Hip hop's first billionaire? Dr Dre closes in on US$3.2 billion headphones deal with Apple

Rapper's US$3.2 billion sale of headphone firm Beats Electronics puts him ahead of Sean Combs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 6:27am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 6:42pm

It is a long way from the rough streets of south Los Angeles to becoming the world's richest hip hop star.

But that is the path that beckons Andre Young - better known as Dr Dre - thanks to some very fashionable headphones.

The 49-year-old rapper turned producer and entrepreneur will top Forbes' hip hop rich list after striking a US$3.2 billion deal to sell to Apple the company he co-founded eight years ago, Beats Electronics.

The agreement, still to be finalised, is likely to boost his net worth to some US$800 million, according to Forbes. Some reports suggest Dre could soon become the world's first hip-hop billionaire.

The deal will put him ahead of Sean "Diddy" Combs, the previous top dog with US$700 million, as well as Jay Z, now in third place with US$520 million, followed by Bryan "Birdman" Williams on US$160 million.

"Hip hop is now central to American popular culture," Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York state, said after the deal was reported on Friday.

"If you get a hip hop artist who can establish a name and a basis of fame and wealth and then they're smart enough to make sorties into other parts of the culture … that seems a typical American story."

Along the way Dre has discovered and worked with some of the biggest acts in music, including Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Combs and others and pioneered gangsta rap as well as west coast G-Funk. He has also won six Grammy awards.

But it all started in the tough south LA neighbourhood of Compton, where he was born Andre Romell Young in February 1965, to parents who divorced while he was barely out of short trousers.

Compton was well known for gang violence but also for producing hip hop groups and rappers, including gangsta rap group N.W.A. formed by Young and Ice Cube, making their name with its debut album in 1988 Straight Outta Compton.

In 1990 he left the group to form Death Row Records, releasing his solo debut The Chronic in 1992 to huge commercial success. In 1996 he again left to form Aftermath Entertainment.

Shortly after that, rappers Tupak Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. were murdered, triggering Dre to lay low for a few years.

His comeback followed the release of his second studio album in 1999, when he was credited with discovering white rapper Eminem.

His 2001 Grammy success propelled him up the financial rankings, as he moved towards producing and business - co-founding Beats Electronics in 2006 with Jimmy Iovine.

The firm makes audio equipment, including a set of headphones that has been taken up by celebrities and sports stars.

Dre himself appears confident the deal will go through.

In a video posted on YouTube he brags about the deal with actor Tyrese Gibson, who says Forbes needs to update its rich list.

"The first billionaire in hip hop, right here from the west coast," he tells the camera.