Animations and art by the author.
Rappers always like bragging about how much money they have. From Biggie Smalls to Jay Z to Kanye, the rags to riches narrative is a compelling one. Artists show off their wealth by covering themselves in gold, driving fancy whips, and making it rain bills. When rappers don't have money, they are often ripe for mockery—just think of all the jokes people made about 50 Cent when he declared bankruptcy (although he is very likely still rich as hell). You cannot escape hip-hop's obsession with money.
I'm from Canada though where Drake is one of the only rappers we have with a notable bankroll. There are others with some cheese on their plates, but Mr. Graham is probably the only one who could afford to buy a small nation state. Before him, Canadian rappers consisted of talented local collectives that were ignored, to this day even, by their own markets and then of course backpack toting suburban kids who talked about keeping it real and smoking gosh darn marijuana cigarettes. The genre never seemed as glamorous up north compared to the USA. Plus, our multi-colour Canadian money looks funny. Making it rain is less badass, and more confetti shenanigans.
Still, there are people other than Drake making a living off hip-hop in Canada. I decided to find out who these people are and how much money they make. Nearly a year after starting that journey, I surveyed 109 people who identify as working in the Canadian hip-hop industry about their earnings, debt, and even criminal activities. Below is what I learned.
WHO TOOK THIS SURVEY?
People hate taking surveys and rappers hate talking openly about their finances. Why 109 people? Because that's how many people I could get. Finding willing participants was painfully difficult. My goal was to find hip-hop workers from every province.
The term "hip-hop worker" can mean many things, including rappers, managers, bookers, producers and more. I am from Saskatchewan; it was easier for me to find participants out west. I approached many survey takers online and verified they are Canadian, primarily work in their declared province, and work in hip-hop in some capacity. I guaranteed all survey takers their anonymity.
PROFILE OF A CANADIAN RAPPER
According to my results, a typical Canadian rapper is a 26 to 35-year-old man, without children, and no partner contributing their household income. They don't have a mortgage, opting instead to rent. The average Canadian rapper has likely completed some post-secondary education.
A majority of Canadian hip-hop workers are scholarly, with 61.4% of survey takers saying they have completed some post-secondary school or hold a bachelor's degree. They are also young: 48.6% are between 26 and 35 with the 18 to 25 category trailing at 34.9%. For the average Canadian hip-hop worker, the industry does not provide their primary source of income. This applies to 70.4% of those surveyed.
48.6% of all those surveyed earn less than $5,000 per year from their hip-hop work, but hey, they're doing their thing.
There are the 29.6% of respondents who claim hip-hop provides their primary income. That quarter of the 109 survey takers earns anywhere between $1,000 to $191,000 and over as their current annual income. Obviously, lifestyles vary widely here—15.7% of survey takers declare they don't rent or own property and instead freeload (we're not judging!).
Only 10.2% of the total survey takers say they are with a label or hip-hop-related employer. That's 11 people who have employment, but only four of them can rely on hip-hop as their primary income. This group earns between $30,000 and $89,999 annually. Only one of them says they are a rapper, but they also work as a manager and in hip-hop related media (blogging, writing, etc.). That's right: one out of the 109 surveyed is a rapper with a label or employer. That person is male, of Aboriginal status and currently takes in between $45,000 and $59,999 per year.
The rest of the survey respondents are independent.
Of that independent majority, 26.6% say their hip-hop work is their primary source of income. The five highest paid independent hip-hop workers we talked to make between $60,000 and $89,999 annually with one of them taking $191,000 and over. This group represents the top 4% of independent hip-hop earners. One respondent says hip-hop is their primary source of income, but they are not currently earning any money for their annual salary, despite receiving public grant funding in the past. There are good years and bad years in this line of work.
That said, the one respondent who says they make $191,000 and over per year works as an independent rapper, producer and manager. Their stated annual income puts them in Canada's top 1% club. By the way, this person never completed high school.
WHICH HIP-HOP JOBS PAY THE BEST?
Most people who took this survey say they have multiple jobs within the hip-hop industry. While many identify as rappers (62.4%), some are simultaneously producers (39.4%), managers (20.2%), bookers (8.3%), or work in "hip-hop related media," such as blogging, writing, advertising, TV, digital production, and etc. (21.1%). Furthermore, 15.5% of respondents say they have "other" jobs within this industry. Those include titles such as "mentor," "youth workshop coordinator/facilitator," "b-boy," "marketer/grant writer," and, god help us, "sex symbol."
Perhaps the most shocking revelation is that Canadian hip-hop workers are apparently making money from music sales. 40.7% of survey takers claim music sales in their top three sources of income. The next most valuable revenue streams are merchandise (36.1%) and music production (32.4%). As for ticket sales, 29.6% of workers put that in their top three sources of income.
Money comes with hard work, we like to believe. 32.1% of respondents say they work 40 or more hours per week pursuing hip-hop. Some are working for free though: At least 7.4% of people surveyed receive no annual income, and three of those people say they put in 40 or more hours per week. Excluding those who earn nothing, 12.8% of hustlers working 40 or more hours per week say they earn less than $20,000 per year for all that effort. Most part-time hip-hop workers who put in 11 to 20 hours per week (19.2% of those surveyed) earn less than $5,000 annually.
GENDER AND RACE
Let it be known (again), I am a white guy from Saskatchewan. That probably affected my data gathering. Still, would it surprise you that 91.7% of the hip-hop workers I surveyed identify as male? That being said, all nine female respondents claim to earn an annual salary through their work. The highest paid female surveyed says they make between $30,000 to $44,999 annually. This person also identifies as being black.
49.5% of survey takers identify as being a visible minority, with 68.8% of that category identifying as black. There is representation from many other races, which in descending order breaks down like this: Arab and Southeast Asian (6.3% each); Chinese, South Asian, Latin American (4.2% each); and Filipino, Japanese, and West Asian (2.1% each). That's less than four people in each of those groups, but there is still a diverse spread. 10.1% of survey takers identify as being Aboriginal (i.e. Indian, Inuit and Métis). This definition is borrowed from Statistics Canada, which usually separates the Aboriginal and visible minority categories.
FYI: None of the survey takers identify as being "other" for their gender*.
That said, the highest paid 7.3% of hip-hop workers who identify as being visible minority status earn between $20,000 and $89,999 annually. All eight of these people are black. Only two within that group claim the top spots (between $60,000 and $89,999 annually); both are independant and male.
The 10.1% of Aboriginal hip-hop workers who responded appear to claim the lowest annual incomes through their professions compared to all other races. Nine out of the 11 say they earn less than $10,000 per year. The highest paid Aboriginal worker, a man, claims between $45,000 to $59,999 annually. That's the same person who is the only rapper with a label or employer from above. The highest paid female Aboriginal worker says they make between $20,000 to $29,999 annually. This gender and pay divide is a bit misleading however, as the man claims to work 40 or more hours per week on hip-hop, with the woman stating 6 to 10 hours.
IT'S HARD OUT HERE, FAM
44.4% of Canadian hip-hop workers who took this survey claim they have done something illegal to pursue their work. Anecdotally, popular crimes in hip-hop apparently include selling drugs, human trafficking, and petty theft. Of the 48 respondents who say they have committed some crime to help their careers, 50% are white, 40% are visible minorities and 10% are Aboriginal. Again, visible minority and Aboriginal data are separate categories here since I used Statistics Canada's methodology.
Almost all hip-hop workers have spent some money to further their aspirations. 49% say they have doled out between $1,000 and $19,999 throughout their careers. Another 32.3% has spent between $20,000 and $149,999, with a hardcore 6.5% who have spent even more. Looking at the top spenders, which includes four people who say they have spent between $90,000 to $149,999 and seven people who have spent more, nine of them claim hip-hop is currently their primary source of income. Many hip-hop workers ask for outside help to finance their dreams. 56.5% of all people surveyed say they have borrowed money in order to pursue hip-hop.
Most hip-hop workers have some personal debt (not including mortgage debt). 56.5% say they owe less than $19,999 in debt, with 14.6% owing even more. One full-time hip-hop worker surveyed makes between $45,000 and $59,999 annually, but they owe over $150,000 in personal debt after working for more than ten years in the industry. The struggle is concerningly real for this individual.
Canada's music scene is unique because there are many public arts grants offered at the national, provincial, and regional levels. 90.9% of survey takers are aware these grants exist, but 71.2% have never applied. Keep in mind, arts grants might not be available to certain career paths in hip-hop—bookers, managers, blog writers, etc.
51% of those who have never applied are visible minorities with an additional 8.5% being Aboriginal.
Of the 42 respondents who have received public funding for their hip-hop work, 52% are not visible minorities or Aboriginal. 31.5% of all hip-hop workers surveyed rank public funding in their top three sources of income. The 42 people who have received public grant money have collectively taken a minimum of $1.42 million over their lifetimes.
This is just one survey taken by 109 people. I warn against the temptation to universally apply any results. While saying nearly one in two Canadian rappers does illegal things to finance their work is an neat stat, we cannot know such things for certain. Furthermore, the total sample size here very likely doesn't scale.
Still, I found this research to be, at the very least, damn interesting. While there is a gender disparity—I only found nine female hip-hop workers—I was pleasantly surprised by the nearly 50/50 split between non-minority and minority representatives (I'm including Aboriginal people here).
The data also shows just how far Canadian hip-hop workers are willing to go to chase their calling. While many work in the industry as a hobby, they dedicate long hours outside of their day jobs. The niche sector has an impressive financial impact on Canada's economy. At minimum, these 109 participants collectively earn $1.3 million for their current annual hip-hop work incomes, an average of about $12,000 each. This group has also spent a minimum of $2.8 million over their lives to participate in the industry, which comes out to $25,500 each. These income and spending numbers are probably much higher in reality.
Dollar, dollar bill y'all.
*When setting up this survey, we used the term 'other' instead of non-binary. Noisey regrets this error.
Devin Pacholik is 30.5% broke. Follow him (especially if you want to take any future surveys) on Twitter.