Black America's Top Moneymakers

In the Age of Black Multimillionaires
ESSENCE.COM Mar, 25, 2009

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Everyone is taking a beating during these harsh economic times, but there are some Black celebrities who are weathering through this storm quite well. With the help of Lee Hawkins, a Wall Street Journal/CNBC reporter and author of “NEWBOS: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass” (available on, we examine those Black multimillionaires who used clever methods and even street-wise skills to amass wealth.

See how well they’re doing and how you can apply the same techniques to grow your own mini fortune.

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Ranked at No. 16 on the 2008 Forbes Top 100 Celebrity List, NBA All-Star LeBron James is certainly part of the new money club. In 2007, he signed a three-year, $60 million contract extension, adding to his estimated $150 million deals in endorsements. He’s even hung out with billionaire Warren Buffett who gives him stock advice. In a bold and controversial move, the 24-year-old fired his agent and hired two of his most trusted childhood friends to help him run his business.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Find someone who knows it all and pick their brain. “Multimillionaires like LeBron are the first in their generation to earn sums of money this vast,” says Hawkins. “They hunger for guidance or mentorship so that they can reach their full potential in business.”

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Five-time Grammy-winning Gospel artist Kirk Franklin has sold 14 million albums and is the first gospel artist to garner platinum sales. Franklin has become successful in a genre that’s often overlooked when it comes to multimillion deals because of his contemporary approach to music ministry.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Think out of the box when it comes to making money. Don’t always rely on the straight path, but like Franklin, diversify your interest while staying true to your mission.

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Even as a teenager, supermodel Tyra Banks always knew that her newfound fame as a cover girl would be temporary. Having taken advantage of the power of reinvention, Banks is now one of the highest earning women on television. She serves as creator, producer and judge on “America’s Next Top Model,” and doles advice on her daytime show, “The Tyra Banks Show,” all of which banked the beauty around $23 million dollars last year.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Think about how you can reinvent yourself. If one career stalls, figure out how to use your skills to create the next opportunity.

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There’s something to be said when you’re the only A-list Black actress in Hollywood. Halle Berry’s movies have grossed millions and her endorsement deals have earned her even more. She recently inked a deal with fragrance giant Coty, which was said to pay out anywhere between $3-$5 million with a royalty of five percent. She also bought a multimillion dollar property in Canada to share with her model boyfriend, Gabriel Aubry, and their daughter, Nahla. Part of that success has to do with picking a stellar team. From her manager to her stylist, Berry’s lineup knows what’s best for her image and her career.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Be particular and selective when it comes to choosing the team of people who will represent you and can represent you well.

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Longevity in the music industry is hard to come by, so there’s something to be said when you have eight studio albums, nine Grammys, countless big-name endorsements, and you just purchased a 18,250 square-foot dream home for $12.3 million in cash.

After debuting more than 15 years ago, singer Mary J. Blige is now worth plenty. However, despite her hard-earned success, it’s said that those closest to her took advantage of her money and fame, forcing Blige to cut ties to the people who were harmful to her career.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Know your self-worth and evolve with your business. “Artists like Mary J. Blige probably made a lot of mistakes earlier in their careers,” said Hawkins. “But if you look at the person she has become, it’s world apart from where she started.”

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Last year will forever be memorable for Jay-Z. Not only did he marry longtime love, Beyonce, but a few days earlier he signed a $150 million, ten-year recording, touring and merchandising deal with concert promoter Live Nation, according to As part of that deal he receives $25 million upfront, $10 million per album, $25 million toward concert tours, and $20 million for publishing and other rights. Not to mention the $50 million going toward his new venture, Roc Nation.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Don’t just pursue your talent. These days, you’ve got to also understand the business behind your talent. “Younger Black millionaires have stopped being just the performer and started taking over the business opportunities available in their industries,” explains Hawkins.

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No shocker here. Oprah Winfrey is the highest paid African-American, taking home a cool $260 million last year, according to Plus, she’s the only Black female billionaire. An ardent businesswoman, she prefers to stay on top of her brand, which includes “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Oprah & Friends” on XM Satellite Radio, O, The Oprah Magazine, and her newly acquired television station, the OWN Network. She wouldn’t be where she is if it weren’t for her ability to maintain a vested interest in all aspects of her business.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Be about your business. Know where your money is going, sign all of your checks and open all of your own mail. Simple advice that will keep you away from ill-fated surprises and avoidable mistakes.

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Beyonce has the type of success that could easily put her in early retirement, but with the help of an incredible support system, she continues to conquer the world. In 2007, the “Dangerously in Love” singer reportedly made $80 million, according to Forbes magazine, and there’s no telling what this year will bring.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Set rules and guidelines with your family members to ensure a smooth-running operation. Don’t let business matters mix with family affairs. Know where to draw the line in order to have a healthy balance.

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He’s come a long way from the gritty streets of Queens, New York. Rapper 50 Cent has to be respected as a full fledged businessman who garnered the majority of his wealth ($150 million total last year) by setting up deals outside of the rap game. He banked $100 million after taxes by selling his stake in VitaminWater to Coca-Cola, according to His portfolio also includes the G-Unit clothing line, films, ringtones and video games. He’s got a powerhouse team behind him who help to oversee his growing empire. Rumor has it that he’s currently working on a $300 million agreement with MySpace.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Diversify your interests and you’ll diversify your wealth. "What a lot of people don’t realize is that hip-hop moguls like 50 Cent are taking ownership of their brands,” says Hawkins. “You would be hard-pressed to find a hip-hop figure who hasn’t ventured into ancillary industries. They’re always branching into different areas to grow their wealth.”

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Don’t be fooled by the glitz and the glamour-Kimora Lee Simmons knows how to handle her business. In 2004 Kimora and ex-husband Russell Simmons sold the rights to their Phat Fashions brand to apparel giant Kellwood for $140 million with Kimora walking away with a sizable cut of the deal. She continues to make money from her shoes, jewelry, cosmetics and perfume lines.

Though it’s no secret the pregnant mother of two has no problem spending money, she also knows how to manage it telling ESSENCE magazine, “It’s important to live within your means, not beyond them. If you’re bringing home $100 a week, you should be spending well within that limit.”

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Pay yourself first. “I’m a big believer in building a nest egg for yourself,” Simmons explains. “If you have a dime, pay yourself 2 cents before you use the other 8 cents for something else."

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It says it all in their name, brothers Ronald “Slim” and Bryan “Baby” Williams are the owners of New Orleans based Cash Money Records. Their top selling client is rapper Lil’ Wayne, who sold one million copies of his latest album “Tha Carter III” in a single week.

The Williams brothers started their record company 16-years ago out of their housing project and used independent distributors to get their albums out to the public. They signed a publishing and distribution deal about 12 -years ago with Universal Records estimated at $30 million but changed the game by demanding ownership of their masters. Under the deal Universal have given Baby and Slim a $2 million advance each year and divide the profits generated by their jointly managed artists where Universal get 20 percent and Cash Money puts a whopping 80 percent back in their pockets.

Multimillion Dollar Lesson: Just about every entrepreneur starts out as a home grown business. Work your grassroot connections. You never know when a bigger fish will take notice and want to help you along. By Porsche Slocum and Wendy Wilson

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Everyone is taking a beating during these harsh economic times, but there are some Black celebrities who are weathering through this storm quite well. With the help of Lee Hawkins, a Wall Street Journal/CNBC reporter and author of “NEWBOS: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass,” (available for pre-order on we examine those Black multimillionaires who used clever methods and even street-wise skills to amass wealth. See how well they’re doing and how you can apply the same techniques to grow your own mini fortune.


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