Belafonte, Cosby, Gates: The Remix

August 6th, 2012

Most of the time they asked me to use the power of my art to service some specific need.” –Harry Belafonte

Bill Cosby, the crotchety comedian who has gone on a jihad against saggy-pants-wearing young people, has earned the right to be a finger wag. His groundbreaking sitcom reimagined the black familiy as affluent. And in 1988, the Cos donated $20 Million to Spelman college.

The Fat Albert creator is not alone as the monied savior for black causes. Harry Belafonte helped bankroll the civil rights movement, giving valuable funds to the SNCC. Oprah and Bill Gates have made an impact as global do-gooders.

As the Citizens United ruling demonstrates, it takes big dollars to make big change in America. But who will look out for young people of color (and all poor people, for that matter) as these rich philanthropists move on or deplete their fortunes? I’m betting on a few familiar voices to become tomorrow’s Cosbys: 50 Cent, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Diddy (and perhaps Baby?). Yep, the future oportunities of a people will be greatly affected by where/when/if these rappers decide to invest their growing fortunes. 

Last month, Forbes magazine offered yet another of their richest rappers lists. Of course, these lists are riddled with round-bout estimations, but they give you an idea of the net worths.

1.) Diddy: $550 million  2.) Jay-Z $460 mil 3.) Dr. Dre $260 mil 4.) Baby $125 mil   5.) 50 Cent $120 mil

Together there is more than an estimated $1.5 billion between them and their worth is just beginning to grow. There are real businesses emerging from these rappers. Not just vanity imprints or branded sneakers. Dr. Dre’s headphones are hardware, the technology is going into computers, phones, etc… Real business, with factories and such. Likewise, Diddy owns a cable network. Jay-Z owns a portion of the Nets and the 40/40 franchise.

These rappers are moving like Joe Kennedy, who made a killing off of moonshine during the prohibition era. His kid became one of America’s most celebrated presidents. (Perhaps, Jay-Z should have named his record company Kennedy records instead of Roc-A-Fella after John D. Rockefeller).

We are all witnessing these guys wash their fortunes in plane view. They are loudly rinsing the stench of gangster rap or drug dealing from their dollars. Russell Simmons, rap’s Bill Gates, offered a sort of blueprint for hip-hop elite. Surely, some of these big earners, who made their money off the ‘hood, will feel the tug of their conscience.

When I interviewed 50 Cent for the April/May 2011 issue of VIBE magazine, we began to talk spirituality, or religion, or whatever realm there is when people start talking things unseen. It was a bit uncomfortable for me. He was serious. He tried to flip the question, “What do you believe!?”

He went on to talk about the reason he survived the attempt on his life, where a shooter now famously discharged nine shots into his body. He said it was God. It was no coincidence. According to 50, he survived because he has a greater purpose. I’m betting it has something to do with how he will spend those millions.

Because rappers know more than anyone that, when it comes to philanthropy, one’s ends are one’s means.

One Response to “Belafonte, Cosby, Gates: The Remix”

  1. [...] to this site some thoughts about rappers and how they and their wealth will shape our future. I predicted that Diddy, 50 Cent and Jay-Z will emerge as my generation’s social-justice seeking black celebrities akin to Harry [...]

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