Jay-Z made an estimated $63 million last year. Diddy made $30 million. But when it comes to cars, the coolest thing for the top hip-hop stars is to hide it--sort of.
"Right now the major thing that has been going on in the market is all the matte paint jobs," says George Keshishyan, who owns Platinum Motorsport, an L.A. auto shop that customizes rides for hip-hop stars, along with his brother, Jake. "Just last week we got a brand-new Rolls Royce Ghost--it had 100 miles on it. It came in on a flatbed truck straight from the dealership. We changed it all to a matte black."
Platinum Motorsport has stripped and then modified six-figure stunners for the likes of Lil’ Wayne, Drake and T-Pain.
Kanye, for instance, had the Platinum team black out the grill and wheels of his Range Rover Supersport. And Jay-Z, despite his earlier, well-documented love of Ferrari F430s and Pagani Zonda S’s, has gone the underground route, riding around in a Maybach 62 and rapping about "slamming Bentley doors" (and, in the same verse, "popping up on Forbes’ list"), revealing his preference for a ride that’s relatively low-key compared to other choices in that price bracket.
The urge these days to go incognito extends even down the price-scale. Take Eminem. Sure, his $63,000 Hummer H2 is considered a luxury vehicle, as far as SUVs go. But the car will be around the corner before most gawkers even realize that the reserved rapper is behind the wheel. Ludacris famously gave away his 1971 Buick Oldsmobile convertible last year because he was tired of being recognized in it all over Atlanta.
Texture and Tone
Other artists, including Busta Rhymes and Nelly, are playing around with two-tone appeal and texture. Myles Kovacs, the cofounder of the automotive lifestyle magazine DUB, calls the look "tone on tone."
"We're starting to see a transition between gloss black and matte black; textures are becoming more of the thing," Kovacs says. "You look at a new Ferrari, it might have a carbon fiber texture to it because lot of the aftermarket texture is going back to carbon fiber and matte finish, as opposed to gloss. But then on the paint trend, they'll go two colors, so it might be a matte black with a gloss black or a gloss silver with a matte silver."
The effect was made popular by super-expensive and European cars like the million-dollar Bugatti Veyron. But even the (considerably) less expensive Rolls-Royce’s aluminum-hooded Phantom is still pushing the fad.
Still flashing cash
Of course, not all rap artists are playing it quite so low--this is hip-hop, after all. Akon drives a $200,000 Lamborghini Gallardo, and T.I. (before he landed in jail) drove a $500,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR, complete with Agetro wheels done by Platinum Motorsport.
Diddy, who sells his self-designed $3,000 Sean Jean signature rims in conjunction with Weld Wheel Industries, gave his 16-year-old son a silver $360,000 Maybach Zeppelin last month. His 2010 video "Hello Good Morning" was the first music video to feature the 1,001-horsepower Veyron.
A full two-thirds of Platinum Motorsport clients are involved with music; the Keshishyan brothers’ first-ever client was Fred Crawford, who managed MC Lyte and soon-after referred Nokio, a member of the R&B group Dru Hill.
Why such a direct connection? It’s just part of the culture, Keshishyan says. The cars are a way for artists to flash their style.
"If you wake up in the morning and you throw on a pair of heels and a matching bag and you dress yourself up and you do that on a daily basis, people want to put that toward their automobile as well," Keshishyan says. "Every morning that you shower and you dress up and you want to look good, you’re going to do the same with your vehicles. It’s become a part of their lifestyle."
In short, it’s a fashion statement.