This week Jay-Z and Kanye West unveiled their long-awaited collaboration,Watch the Throne. The album’s timing and title couldn’t have been more appropriate—the Empire State of Mind rapper is hip-hop’s top earner with $37 million in the past 12 months, claiming his fourth Cash Kings crown in five years; his partner-in-rhyme ranked third.
Fueled by the tail end of his Blueprint 3 Tour and a vast portfolio of business interests, Jay-Z barely edged second-ranked Diddy—who raked in $35 million, roughly half of that total coming from a lucrative partnership with Diageo’s Ciroc vodka—but handily topped West, who earned $16 million. The duo is steaming ahead with plans for co-headlining tour starting this fall.
“Jay-Z and Kanye are hip-hop ambassadors,” says Steve Stoute, chief of branding firm Translation and author of The Tanning of America. “They bring the art form around the world, and they’ve taken production and everything to the next level. Now they’ve got a chance to grow with their global audience.”
The Watch The Throne rappers, whose album debuted around the world exclusively on Apple’s iTunes, aren’t the only ones making millions by going global. Fresh off a eight-month jail stint, Lil Wayne released a new album and performed a slew of shows from Buffalo to Vancouver, netting $15 million over the past year. That sum tied him with his mentor and label boss, Cash Money Records co-founder Birdman, for the fourth spot.
“If we ain’t number one now, we’ll be there soon,” said Birdman while discussing his billion dollar dreams with FORBES. Farther down the list, Swizz Beatz also looked to the future: “I will be #1 next year,” he wrote in an email. Wiz Khalifa—whose high earnings landed him at No. 11—seemed pleasantly surprised to learn he’d be making his Cash Kings debut. “I’m one of them?” he exclaimed. “That’s what’s up!”