The world is filled with idealistic teenagers who believe they're going to become famous rappers and make millions of dollars every year. Not surprisingly, this doesn't happen very often. Media hype about superstars like 50 Cent and Jay-Z never reports on the thousands of rappers who you've never heard of, and who don't make very much money.
The income of performers, including rappers, isn't acquired in the same way as a normal employee. Rather than getting a check every two weeks, they get what their music sells for, minus the very significant expenses that are involved in the industry. Incomes of rappers vary wildly. While superstars make millions, rappers who haven't been discovered may not even be able to pay their bills. There are rappers who make their money elsewhere and don't even get paid for the rapping they do, and there are rappers who do it as a part-time gig and pick up the slack with a normal job. When all this is figured in, the average salary of a professional, full-time rapper is probably closer to £19,500 a year than to £1.9 million a year.
One of the difficulties of making a living as a rapper is the intense importance that is given to "living large." An income that could support most people comfortably may not be enough for a rapper because he's spending so much trying to enlarge his image. This emphasis on material wealth in the rap world becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a rapper who doesn't wear the right clothes, drive the right car and spend thousands on the right watch won't gain the adoration of rap fans, and probably won't hit the big time.
The advantages of pursuing a career as a rapper include the chance to do something that you love and make interesting and inspiring poetry and music. The social scene that surrounds rap is very active, so rappers have the chance to make a lot of friends and rap with them. Rappers who develop a name for themselves can tour and see new places. And there's always the dream of becoming a superstar. Even though it rarely happens, a lot of people derive great pleasure out of the possibility that it might.
The life of a struggling rapper bears a close resemblance to the life of any struggling artist: difficulty paying the bills, frustration at not being able to make a breakthrough and the feeling that nobody cares about what you are doing. If you get involved in "gangsta" rap, there's also the possibility that you'll get on the wrong side of the wrong people.