Exclusive / Jay-Z is now worth US$1.4 billion: he shares on Jack Dorsey and Tidal, LVMH and Armand de Brignac, Black Lives Matter and bitcoin
I’ve got a million and one questions for Jay-Z, but strangely enough, none of them are about music.
It’s no longer a hard knock life for hip-hop’s first billionaire, who has confirmed lucrative deals in February and March with two major companies. In addition to selling 50 per cent of his champagne brand to LVMH, Jay-Z sold a majority stake of Tidal to Square. In the span of mere weeks, Jay-Z’s net worth has jumped 40 per cent up to US$1.4 billion.
It would have been understandable for the 51-year-old rapper and businessman, born Shawn Corey Carter, to be high on his recent success, but Jay-Z is remarkably modest about it all, and he’s keen to credit the people with whom he has been collaborating.
“I’m very fortunate. Jack Dorsey, who created Twitter, Square and Cash App, and Philippe [Schaus] and the guys who created LVMH – you couldn’t ask for better partners; they’re the top of the top,” he says. “[Things] usually align like that when people do really great things. You could get into partnerships and people short-change the business for different reasons. These guys don’t cut corners, they try to get it right. It’s about respect.”
The mutual respect is certainly palpable between Schaus and Jay-Z on the call, and it’s clear that a genuine liking has developed between the two businessmen. The two have had “beautiful conversations and beautiful food” over the course of their discussions, paired, of course, with Armand de Brignac.
Jay-Z’s champagne brand, also known as Ace of Spades, sold more than half a million bottles in 2019, not a bad feat for a company launched in 2006, a relative newcomer in a world steeped in centuries-old tradition and maisons.
“We ran this brand from the office with eight or nine people, a really small, scrappy group,” Jay-Z says. “We became very successful and we’ve always looked at LVMH as the pinnacle of what we represent, a group that creates things based on their love of luxury, of getting the details perfectly correct. If I’m going to be in a partnership, especially with a brand that’s so successful, it has to enhance the brand, it can’t hinder it.”
For Moet Hennessy’s part, the champagne’s quality speaks for itself, and the CEO also embraces the thought of two very different traditions and cultures working together.
“There are many players in the world of champagne, but there has been one player which has been standing out in past years, and that has been Armand de Brignac,” he says. “They got very nice marks for their Brut Gold, Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs, for example. It’s a good product, at a nice price with a very distinguishable bottle, but what we also realised was that the way the team was doing the marketing of the brand was very different from what we had been doing for hundreds of years.”
It would be a safe assumption that this particular marketing strategy would be one that relied heavily on Jay-Z’s fame and popularity, and while that has certainly played its part, the rapper is keen to emphasise that it takes more than fame for people to fall crazy in love with his product.
“This isn’t a celebrity brand, it’s a luxury brand. It’s a brand to be taken seriously and it’s not a rapper’s brand. [There was an element of] fighting against that, the weight of your own celebrity,” he says. “While celebrity is not all bad, in that it can bring a new customer to something they otherwise [wouldn’t have experienced], it has to be – like everything else in the world – balanced.”
Schaus also points out that the brand is playing a key role in helping the world of champagne better reach a wider demographic than before. “Armand de Brignac has a culture, an entire world that’s relevant to my kids, they know that culture,” he emphasises. “Being able to take over that and to leverage it even more is what’s going to make this a huge success.”
Jay-Z likens the meeting of cultures to the evolution that happened to the art world through hip-hop, saying that “when these cross-sections happen, culture happens – and that’s when beautiful things get birthed”.
“Just like with hip-hop and graffiti, for example, we took it outside the art galleries, and people were upset, but we were expressing ourselves. We’ve seen it time and time again, that when two worlds respect each other and what each individual or group brings to the table, it can be a beautiful thing,” he explains. “There are things that we’ve done that are not typically by the books. And you can look at that in two ways – you can look down on it, or you can say, ‘Wait, that’s interesting.’”
This sort of market disruption is nothing new to Jay-Z, and his partnership with Dorsey is testament to that. In addition to the sale of Tidal to Square, he and Dorsey have also set up a fund to develop bitcoin, the details of which he is reluctant to divulge at the moment.
“I don’t want to jump the announcement because Jack and I want to introduce this in a proper way and let people really understand,” he says, before expanding on the world’s changing attitude towards cryptocurrency. “We’re all creatures of habit. There was a time when we all looked at the internet and said, ‘there’s not a chance I’m going to put my credit card on that thing’. We’re all afraid of change, but I think that we are best served as human beings to always keep ourselves open to all possibilities. For me, my belief is in anything that offers more democracy to the people. I want to take a look at anything that allows people, small business owners, to participate in the growing economy without having to go through hoops.”
“In the US in particular, the home of the free, land of the brave – all these ideals that we present as catchy phrases are just not true for a lot of people. And if I can use my position to [level] the playing field, I’m more than happy to, because this is the path that I took,” he says. “I’m from Brooklyn, I’ve been through some tough times. There have been days where I didn’t know how I was going to get to tomorrow, and it’s OK if you take everything that has happened in life as something that has happened for you, as opposed to happening to you.”
“We as the human race have not advanced past looking at each other based on the colour of our skin. We as a society would benefit from appreciation of life, respect for one another having conversations with one another, to really understand the plight of every individual,” he says. “Part of my mission is to [encourage] more inclusivity for everyone. We’re not here for a long time, we have to figure it out.”
The rapper has led by example, seeking out visionaries whom he values for their innovation and leadership, rather than by background or skin colour.
“I look at the make-up of individuals or a group and say, ‘Hey, wow, that’d be a cool group to hang out with” … It’s a certain decorum that they have, a certain way that they carry themselves and their business, [with] high integrity and passion for what they do,” he says. “I just want to be surrounded by great people.”
That’s certainly what has happened for the billionaire over the years. Jay-Z has leveraged his contacts and business acumen to create a vast array of opportunities to which a more complacent man would not be privy. With his recent deals still fresh in our minds, not to mention an announcement with Dorsey coming up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jay-Z continue to dominate headlines in the future for ventures and collaborations that reach far beyond the music industry.
He might have 99 problems but a pitch ain’t one.
- The Empire State of Mind rapper’s net worth has jumped to US$1.4 billion, while wife Beyoncé has become the most-awarded woman in Grammy history
- In a Zoom interview with STYLE alongside Moet Hennessy CEO Philippe Schaus, Jay-Z talks business, bitcoin and #BlackLivesMatter