Music Industry Moguls: Power Players

The Entrepreneur
Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter

Many of the greatest minds to inhabit and shape our world admit to possessing an inherent belief from an early age that greatness lie ahead, despite the dismal circumstances of their youth. Albert Einstein knew it. Oprah Winfrey knew it. President Barack Obama knew it. And there is absolutely no doubting the fact that Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter never questioned it. In fact, in his video for  “On to the Next One,” produced with Swizz Beatz, a frame flashes with the lyrics from the song where the hip-hop star claims, “Always knew it’d be like this,” referring to his insatiable ambition and the success that he has created for himself throughout his lifetime.

So when he “always knew it’d be like this,” did he envision himself with a Forbes-estimated net worth of more than $500 million in 2009, the year of the Great Recession? Jay-Z earned a reputation early on as a controversial figure in the world of hip-hop. When he started his career in the 90s, no major label would sign him, so in a move that was meant to gesture the finger to the establishment, he started his own label with buds Damon Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke. He then went on to distribute a second album with Russell Simmons’ Def Jam Records and later produce with Sean “Diddy” Combs. Throughout the remaining years of the 90s through to today, Jay-Z has reinvented himself with each new album, “building on progression” and refusing to rest on his previous successes.

But it is not just his lyrical genius and creativity behind the soundboard that earns this mogul a top spot on our list. Carter’s business acumen could rival that of any white-collar executive. In fact, he has been playing the role of executive for quite some time, serving as president of Def Jam Records for three years before he stepped down to sign a 50-50 deal with Live Nation to help fund his new label Roc Nation. In addition to the label, he also co-created the apparel company Rocawear with Dash; in 2007 he sold the rights for $204 million, yet still managed to retain a stake in the brand, along with marketing, licensing, and product development duties. Beyond that, he is an investor in the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and took part in a groundbreaking ceremony in early March at the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards alongside New York Governor Paterson and NYC Mayor Bloomberg. As the New York Times once declared, “[Jay-Z] is an all-American tale of entrepreneurship.”

The Revolutionary
Sean “Diddy” Combs

If Shawn Carter believes in reinventing himself with each new album, then certainly it could be said that Sean Combs reinvents himself with each knew moniker. Combs started in the music industry following a rather traditional route, considering his penchant for bucking the status quo. While attending Howard University, he commuted to NYC to work as an intern at Uptown Records. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, he established a name for himself with industry insiders but had yet to burst onto the scene and become a household name. That all changed in 1993 when, after being fired from his executive position at Uptown, he gave birth to Bad Boy Records. After four years of a nasty East Coast vs. West Coast hip-hop war that resulted in the death of two icons, The Notorious B.I.G and Tupak Shakur, mainstream America was formally introduced to the first incarnation of “Puff Daddy.” In 1997, he released his first vocal track, which shot up to No. 1 on the Billboard music charts. His debut album, No Way Out also spent time at No. 1, in addition to claiming a 1998 Grammy award. More controversy ensued for who we all started calling “Puffy,” so in a Mary J. Blige-type of “no more drama” move, Sean Combs took on another name change, perhaps in an effort to shed his skin and start anew. In 2001, the world was reintroduced to the music mogul, this time dubbed “P. Diddy.”

Despite living up to the name of his original record company and portraying a “bad boy” image to keep up his street cred early on, Combs has undeniably and actively pursued a path of positive action. In 2003, he raised $2 million for the New York school system during his quest to complete the New York City marathon—a goal he accomplished in four hours and 14 minutes. He followed that up the next year by spearheading the “Vote or Die” campaign for the 2004 presidential election. And seeking the spotlight once again, in 2005 he dropped the “P” to be known as just plain “Diddy,” perhaps a move that helped earn him a spot on Time magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People of 2005.”

Of course, if anyone were about turning their name and persona into a brand, it would certainly be this tune titan. He launched his Sean John fashion line back in 1998, and not just as a PR gimmick. His line is so widely acclaimed that the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the definitive voice on fashion, named Sean Jean Menswear Designer of the Year in 2004. With the latest launch of his cologne, I Am King, along with a 50-percent share in the French vodka Ciroc, Combs’ net worth has been estimated at upwards of $500 million. But these various ventures don’t prevent him from focusing on the music. His new album, Last Train to Paris, is set to drop on June 22, and the first single, “Hello Good Morning” featuring T.I. and Dirty Money, debuted on American Idol in late March and is already climbing the charts.

The Executive
L.A. Reid

He has been called one of the most powerful men in the music industry, and when the others on this list include Clive Davis, Quincy Jones, and Russell Simmons, that carries some weight.

L.A. Reid’s career has been well documented in a plethora of print and online publications throughout the decades. A quick refresher for you: he founded LaFace records with pal Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, which merged with Arista Records at the start of the century, a company of which Reid became president and CEO. The songwriter, record producer, music executive, and Grammy winner has been linked with some of the greatest successes in pop music, including Mariah Carey, Outkast, Toni Braxton, TLC, Usher, Ciara, Kanye West, and Bon Jovi.

But it was not Reid’s destiny to see out his career at Arista; in 2004, he took over at Island Def Jam Music Group as the chairman and CEO. The latest breaking news from the music impresario is that he signed Jennifer Lopez, a move that is sure to quiet the rumors and the haters about his impending departure from his music corp.

In addition to his skills with song, Reid is also an avid wine collector, with a reported 2,000-bottle cellar taking up space at his estate on Long Island.