#1. Shawn Carter, better known as rapper Jay-Z, squeezed in a comeback last year with Kingdom Come, his 11th studio album, selling some 2 million copies. Jay-Z also owns the 40/40 Club sports bar franchise, with locations in New York and Atlanta, and a small stake in the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. Plus he collects income from blue-chip endorsement deals with Budweiser, Hewlett-Packard, and General Motors. Jay-Z banked an estimated $34 million in 2006, earning him the top spot on Forbes’ first-ever list of hip-hop Cash Kings.
Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, nabbed the No. 2 spot on the list, presides over G-Unit, a diverse portfolio of businesses that includes apparel, ringtones, video games and even a line of fiction. All told, “Fiddy” as he is known to fans, made an estimated $32 million last year. “I’m creating a foundation that will be around for a long time, because fame can come and go or get lost in the lifestyle and the splurging,” he told Forbes last year. “I never got into it for the music. I got into it for the business.”
A surprising No. 3 is impresario Sean “Diddy” Combs, formerly known as “Puff Daddy,” who lords over Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group. That enterprise is responsible for TV series like MTV’s Making the Band franchise, the Sean John clothing line, the bestselling Unforgivable cologne and a pair of restaurants called Justin’s, named after one of his sons. The Bad Boy Records label, backed by Warner Music Group, released albums last year by Danity Kane, Cassie and Yung Joc. Last year, Diddy himself released his first album in four years; Press Play debuted at the top of the U.S. pop and rap charts. All told, Combs made an estimated $28 million last year. (Representatives for Diddy, ever the showman, insist that figure is much higher.)