The rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs has reached another milestone in his increasingly storied hip-hop career. This year,Forbes ranked Diddy as the wealthiest hip-hop artist in the world, with a net worth of $475 million. He was followed on the list by Jay-Z, who himself carries a net worth of $450 million.
Following Diddy and Jay-Z are Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Bryan “Birdman” Williams of Cash Money Records.
I wasn’t surprised to see Diddy at the top of the list. His visionary style of corporate leadership is nothing short of iconic and legendary. The same is true for Jay-Z and other artists who made the list. What’s most interesting to me about Diddy, to be quite frank, is that Sean is probably the worst rapper on the list of wealthy hip-hop artists. While we can easily point to major jams produced and sold by Jay-Z, Birdman, Dr. Dre and even Fifty Cent, Diddy hasn’t put out hardly anything noteworthy since the death of the Notorious B.I.G. nearly 14 years ago.
With that said, kudos must be given to Sean for realizing that the real power in the entertainment industry doesn’t go to the artist. The truest forms of power actually go to the executives who control the artists. That’s why, when we hear of one artist after another complaining about how they “got screwed” with Diddy’s Bad Boy record label, we have to realize that not understanding the business model behind your industry effectively volunteers you for exploitation. Education is typically the key to positioning yourself to have a chance to become wealthy instead of just “hood rich.”
Another hint of brilliance in Diddy’s life that impresses me is his willingness to become politically active. Diddy and a few others have realized the significant and mostly untapped political power of hip-hop music and have harnessed some of that power to create “get out and vote” campaigns, among other things. While I am certainly impressed with Diddy’s understanding of hip-hop’s political power, I am quietly hoping that he will do even more than he has done today. While hip-hop certainly has the leverage to get people out to vote, it also has the power to fight against the mass incarceration of African American males, serious economic inequality that affects black families, the destruction of our urban youth with inadequate inner city schools, and the like. Rather than just rapping about the trauma that they experience in the hood, I am hoping that artists will realize that they can actually do something about it.
Diddy and others like him must never forget that with great power comes great responsibility (even Spider Man’s uncle Ben knew that). This means that when all eyes are on you, you then have the ability to shape an entire generation and dictate the direction of the black community for generations to come. Using that power to convince young people to get high and drunk or spend all night in the club undermines their tremendous capacity for productive and empowered behavior.
While many leading hip-hop artists are still stuck in the less-evolved state of selling liquor and trying to out-bling one another, they may want to take a look at some of the work being done by a few prominent billionaires, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey. Instead of using their money to show you yet another fancy jet or expensive Mc-Mansion they’ve built, a group of billionaires have pulled together their resources and decided to change the world. Many of them have agreed to give half their fortunes to charity, and others, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, have been working diligently to fix our schools and make our world a better place for the next generation.
If wealthy whites can step to the plate to engage in initiatives that help the black community, we should expect the same from wealthy African Americans. So, rather than rapping about bling, cristal, women, and fancy cars, perhaps we can enlighten ourselves and start rapping about things that will give our kids a chance to truly shine. Given that Diddy is the wealthiest among all the rich guys at the top, I’ll be looking toward him to take the lead.