”[4].

Stéphane Domengès, Master 1 Publics de la culture et communication, Université d'Avignon


[1] Graffiti is visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues.

[2] Figured quoted from « Forbes » magazine.

[3]Creator of " Hostile Records" and CEO of " Def Jam Records ' iconic person of French Rap

[4] Taken from the song " Diamonds from Sierra Leone " featuring Kanye West