Forbes staffer Zack O’Malley Greenburg seems to have been surprised that Jay-Z wouldn’t cooperate with his book on the hip hop mogul’s personal industry, Empire State of Mind (Portfolio). Studying how the talented rapper got so rich—he is personally worth something like half a billion dollars—should have told Greenburg that his subject had nothing to gain from cooperating, and thus wouldn’t.
Jay-Z has admitted to watering down his artistry to sell records, and he makes sure he is well-compensated for linking his personal brand with any product. He has conquered music, clothing, drinks, books, and nightclubs. President Obama calls him to feel out the American street. In a classic American tale of cultural openness to the skilled outsider, he rose to these heights from disreputable roots: street cocaine slinging and, for that matter, rap itself.
Greenburg explains how flourishing entertainers sell more than just art. As Jay-Z rapped, “I’m not a businessman—I’m a business, man.” —Brian Doherty