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August 28th 2010

Forbes just delivered the 2010 Hip-Hop Top 20 Earners list, with Jay-Z, Diddy and Akon topping the list and earning $63 million, $30 million and $21 million, respectively. The kings of hip-hop are, yes, all men. But the biggest news in hip-hop protégés is a woman: Nicki Minaj.

The Associated Press’ Mesfin Fedaku can tell you who she is: “The in-your-face, highly animated sex kitten and protégé of rap prince Lil Wayne, has not only emerged as hip-hop’s leading female, she’s outdoing her male counterparts, too.”

Though Menaj, 26, has yet to release a studio album, she’s well on her way to becoming the next Queen Latifah. Or, for the matter, another Eminem (a Dr. Dre protégé), 50 Cent (another mentored by Dr. Dre), Chris Brown (L.A. Reid), Bow Wow (Snoop Dog) or even Justin Bieber (Usher).

Minaj, whose real name is Onika Maraj, has costarred on songs with Lil Wayne, Drake, Usher, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Diddy. Upcoming: Kanye West’s new CD. Lil Wayne signed her to his Cash Money imprint last year.

Where did she come from? Like most other protégés, it seems like hers is a story of a hip-hop Schwab’s soda fountain. Discovered and made into a star.

Stars don’t just happen–in music or the workplace. Some of what we can learn from the hip-hop protégé system:

You can’t win at work by playing the waiting game: waiting for someone to notice you. Minaj is 26, and has been on her game for years. Bieber put his work up on YouTube, and that’s what got him noticed. Use everything from the water cooler to online social networking, and put yourself out there.

If you’re lucky enough to have found a patron (see above), suck it up–meaning take in all his or her creative and technical assistance. Not to mention his or her contacts with upper management and capital.

Ladies in the house: Best not to count on a prince or a da(i)ddy at work. Specifically, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, mentored such artists as Sheila E., Sheena Easton and Carmen Electra. One of Diddy’s protégés is none other than Mary J. Blige. They are anomalies.

The seemingly iconoclastic, insider world of hip-hop owes a huge part of its success to big-time corporations. Many labels are owned by Vivendi’s Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. And hip-hop moguls use the exact same tie-and-cufflink corporate pipeline formula. That is, men shining a light on other men–and far less frequently, other women.

The hip-hop galaxy is as male-dominated as any top corporate boardroom, where women account for only 3% of the chief executives at the helm of the 500 biggest U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart Stores, Exxon Mobil and General Motors.

That foul similarity, according to Queen Latifah is a big problem. “Part of the reason hip-hop was dead is because there were no female MCs, like in the forefront of hip-hop, playing on the radio in the day time, every day.”

Women as well men need to take on protégés. As Carol Hymowitz wrote in “Helping Women Climb the Ladder Is A Business Imperative”: “I’ve met many executive women who seemed far more intent on promoting themselves than championing women who were climbing the ranks behind them.”

There’s plenty of women back there.

Source: Forbes