Within the music industry and hip-hop genre in particular, lucrative endorsement deals and fat royalty checks have long been commonplace. However very rarely does an artist smash through the demographic boundaries of rap to become a cross-cultural, multi-categorical, living brand, and consumer icon. That is exactly what Shawn Corey Carter, more commonly known by his alias “Jay-Z”, has done.
As a brand and a leading cultural intermediary, Jay-Z has accumulated an extensive portfolio of entrepreneurial interests and has been highly influential in mainstream culture. He is one of the few hip-hop artists whose lyrics regularly contain references outside the standard hip-hop vocabulary of sex, drugs, and violence. Instead he prefers to tactfully utilize his music as a platform to grow his empire of a personal brand and create a cult-like following. Jay-Z describes himself as a mogul and a business, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” (Rice 2013). His consistent mentioning of brands and various collaborations with them indicate “his legitimacy as a self-made businessman” (Bereznak 2013). While its true Jay-Z came from relatively humble beginnings, growing up hustling and selling drugs on the streets of Brooklyn; his story remains more than one of rags to riches (Sanneh 2006). He had a vision that extended well beyond rapping and skillfully built his business by exemplifying his lifestyle as a conscious choice, “My brands are an extension of me” (Sonny 2013).
Jay-Z’s brand equity is clearly a derivative of his musical abilities and his overriding success as a hip-hop artist. Selling upwards of 75 million copies of his albums worldwide and being handed 17 Grammy Awards in the process, as well as numerous more nominations. Jay-Z has consistently been touted by those within the industry as one of the greatest rappers of all time, being ranked number one by MTV in their list of The Greatest MCs of All-Time in 2006. Three of his records, Reasonable Doubt (1996), The Blueprint (2001), and The Black Album (2003) are regarded as landmarks in the genre, with all of them being featured in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time (Klara 2011). While Jay-Z’s rapping credentials certainly helped achieve him a level of brand awareness and recognition amongst consumers, it has been the variety of associations and strategic ventures that have paved the way for him to become one of the most powerful and wealthy hip-hop artists on the planet.
He has been dubbed the “CEO of Hip-Hop and prince of product placement” and is considered a “walking billboard” (Robins-Early 2013). The brands that Jay-Z affiliates with convey their own separate messages and ideologies, of which combine to form his own unique image. The characteristics of each carefully selected association are adopted as “a part of his personal brand” (Robins-Early 2013). As an entrepreneur and investor, Jay-Z co-owns the 40/40 Club, and is the co-creator of the clothing line...