Icons of Cigars: Jay-Z
The world of hip-hop is one where luxury and the finer things in life are prized, and where being seen enjoying fine Cuban Cigars is a symbol of taste and success. It is a world where opulence is celebrated and excess sought. In only 50 short years since the genre was created at block parties in The Bronx, it is a world which has grown to be the most popular and lucrative on the art scene. Sitting at its peak, revelling in his status as the first to become a billionaire through success in the sphere and with a Double Corona in his hand, is Jay-Z.
Jay-Z’s musical career began officially in 1996 with the release of Reasonable Doubt. A handful of singles had preceded this debut album, but he encountered difficulty finding a label willing to sign him. Far from being discouraged by this early obstacle, he used the funds available to him from the initial singles and his previous, less-than-legal, business ventures to launch Roc-A-Fella Records, his own label with him as lead artist. This willingness to invest in himself, as well as keen business sense, has become the hall mark of his career.
The success, both critical and commercial, of this first album proved to be prophetic of his whole musical career. The numbers associated with Jay-Z’s music are staggering: 50 million albums sold, 75 million singles, 22 Grammy awards. 3 million people spent $360 million to see him perform with his wife Beyoncé across the couple’s On The Run I & II tours alone. He is one of the greatest and most popular rappers of all time, yet this is only a small slice of his overall success. Shawn Carter’s prowess in the boardroom is more than equal to Jay-Z’s brilliance in the recording studio.
Jay-Z is known to enjoy fine wine and fine cigars. Image from Twitter.
The launch of his record label was more than just a vehicle for his own music, it was the launch of an empire spanning a myriad of commercial sectors. Before turning to music as Jay-Z, Shawn Carter made his money on the streets of Brooklyn and honed an entrepreneurial instinct that has served him well in the years since his first platinum album. In 1999 he founded clothing brand Rocawear, selling control in 2007 for over $200 million. Since then his prolific recording has been accompanied by even more lucrative corporate success – 2003’s Black Album sold over 3.5m copies; the same year saw the opening of his luxury sports bar 40/40. 2013 saw Magna Carta Holy Grail certified platinum on the day of release thanks to a deal with Samsung to fund 1,000,000 free downloads for its users; just a few months later a $200m investment cemented 100% ownership of Armand de Brignac champagne. There had been an association with the brand and Jay-Z since 2006 – the transfer to ownership in 2014 has proved astute, with LVMH buying around 50% in a deal which values the business at $640 million just last week. “Hip-hop from the beginning has always been aspirational” the rapper told Forbes in 2010. “It always broke that notion that an artist can't think about money as well.”
SOME OF SHAWN CARTER'S FAVOURITE SMOKES
Throughout this phenomenal success have always been the finest cigars. The cover art for the record that started it all features Jay holding a large stogie and he has spoken freely and often about his love for Habanos. "I like them bigger but mild. It gives the appearance of smoking something heavy—but it's not. It's just relaxing.” he explained to Cigar Aficionado. "A cigar is like a gift you give yourself. I smoke at times when I'm relaxing, or celebrating." Shawn Carter is a man who is well-acquainted with celebration and is often seen doing so with a large Hoyo de Monterrey or Montecristo.
Jay-Z enjoys a Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona at a party.
Recent years have seen Jay concentrate less on music and more on his investment portfolio. 2017’s 4:44 and 2018’s The Carters (a collaboration with his wife) have both turned out as critical and commercial triumphs, but the real victories – those that resulted in Forbes confirming his billionaire status in June 2019 – have been of a different nature. Like the rest of us, however, not everything he touches turns to gold – a collaboration with a Dominican cigar brand to produce a line of cigars intended as “ultra-premium” was released to much fanfare in 2014, but discontinued with considerably less noise a short time later. The occasional stumble will not faze Mr Carter too much, one suspects. His portfolio is impressively diverse, having once included part of an NBA franchise – the Brooklyn Nets, whose move to Jay-Z’s home borough from New Jersey was heavily influenced by him and resulted in him owning a share of the stadium before selling up in 2013 – and stakes Uber and SpaceX.
It would be easy to forgive someone who has achieved so much by the age of 51 retiring to one of his many properties to enjoy his cigars and watch his 3 children grow up. Recent estimates put Jay-Z’s fortune around $1.4 billion dollars, more than enough to allow a comfortable existence far from the limelight. Instead, Mr Carter has recently sold the majority of his music streaming service Tidal to Square, a mobile payments firm owned by Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. The deal sees Jay join the board of Square as well as receiving an estimated $149 million in stock and cash. He has also recently become Chief Visionary Officer of The Parent Company – a conglomerate aiming to take advantage of the marijuana market opened in the USA by widespread legalisation. The Parent Co.’s first foray into the market has been to acquire Jay’s existing cannabis brand Monogram and launch a range of joints in California priced at $50 each. This latest victory, like so many before and likely so many to come, will no doubt be marked with a fine Cuban Cigar.