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By Tom Murphy
Last year, the sales of hip-hop albums dropped 30 percent, a figure that includes digital downloads. But going by recent rap lyrics, you'd think the average MC was too rich to stand up. Literally. Fat Joe's latest single, "The Crackhouse," begins, "I'm sleeping on a billion dollars." Bear in mind that this is coming from a guy whose last disc, Me, Myself & I, sold about 250,000 copies.
Once upon a time, MCs were content to exaggerate their wealth in ways that were somewhat plausible. It was just a few years ago, in fact, that T.I. made the fairly modest claim to be worth "a couple hundred grand" in his song "Rubberband Man."
But those days are history. Nowadays, even the lowliest rappers claim Steve Jobs-type stacks. Perhaps the most egregious offender is Bow Wow, who claims on his recent album, "It's like every time I breathe I make a million." Seriously? Human beings take at least ten breaths per minute, so that would put him at about $600 million an hour — perhaps double that if he's dancing.
R. Kelly, meanwhile, is a bona fide megastar and probably quite rich. Nonetheless, it's hard to believe him on Beanie Sigel's "All of the Above" when he says, "I'm worth about a billion," if for no other reason than his mounting legal bills.
In that same song, Sigel claims to pull "seven digits clean soon as I grace the stage," which is odd considering that his new album sold about 50,000 copies in its first week and debuted at number 37. Equally preposterous is the title of Sigel protegé Freeway's recent song "Roc-A-Fella Billionaires." It's a collaboration with Jay-Z, who, according to Forbes, earned $34 million in 2006, more than any other rapper. This gives listeners reason to believe the song's chorus, which, perplexingly, downgrades the artists' status to "Roc-A-Fella millionaires." But that still doesn't explain how Freeway, whose latest album sold 36,000 copies in its first week, managed to acquire "30 mil in the bank, 30 grand on the wrist and 20 mil in the Swiss," as he raps on the song.
America is full of self-proclaimed billionaires — Donald Trump comes to mind — but hippity-hoppers seem to be among the worst offenders. For instance, 50 Cent let everyone believe he earned nearly half a billion dollars when Glaceau was sold to Coca-Cola, which turned out not to be true. There's even a label called Billionaire Records, based out of Crockett, Texas. It seems likely that the label's name is a misnomer, though the title of its most popular song on MySpace probably isn't. That track is called "Billionaire Dreams," and it's been played 260 times.