Hip-Hop Cash Kings ( Where 50 Cent ???? )

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Four years ago Jay-Z issued a lyrical taunt to his fellow rappers: “What you call money, I pay more in taxes.” Turns out his line was more than just a boast.

Jay-Z pulled in $63 million over the past 12 months, earning him his second straight hip-hop cash crown. His income level places him in the 35% tax bracket, which means he’ll pay Uncle Sam about $22 million this year–a sum greater than the total earnings of any other rap star besides second-ranked Diddy.

The top 20 earners on this year’s Cash Kings list racked up about $300 million in earnings, an average of $15 million per artist. Remarkably, the total is roughly the same as last year, despite a troubled economy and a music industry thrown into flux by new technology.

“There aren’t many artists selling 250,000 albums in the opening week, and that used to happen all the time,” says entertainment attorney Donald David. “The rise of iTunes means people don’t have to buy whole album … and that has changed the business dramatically.”

Jay-Z and Diddy are two artists who’ve taken the changes in stride. In addition to releasing an album and launching a worldwide tour (average gross: more than $1 million per show), Jay-Z co-owns the 40/40 nightclub chain and has a stake in the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. Diddy continues to cash in on Diageo ( DEO news people ) vodka, Ciroc and roles in television and film, including this year’s Get Him to The Greek. He also hawks Diddybeats ear-buds, part of the headphone line established by Dr. Dre, who ranks fifth on our list with $17 million.

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