Are Rappers Making Smart Business Moves?

The success of a few overshadow the failures of many.

Posted: 06/13/2011 02:07 PM EDT
Filed Under Jay-Z, Kanye West

Rapper can rack up tons of platinum plaques and can sell out venues across the world, but that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to business ventures outside hip hop.

The news that controversial rapper/producer Mr. Kanye West is abandoning a line of Fat Burger chains he’s established all across the country in 2008 opens up a broader conversation about rappers and their business savvy.

After opening up a chain of Fat Burgers in his hometown, Chicago, through his food company KW Foods, LLC, the Grammy Award winner is getting out of the food business altogether.

Per Page Six:

“While Kanye West has doubled down on the fashion trade, the rapper has exited the burger biz… In January, Fatburger shuttered one location and bought back the other, a rep for the chain confirmed. Fatburger still has branches owned by Queen Latifah in Miami and super-producer Pharrell in Macau. West attended the CFDAs here this week and is reportedly designing his own clothing line in London.”


These days you’re nothing in hip hop without a diverse portfolio. Gone are the days when it was enough for rap stars to enter a booth and lay down a perfect verse over a tight beat to reach the masses. The thought process is that hip hop stars have to go a step further to become moguls outside the music business. Check the blueprint laid out by rap impresarios Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Diddy. But is this a model others should follow? Is it smart? Is it hurting the African-American workforce? OK, that last bit was a stretch, but the question is still very much relevant.

If you look outside the realm of rappers' music careers you’ll be shocked to discover that most businesses operated and owned by some of today’s most notable names in hip hop have ended up being nothing short of disastrous. And not even hip-hop king Jay-Z is immune to missteps in the realm.

In the unauthorized biography Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office, Forbes magazine editor Zack O’Malley Greenburg speaks very candidly about a cross-promotional deal gone sour. Apparently Jay was to lend his name to a special-edition Jeep Commander until Chrysler higher-ups became apprehensive about the successful rapper's criminal past and abrasive language in board meetings. Subsequently we never heard of that deal ever again.

And I know no one can forget Flavor Flav’s embarrassing entrance into the food industry with a line of fried chicken joints. The restaurant had been besieged by problems since it first debuted, with employees recently complaining that their checks had bounced. It should come as no surprise that after a mere four months the establishment was closed and the finger pointing began. And the list of failed rap ventures could go on and on.

The point of my rant is two-fold. First, not every artist should try to expand on their business. Some of you all should just invest in some gold and stay in your lane. And second, you can’t have success without failures. So when artists such as Kanye and Jay-Z attempt to gloss over their business tragedies by way of silence and/or good public relations spin, I can’t help but give the side-eye.

Perhaps if you don’t want the embarrassment of failure you shouldn’t be so public with your intentions.

Just a little food for thought.

(Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

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