Every time I write about rapper financials I get the same comments: "Mind your own business, why do you care about another man's money?" As if I'm digging into some auto mechanic's bank account instead of a famous rapper who has made his wealth a core, fundamental part of his public image for over a decade. As a general rule, as soon as you post a picture of yourself with a cash-dick, you're inviting people to write about how much money you do - or don't - have.
No, I'm not writing this because I care about how much money 50 Cent has specifically, I'm writing this because understanding how much money a rapper truly has, and where it comes from, helps us understand how the music industry actually operates. And also because I care about the truth, and right now there are so many different versions of the truth floating around that not all of them can be true. Let's recap...
* About a year ago 50 Cent lost a $17 million lawsuit to Sleek, an audio company who claimed he stole their designs for his SMS Audio brand. Then, six months ago, 50 Cent was ordered to pay $5 million in damages to a woman because of a leaked sex tape, prompting him to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Despite what Twitter seemed to believe though, this wasn't bankruptcy as it's popularly understood (Chapter 7) where a judge wipes away your debts and leaves you with nothing. Instead, 50 was saying that he could pay the $5 million, he just didn't have that much cash immediately on hand. To come up with that money he would have to sell property, stock, etc., all of which isn't as simple as reaching into a bucket for a few stacks. The bankruptcy filing bought him time to figure out the best way to put together that $5 million.
* Earlier this week, as part of those bankruptcy filings, 50 declared that he had a total of $16 million in assets, about $8 million in property and $7.4 million in various accounts and investments. To be clear, $16 million is a lot of money, but late last year, Forbes estimated 50's net worth at a whopping $155 million. That's a hell of a discrepancy. Could 50 be hiding some of his assets? Maybe, but it's hard to believe he'd try to hide something like $100 million in the course of a trial. The legal system doesn't take kindly to being lied to at that level, and if he was caught, he wouldn't just be bankrupt for real, he'd be in prison.
No, common sense says 50 Cent is worth something closer to $16 million than $155 million. I don't know what else to tell you. That may not be the amount Forbes listed using a mysterious formula they're completely unaccountable for, it may not be what 50's Instagram may lead you to believe, but it's the amount he listed himself in legal documents. It may not be the absolute truth, but it's the closest thing to it we could possibly ever get.
So how did we get here? How did hip-hop's most admired entrepreneur and a man once reportedly valued at half a billion dollars end up with $16 million? Well, first of all, he was never worth half a billion. The media liked to report that he cleared $400 million from selling his stake in Vitamin Water, a number they arrived at by simply dividing Coke's $4 billion purchase price of Vitamin Water by Fiddy's 10 percent ownership stake, and 50 was happy to fan the flames of that misconception:
I took quarter water sold it in bottles for 2 bucks / Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions, what the fuck? / Have a baby by me baby, be a millionaire / I write the check before the baby comes, who the fuck cares? / I'm stanky rich, I'mma die trying to spend this shit
But as Dan Charnas pointed out in his book, The Big Payback, reality was far more complicated. Other investors had to be paid back first, and after other fees were deducted, 50's takeaway was more in the neighborhood of $60 million, a far cry from half a billion. Still, $60 million is nothing to laugh at, and when you add in a string of platinum albums, touring money, his G-Unit label and clothing line, his acting work plus his varied other endorsements (like the Reebok shoe deal that he's said he made $80 million on, but take that with a grain of salt), there's no doubt that at his peak he was obscenely wealthy.
But the years have slowly but surely chipped away at that amassed fortune. Musically, while he had to still be earning good money from his music catalog - I'm assuming he owns a significant portion of his publishing, which may or may not be true - it's now been seven years since he released a truly commercially successful album. And even if he was still releasing popular music, he'd still be making a fraction of the profit in the streaming age that he did when the $14 CD was still king.
The storyline on 50 Cent though has always been that his savvy business skills could easily surpass mere music revenue, but that storyline that may be based just as much in myth as in fact. The New York Times wrote a glowing profile of his financial acumen in June of 2015 - two months later he filed for bankruptcy. According to those bankruptcy filings, while it's true that 50 has a multitude of business ventures, not many of them are doing well.
G-Unit as a label and brand have been loss leaders for 50 in the last few years, in 2015 they were in the red over $10 million dollars. His venture into the world of boxing, SMS Promotions, went bankrupt and racked up $500,000 in debt. As for his vaunted deal with Effen Vodka, according to court documents he wasn't paid any upfront money and only receives a percentage of sales if sales increase. While sales numbers for Effen aren't publicly available, the stock price of Effen's parent company, Fortune Brands, has fallen over the last year. Similarly, while 50 claimed that his endorsement deal with Frigo underwear was worth $78 million, it's impossible to know how accurate that number is if any of that money was paid upfront versus potential earnings based on sales increases. Both Frigo's parent company, RevolutionWear, and 50's headphone and apparel company, SMS Audio, aren't publicly traded companies, so information on their sales and profits aren't publicly available.
And then there are the expenses. According to those same bankruptcy documents, 50 spends $108,000 in expenses monthly, the majority of which, $72,000, goes towards the maintenance of his three homes. In addition he spends $12,000 on child support a month, $2,500 a month supporting his grandparents, $3,000 a month on clothes and nearly $10,000 a month on his fleet of cars.
Sorting out all those gains - the hit TV show, the headphones, etc. - against all those expenses and debts - the SMS Promotions debt, the lawsuits - is a financial Rubik's Cube that's far, far beyond my meager abilities. But thankfully 50's lawyers and accountants have already done all the hard work - that's exactly what a bankruptcy filing is. It turns out that once you painstakingly detail every dollar flowing in and out of 50 Cent's life, you end up at $16 million, a number that again in isolation make's 50's wealth incredibly impressive, but not nearly as staggeringly rich as many believe based on his public image.
Really, there are two takeaways here. First, that Curtis Jackson was, is and always will be a master promoter. He's always on the offensive, always pushing, he doesn't let the facts of his circumstances determine how people view him. He determines how people view him and then let's the facts catch up later. His entire business is based on the perception that he's unbeatable, never takes a loss, and he's very careful to maintain that perception.
And the second takeaway is that rich people money isn't like regular people money.
I don't have any personal experience in the being rich department, but before I chose this lucrative rap blogging profession I was working in the tech start-up world, and that gave me some real insight into just how surreal money can be at the higher levels. There are companies valued at $16 billion that have yet to make a single dime of profit. I knew guys who got rich selling their first companies and then lost that money twice-over chasing the next big hit. They'd pull up to the office in a Maserati and go to work running companies that were $10 million in the red. Poor and average people are shackled to their actual bank accounts, to actual real, tangible dollars and cents. But rich people? They live in another reality, one in which you can go from crippling debt to multi-millionaire literally overnight because some stock options divested. So yes, once you reach a certain point you can simultaneously spell out the word "broke" in stacks of cash and owe a level of debt the average person couldn't even comprehend.
It's true, 50 Cent isn't broke. He's not even particularly close to broke, not really, although I'm sure his financial advisers are trying to convince him to cut back on those expenses. And while $16 million may represent a financial low point for Curtis Jackson, it's obviously higher than any high point any of us will ever experience.
So even if he's not there now, even if it appears that he's currently being bested by his rival Game, I've got it on good word that 50 Cent is either going to come back and truly be one of the game's richest figures, or he's going to die trying.