Fri, July 10, 2009
Entertainment > Music

Cars of Hip-Hop stars

2009-07-10 07:40:34 GMT2009-07-10 15:40:34 (Beijing Time)  Forbes

From Kanye to T-Pain, no artist is complete without a ''crunk'' car.

In the 2005 film Batman Begins, the freewheeling Bruce Wayne pulls up to a nightclub in a low-slung Lamborghini Murciélago Roadster. The car, whose name is Spanish for "bat," was presumably purchased to celebrate the scion's return to Gotham. Sticker price? About $350,000.

But there's a big difference between a truly cool car and one that's just expensive: careful customization. It's what separates a generic Lamborghini from the Batmobile, Bruce Wayne from Batman. The same holds true for rap's richest. Real car guys like T-Pain, 50 Cent and Lil Wayne know how to make their rides stand out in a way that's garish, sometimes, but also tasteful to the well-trained eye.

"There's a fine line between cool and corny--super fine," says Funkmaster Flex, a Bronx-born deejay, rapper and producer who runs a custom car club called Team Baurtwell. He also hosts a radio show on New York's Hot 97. "You don't want to be gaudy; you don't want to use funny colors or colors that don't match. And just because you're putting a $5,000 interior into the car doesn't make the car cool." Another marker of a cool car is its year. A '68 Camaro? Cool. A '74 Camaro? Not.

Hip-hop and custom cars are inseparable. They've been entwined ever since the Sugarhill Gang in 1979 sang about a Lincoln Continental. Of course, the meaning of the word "cool" has changed over the years, too. In the '80s, artists like LL Cool J would sing about the radios in their 1985 Cadillacs. The only cars worth aspiring to were the Batmobile, DeLorean, General Lee and K.I.T.T., and most rap fans hadn't even heard of a Bentley or Maserati.

Times have changed. The 20 richest rappers collectively made $300 million over the past year. Jay-Z alone banked $35 million--a down year for the reigning Cash King, who pulled in $82 million last year. The top 20 earners in hip-hop combined to make 40% less than they did last year, thanks to a 20% decline in record sales and, worse, ailing corporations who are less inclined to partner with rappers--or anybody, for that matter--on big deals.

But the downturn hasn't reduced hip-hop's appetite for cars. Jay-Z featured the $350,000 Pagani Zonda featured in his video for the song "Show Me What You Got." Pharrell Williams and Bow Wow drive a $495,000 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren Roadster and a Bruce Wayne-esque Lamborghini Murciélago, respectively.

Grammy-winner T-Pain made his Cash Kings debut this year with a cool $15 million--and used some of it to increase his collection to 32 cars. He recently spent $525,000 on the first Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe made for those in North America. He bought the titanium-hooded car on a lark, after happening to see it when he went to pick up his fire-engine red Ferrari 430.

"It's just the ultimate thing to buy, besides a house, that you can actually use," Pain says. "When you go buy jewelry it's like, 'I've seen that. It doesn't really do anything. You wear it and then you take it off.' But with a car, you can drive it, you show it to different people every day. It's like it's your own personal space ship."

(Hannah Elliott,

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