In a recent ranking by The New York Times Magazine, Eminem dropped to No. 8, behind only Kanye West (No. 12) and The Weeknd (No. 4). The Forbes ranking was based on Forbes magazine data—it doesn’t mention Eminem. Eminem and West are both part of American hip-hop, an industry that generates around $40 billion a year.
While they seem comparable in wealth, the rapper’s fame has largely come from a single EP, an album and his own YouTube channel (see “How Eminem Made Music”). In the last few years, he and West have been releasing albums that don’t fall neatly into any of those categories. “The Marshall Mathers LP II,” which came out in September, is his biggest commercial release with sales topping 1.7 million copies—which puts it right behind Kanye’s “Real Friends.”
Other big white rappers who make less money include Eminem’s father, Don (who, according to Forbes, made $9 million in 2009, Forbes’ estimate, after the father earned $30 million in 2006). Other notable rappers who made their names in the underground rap scene before coming to the mainstream include Ice Cube—a rapper who’s best known as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan—and Big Pun from the NWA.
The list may seem like a reflection of the demographics of the population of America, which have shifted to more affluent. While the white rapper is a rare breed, experts say it’s a reflection of the changing economy of music.
“The industry has been moving over the last decade (to) a more mainstream business model with a focus on digital distribution,” says Jody L. Bierman, professor of cultural studies at the University of California, San Diego. “When they were first coming out in the mid-2000s, the industry was focused on a smaller (and, to get attention, white-sounding) demographic—hip hop groups.
That may be changing. “In the last year we’ve got a lot of people who started out as white-sounding MCs making music on their laptops,” explains David Sieracki, producer and executive editor of Hip-Hop Radar. “Their albums look like they came out in a time when they could get on a radio station and play.”
Sieracki’s “Reconciled Hip-Hop” series examines the music industry, the business of rap music and the impact of hip-hop culture on society—in particular,
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