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How 50 Cent scored a half-billion

THIRST FOR SUCCESS: Not content with album sales alone, the rapper branched out into Vitaminwater, backing the Formula 50 flavor.
THIRST FOR SUCCESS: Not content with album sales alone, the rapper branched out into Vitaminwater, backing the Formula 50 flavor. (Boris Grdanoski)
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In March 2007, Chris Lighty and his friend Sean Combs were riding together from Heathrow airport to a London hotel in the back of a Maybach when Combs got some news over the phone. Fellow rap superstar Jay-Z and his two fashion-entrepreneur partners, Alex Bize and Norton Cher, had just sold the rights to their Rocawear trademark to a public company, the Iconix Brand Group.

Lighty could not stop repeating the number he heard, as he stared at Combs in disbelief.

"Two hundred million? Two hundred million?"

Actually, at $219 million, the sale of the Rocawear brand name was, at the time, the biggest deal in hip-hop history. Combs responded in the only way he knew how.

"I need a billion for mine," he huffed.

But of those two men, it would be Lighty who reached that symbolic mark first.

Just two month later, in May 2007, the Coca-Cola Company purchased Glaceau for $4.1 billion.

In the media, initial reports put 50 Cent's cashout at $400 million, calculated by dividing the purchase amount by 50 Cent's reputed 10 percent share.

But in reality, 50 Cent's take was much less. Another stakeholder needed to be paid off first - the diversified Indian conglomerate Tata had invested $677 million for 30 percent of Glaceau in 2006, and got $1.2 billion when Coca-Cola bought them out.

When all the other costs had been deducted, 50 Cent was thought to have walked away with a figure somewhere between $60 million and $100 million, putting his net worth at nearly a half billion dollars.

On his next album, 50 Cent could barely contain his own incredulity at the power of the dollar. "I took quarter-water, sold it in bottles for two bucks," he rapped. "Coca-Cola came and bought it for billions. What the [expletive]?"

But Lighty silently pocketed his 15 percent and kept it moving.

style@washpost.com

From "The Big Payback" by Dan Charnas. Reprinted by arrangement with NAL Signet, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © Dan Charnas, 2010.


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