Music: Jay-Z, Diddy build empires

Gotham Edition 10th Anniversary

The nine-figure deal that Jay-Z recently signed with Live Nation confirmed his status as one of the loftiest names in music, but over the past several years, the artist formerly known as Shawn Carter has proved that artists can make a financial impact without performing a single note.

Carter and sometime-rival — and fellow New Yorker — Sean “Diddy” Combs were relatively contemporaneous in begetting the notion that an artist could assemble an empire beyond a mere custom label (although both have done well in that arena, as borne out by the successes of Roc-a-Fella and Bad Boy Records).

Combs hit clothing stores with his Sean John label in 1998, preceding Carter’s Roc-A-Wear entree by a few months, creating a two-pronged incursion that would quickly push the urban sartorial esthetic into the suburbs and exurbs. But while both lines quickly expanded beyond casual wear into women’s clothing and fragrances, they also managed to retain street credibility — no easy feat in this day and age.

“The consumer has to believe in the authenticity of the artist who’s the face of the brand, because if you don’t do that, you have a gap between the brand and the consumer” says record industry veteran Steve Stoute, chief creative officer of Transition Brand Imaging. “Jay-Z and Puffy were pioneers in doing that. They were the first who successfully branded themselves as lifestyle aficionados.”

Other performers have managed to climb aboard the bandwagon to some degree, from 50 Cent, whose G-Unit clothing line and Vitamin Water partnership have garnered him seven figures in annual income, to rapper/State Property clothing maven Beanie Sigel.

Each of the aforementioned artists, of course, first made his mark in the hip-hop realm, a fact Stoute thinks is no coincidence.

“Hip-hop never tried to hide the fact that it wanted money,” he says. “Rock ‘n’ roll is always hiding its commercial tendencies — it’s as if people in rock ‘n’ roll think that commerce is the opposite of what they’re all about.”

Carter and Combs show no sign of slowing down, with forays into the lucrative liquor industry — the former via his partnership with Armand de Brignac Champagne, the latter through his teaming with Ciroc vodka — and the restaurant/bar realm (both Combs’ Justin’s and Carter’s 40-40 have branched out from Gotham in recent years).

“I think it took both Jay-Z and Diddy some time to gain respect in the mainstream business world,” says BET entertainment reporter Egypt.

“But at the same time, you don’t have to be a genius to see their appeal. They’ve made themselves marketable on every level, to the point that people will buy just about anything they’re involved with, and that’s unprecedented in the music world.”

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