How Did Lil Yachty Make $13 Million in 16 Months?

Quality Control's Pierre Thomas claimed that Lil Yachty brought home eight figures. How?

Lil Yachty performs during the 2017 Hot 97 Summer Jam

Lil Yachty performs during the 2017 Hot 97 Summer Jam

Lil Yachty performs during the 2017 Hot 97 Summer Jam

Lil Yachty's appearance on Everyday Struggle continues to make headlines.

Weeks after the Teenage Emotions rapper's meme-worthy face-off against Joe Budden, Yachty's name came up again. This time, it was during segment with Joey Badass, in which they discussed whether Yachty's first-week album sales numbers of around 46,000 units indicated that he was a star. Budden stood firmly against ("You're not a mega-star when you sell 40,000 records—I'm sorry," he said). Joey, on the other hand, said that Yachty was a star, but admitted that "he may not be a star two years from now."

The CEO of Yachty's label Quality Control, Pierre Thomas, took issue with the entire discussion. He commented on DJ Akademik's Instagram, writing, "Lil Yachty made 13 million dollars in 16 months. Who gives a fuck about you niggas opinion... And bye [sic] the way Yachty the reason your show popping so you should thank him."

Thomas' claim that Yachty put eight figures' worth of numbers on the board since his career began taking off is bold. How could it have happened?

We reached out to Thomas for comment directly, but haven't heard back. So we decided to do a little back-of-the-envelope math and investigate some of his probably big paydays. Note that without cooperation from QC, streaming services, or the companies Yachty does endorsement deals with, there is no way for this to be totally accurate. But, based on industry standards and public information, we can at least come up with a reasonable guess as to how Yachty could have brought in that much dough.

First, let's remember what Thomas is claiming: that Yachty made $13 million in 16 months. That would take us back to February of 2016, before the release of his debut mixtape, before "Broccoli," and right around the time he modeled for Yeezy.

Going by information on the site Bands in Town, we can see that Yachty has performed 119 shows over that period—26 this year, and 93 in 2016. This past March, Forbes reported that he was making around $100,000 a show (it should be noted, of course, that guarantees can vary wildly, depending on the type of concert). It's highly unlikely he was making that much the whole time—in the summer of 2016, a more modest Yachty was, by his own admission, charging only $3,500 for a guest verse—but let's be generous and assume he was pulling in that rate for all of 2017. As of late 2016, he was charging $35K a gig, according to some sources. So let's again give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that rate for all of 2016.

So, assuming those rates, Yachty would get about $3.2 million for live dates in 2016, and $2.3 million this year. While we have no way of knowing his exact deal, an industry rule of thumb is that a headliner only keeps about a third of the show revenue—the rest goes to expenses. So Yachty's $5-plus million haul ends up netting him less than $2 million in take-home pay.

That's not Yachty's only way of making money. Yachty has completed 27 guest verses since he got in the game, per Discogs (note that this may miss some hyper-local artists or mixtapes—Yachty obsessives, let us know!) At his stated $3,500 rate, that's another $94,500—though his price has likely gone up considerably since that first Hot 97 interview.

There is also income from streaming. Using Spotify's numbers, because they're easily accessible and it is by far the biggest streaming service, we can see that Lil Boat gets HUGE numbers of streams. Adding up all of the plays from all of his solo songs, we get almost 320 million streams. Because Spotify changes its payouts every month according to a closely-held complicated formula, it's all but impossible for us to figure out exactly how much money that translates into. However, we can make an educated guess.

Digital Music News looked at one band's payouts over about a two-and-a-half year period from late 2013 to early 2016, and discovered that the payouts averaged out to $0.004891. That's right—four-tenths of a cent per stream. So at those rates, Yachty's streams would get him around $1.5 million. Again, the details—how much of that goes to labels, producers, artists sampled, co-writers, etc.—is not something we have access to.

As of yet, Yachty has not had a solo breakout hit along the lines of "Broccoli"—a song which by itself has about 30 million more Spotify streams than Lil Boat's entire catalog. So if he gets a cut of that song, along with payouts from Apple Music and other streaming services, we can assume that an additional big, possibly seven-figure payday is on the way.

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Then there's the other part of his career that Yachty is so proud of—endorsements. Ads with Sprite, Target, and Adidas each probably offer, according to experts we talked to, payouts in the low six figures. His clothing deal with Nautica, because it is more involved than just an ad (he is a "creative director" for the brand), is likely to pay even more.

With all of these income streams, as well as others that we're missing, it's certainly possible that Yachty brought in the $13 million that Thomas claims. But is that what the rapper actually took home at the end of the day? Given his seeming uncertainty about the ins and outs of his own record deal, and the fact that he has two companies to pay off (Quality Control is in a joint venture with Capitol), even Yachty himself may never know.

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