Believe it or not, hip-hop was once considered as a fad, but over the past few decades, it has skyrocketed to become of music’s biggest genres. When hip-hop first started, some aspiring MCs saw it as a creative outlet, while others saw it as a means to make a living.
The late ’80s to ’90s era was a time when artists started to see their music careers as a stepping stone to other endeavors. Once other artists started seeing how they could venture out and make their careers pretty lucrative, many of them followed suit.
From brand deals to investments to entrepreneurship, here is a list of MCs who’ve broadened their career beyond the stage.
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Jay Z once famously said, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” a lyric that plays into the message of how much Jay has expanded his brand beyond his music career. He’s ventured into other avenues including the Rocawear clothing brand, acquiring the music streaming service Tidal, becoming part owner of the Brooklyn Nets, holding stakes in companies like D’Usse and Uber, and launching his own sports agency Roc Nation Sports. Indeed, Jay has truly branded himself as a business — it’s no wonder he became hip-hop’s first billionaire.
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Queen Latifah is the definition of an artist who can do it all. Granted, she started her career as one of hip-hop’s most prominent MCs, but she’s always done so much more for herself and she does it well. From acting on TV shows like Living Single and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, to starring in films like Bringing Down the House and Hairspray, to hosting award shows and her own daytime TV talk show — Latifah’s career is impressive to say the least. Not only has she won plenty of awards such as Grammys, Emmys, and Golden Globes, but she also became the first female MC to be nominated for an Oscar.
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Def Jam Records is heralded as one of the most prestigious music labels to help elevate hip-hop, and LL Cool J was the company’s first signee. In addition to his rap career, his acting career also took off. He’s starred in films like Deep Blue Sea, Any Given Sunday, and Last Holiday. However, most of his acting chops can be seen on TV shows such as In The House and NCIS: Los Angeles.
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There’s no doubt about it that Ice Cube helped usher in the West Coast rap style thanks to being a member of N.W.A. But in the ‘90s, Cube wanted to make a pivot into Hollywood and he got some encouragement from the late John Singleton. After playing roles in films like Boyz n the Hood and Higher Learning, Cube went on to take roles in other films such as the Friday franchise, Barbershop, All About The Benjamins, Are We There Yet?, and Ride Along. He also made his directorial debut in the 1998 film The Players Club. It’s safe to say he’s made his mark in music and film.
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Master P has always been an advocate for starting new businesses and serving his community. In addition to launching his indie music label No Limit Records, Master P has also ventured into clothing, film, sports management, restaurants, and the snack industry. He’s one of the earliest rappers to truly set his sights on creating businesses outside of the music industry, a mindset that has inspired plenty of rappers who’ve come after him.
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Unlike some of his contemporaries, Nas is still releasing music after 30+ years in the industry, and showcases why he’s still one of the best MCs. In addition to his music career, he’s been a savvy investor across the technology industry. As a founding partner of Queensbridge Venture Partners, he’s invested in more than 100 companies including Ring, Dropbox, Lyft, and Robinhood. He also advocates for young people to start investing, and encourages them to educate themselves on proper investments and business ventures.
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Ice-T may be known as the one of the early pioneers of gangsta rap, but he’s also developed quite a long resume in acting. While he’s been seen in films like New Jack City and TV shows like New York Undercover, more people know him as a long-standing cast member of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
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Common holds many titles: a member of the Soulquarians, rapper, activist, and actor. Throughout his acting career, he’s appeared in films like American Gangster, Selma, Suıcide Squad, and John Wick: Chapter 2. He also is an executive producer on the Showtime TV show The Chi, a show that fits perfectly for him since the plot is centered around Common’s hometown of Chicago.
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Dr. Dre helped usher in the West Coast rap sound as a founding member of N.W.A. In addition to the group’s success, he also ventured into a solo career and produced hit tracks for other rappers and singers. However, one of his biggest ventures came when he teamed up with record executive Jimmy Iovine and launched Beats by Dre, a headphone company that rivaled some of the biggest hitters in the speaker industry. He also launched his streaming service Beats Music, which was eventually acquired by Apple.
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In the 2000s, Ludacris was known as one of the rappers that helped establish Atlanta as a rising hip-hop hub. In addition to being known as one of the most creative rappers of our time, Ludacris has ventured into other industries that are quite lucrative. Putting on his actor hat, he’s known as Tej Parker in the Fast & Furious movie franchise. He’s also stepped into the food and beverage industries by being the founder of the alcohol brand Conjure Cognac, and starting his own restaurant Chicken-n-Beer. Most recently, he developed the Netflix animated series Karma’s World.
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Snoop Dogg is truly a jack of all trades. Granted, he’s one of the most recognized and respected MCs who helped establish the hip-hop West Coast sound, but in music, he’s also ventured into the worlds of pop, reggae, and gospel. In addition to his music career, Snoop has made pivots into film and TV show hosting. He’s made waves in different industries including e-sports, food, and cannabis. One of his most prized ventures is running the Snoop Youth Football League, a non-profit organization that helps children participate in the sport. His youth league is filled with some eye-catching talent, as quite a few members have gone to sign contracts with the NFL.
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To his music fans, he’s known as Childish Gambino, but in the acting world, he’s known as Donald Glover. In Hollywood, he started as a writer for 30 Rock before he made a few appearances. He then had a starring role on the NBC sitcom Community. He’s also taken his talent to the big screen with roles in movies such as Magic Mike XXL, The Lazarus Effect, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. He also created and starred in the FX sitcom Atlanta. The show ran for four seasons and Glover earned two Golden Globe Awards.
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Diddy is a man of many hats: hip-hop executive, rapper, producer, and self-proclaimed inventor of the remix. However, to his core, he’s a business mogul, and it’s no wonder he’s always listed on the Forbes’ list of wealthiest hip-hop stars. Throughout his career, he started the fashion line Sean John, invested in Ciroc Vodka, became a restauranteur, and launched his television network Revolt TV.
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While some rappers have made their way to acting on screen, 50 Cent has become a mastermind behind the camera. His production company G-Unit Films is behind a few Starz hit TV shows including Black Mafia Family and the Power series (he had a brief recurring role in the latter). In addition to his Hollywood status, 50 Cent has also ventured across clothing, fragrance, boxing, and vodka industries.
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Kanye West is not only a rapper and founder of the G.O.O.D Music record label, but he’s been pretty dominant in the fashion world. Throughout his fashion career as a designer, he’s collaborated with brands including A Bathing Ape, Nike, and Louis Vuitton, until he landed an exclusive deal with Adidas. The collaboration launched the start of the Adidas Yeezy line that featured clothing and sneakers.
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There is no doubt that Will Smith will always be known as the Fresh Prince, the rapper who created hit songs like “Summertime” and “Parents Just Don’t Understand.” However, people first got to see Smith’s acting chops starring in the TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show helped launch his career into acting roles in films like Bad Boys, Men In Black, Independence Day, I Am Legend, King Richard, and many more.
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In addition to being one of the members of hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man has built a solid acting career. He first got his start in the movie Belly, and then moved on to other films like How High, Soul Plane, and Red Tails. Method Man has also landed TV roles on shows such as Oz, The Wire, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Deuce, and Power Book II: Ghost.
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Although E-40 may be known as the Ambassador of the Bay, a rapper who helped showcase the Bay Area style of rap music, he’s also built his empire in the food and spirits business. His food brand Goon With The Spoon manufactures ice cream, as well as pre-packaged burritos and sausages. With his pivot into the alcohol space, he’s launched different wines under his Earl Stevens Selections line including a cognac, a tequila, his pre-mixed cocktails Slurricane, and many more. He’s also the co-owner of the Filipino food business The Lumpia Company, which has a couple of locations across the Bay Area.
Bun B is getting into the restaurant business with Trill Burgers. The name itself is well on brand for the rapper, since Bun B has featured the word “trill” in every single album title. In 2022, he won Good Morning America’s Ultimate Burger Spot, and since then, he’s brought the burger business to pop-ups at different events like Coachella. Early in summer 2023, Bun B officially opened up his first brick and mortar location just outside of his hometown of Houston, and it’s becoming quite the popular eatery among residents, tourists, and fans.
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Styles P is an advocate for people to live life in the healthiest and positive way. In 2011, Styles launched his juice bar business, Juices For Life, a shop in which customers can purchases fruit and vegetable juices, along with wellness shots, protein shakes and smoothies. Alongside his wife, Adjua Styles, they opened up an online health food store called Farmacy for Life, that offers vegan-friendly and holistic products as such as minerals and herbs. Health is definitely wealth!