So often Black people tell each other, “Do it for the culture!” But what happens when someone does the culture in by exploiting it for their own personal gain? People like this are called “culture vultures,” which the Urban Dictionary defines as “an inauthentic individual who attempts to identify with aspects of another culture and claim it as their own.”
It’s not a new phenomenon. White people have pillaged and plundered Black communities since BEFORE slaves arrived in America. (Not up for debate.) And one of the areas most exploited by culture vultures is Black art.
Many white people have created successful businesses and immense wealth on the backs of Black artists, without compensating them properly or at all. Other communities have plagiarized Black music, slang, art, fashion, designs, trends, etc. to pad their own pockets. They don’t care that Black people have been systematically left for dead – both literally and economically – they only care about their bottom lines.
Here are eight top culture vultures who’ve pillaged Black America over the last decade.
1. DJ Vlad
Born Vlad Lyubovny, DJ Vlad is the founder of Vlad TV, which highlights hip hop and pop culture. Originally from Ukraine and of Russian Jewish descent, Vlad has more than 3.6 million subscribers on YouTube and a heavily trafficked website. He has released mixtapes, produced films, done interviews and profited heavily from covering Black artists. He has come under fire by many in the hip-hop community for appropriating Black culture.
For example, the name of Vlad’s company is “Hot In Here, Inc.” Sound familiar? Maybe because it comes from one of Nelly’s most popular songs. Vlad was also sued by a former Black female employee who accused him of inappropriate racist and sexual comments.
In 2016, Vlad was called a “disrespectful culture vulture” in a scathing open letter written by Bankroll Fresh’s uncle Marvin Shadi Powers. Powers was upset because Vlad interviewed his nephew’s childhood friend who said he killed him in self-defense, but didn’t request the family’s side of the story.
Powers asked why Vlad was highlighting “black on black violence on the same day” Black people were protesting police killings. He told him, “All you do is take from our community.”
“No other man of another color or race should have that much power over the narrative of what happens in black communities. Our stories, our lives and even our music and don’t even give back at all,” Powers wrote. “You’re really a pornographer that found a better hustle: “pimping black culture”. I know you. I worked for you. You don’t give back to our community! How much of that 50K a month, do you donate to the black community?”
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Vlad’s net worth is $5 million dollars.
2. Lyor Cohen
One of the most influential businessmen in hip hop, Lyor Cohen was infamously labeled as one of the genre’s biggest culture vultures by Dame Dash in his book of the same name.
Over the course of his nearly 40-year career, Cohen made a name for himself working with some of the biggest entities in hip hop including Rush Productions, Def Jam and Warner Music Group. He eventually started his own label, 300 Entertainment, and was appointed YouTube’s Global Head of Music in 2016.
Cohen has worked with some of the biggest names in hip hop from pioneers like Russell Simmons, Run DMC, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Eric B. & Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest to current superstars like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Ludacris and The Migos.
During an interview with “The Breakfast Club,” Cohen admitted his main concern is not his artists’ well-being, but his bottom line. “She asked me talent or issues and I said talent, but I can’t give up on people,” Cohen said. When Charlamagne asked if he was being hypocritical, Cohen responded, “It’s opportunistic, yeah I got people to feed. I got a business to run.”
Though he repeatedly denied he even knew Dame Dash – which is ludicrous considering who he is – Cohen’s comments underscored his true intention is not to help the Black struggle, but to rape the Black culture for everything he can.
Dame said it best: “He’s (Cohen) been making money off of our culture. He is not part of it. And he’s been exploiting it, never helping, teaching or anything. Doing what’s in the best interest of his own pocket over the culture. And to add insult to injury, he is not accepted in his own culture. He cannot get no money in his own culture, so he comes to ours, acts like a big cat, pretends we need him when we don’t,” he added.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Cohen’s net worth is $75 million dollars.
3. Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake, or JT as some affectionately call him, has benefitted immensely from appropriating the Black sound in his music. By doing everything from wearing cornrows to announcing he had a weakness for “sistas” at the BET Awards, Timberlake has amassed a large urban fanbase – and lined his pockets with millions – by being a culture vulture.
In addition to collaborating with many Black producers and artists to create his top-selling albums, Timberlake also infamously retreated into his white male privilege and left Janet Jackson hanging to take the bulk of the blame after the 2004 Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction known as “Nipplegate.”
When he took to Twitter to express how “inspired” he was by Jesse Williams’ speech about cultural appropriation during the 2016 BET Awards, Twitter users came for him for his hypocrisy. “So does this mean you’re going to stop appropriating our music and culture? And apologize to Janet too,” one user wrote.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Timberlake’s net worth is $250 million dollars.
4. Iggy Azalea
The popular femcee blew up because of her catchy lyrics and hip-hop appeal. However, since day one she’s been problematic because she appropriates the persona of a Black, southern woman, despite being a white native of Sydney, Australia.
From her hairstyles, clothing and rap persona to her offensive comments and the men she’s dated, Azalea has made a fortune appropriating Black culture. In a recent interview with Cosmopolitan, Azalea was unapologetic about being a culture vulture. She pretty much dismissed the backlash she continues to receive.
“Then again, can you really say sorry and then keep doing the same shit? I’m still going to make the same type of music and still be ridiculous and larger than life. … So I can’t be that f**king sorry about it,” Azalea said.
Southern hip-hop royalty T.I. helped launch the “Fancy” rapper’s mainstream career. The two have been embroiled in a very public spat recently as T.I. said Azalea was his “greatest blunder.” He called Azalea out for “switching up” after he said she realized she didn’t need to rely on Black fans to be successful.
“I feel like when she found out white people liked her and she didn’t really need Black people to like her anymore, she switched up and started acting different. Made moves that I wasn’t proud of that placed my reputation in the line of fire … She was very arrogant about it. I feel like that energy led to motherf**kers saying, ‘Nah, we not f**king with that,” T.I. said.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Azalea’s net worth is $6 million dollars.
5. Kim Kardashian
Kim Kardashian aka Mrs. Kanye West has built her career on being a culture vulture. She’s had plastic surgery to obtain typical Black features, been accused of wearing blackface when she released a new makeup line and dressed up as the late singer Aaliyah for Halloween. She also wore cornrows and gave credit for the hairstyle to white actress Bo Derek. These are just some of the reasons Kardashian is often criticized for cultural appropriation.
And to make matters worse, Black culture is not the only one Kardashian has been accused of appropriating. This summer she received backlash for naming her new shape wear line Kimono. A kimono is a highly sacred and esteemed garment in Japanese culture. That didn’t stop Kardashian from trademarking the name.
Since Kardashian is a beauty icon and influencer, her looks and products literally translate to money. She and her sisters have often stolen their looks from Black women. And they’ve gotten massive checks because of it.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Kardashian’s net worth is $350 million.
6. Kylie Jenner
Kylie Jenner may be Kardashian’s little sister, but she’s gotten extremely wealthy in her own right being a culture vulture. Whether putting she and her sister Kendall’s Instagram pictures over that of Black icons like Tupac and Biggie without having the decency to ask permission or stealing Black designers’ ideas, Jenner has been accused over and over of stealing product ideas from Black people and other people of color for makeup and fashion lines, which rake in millions in sales annually.
Like her older sister, Jenner has also altered her looks through plastic surgery, worn Black hairstyles and dressed in what is typically Black fashion styles to benefit her brand. Exploiting Black culture helped Jenner build a $900 million dollar fortune by the time she was 20, Forbes reported.
Oftentimes, Jenner and her sisters are praised for creating fresh, new looks and styles that were actually created by Black people and have been a part of the culture for decades. Ironically, the ideas they are praised for, are often the very styles Black people have been looked down on for wearing for years. The only difference is their white girl privilege.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Jenner’s net worth is $300 million.
Born Julieanna Goddard, YesJulz is a popular social media personality, rapper and host of Puerto Rican and Italian descent. She’s come under fire several times for her inappropriate statements and posts about Black people, more specifically Black women.
Born in Boston and raised in Tampa, YesJulz has used hip-hop culture and platforms to garner fame and fortune. She even writes lots of her posts in ebonics aka Black English and has minter herself the “Director of Vibes.”
On her website, YesJulz said she founded her company 1 AM Entertainment “to bring an authentic atmosphere to every city.” However, there are many who believe it’s a hypocritical slap in the face because she is anything but authentic.
In 2017, YesJulz posted then deleted a picture of a crop top that said “Niggas lie a lot” and asked if she should wear it. After losing two major gigs, she issued a tearful apology, which many saw as insincere.
She also posted on Twitter “#whitethoughts damn why do all these black girls hate me? I’ve been so nice! *walks out club with lightskinned dude* Black girls don’t like me cuz black men do! It’s a guarantee in any situation. I walk in a room w/ a group of girls, room has men from every ethnicity…. Black men B line straight 2 Julz!”
If that wasn’t disrespectful enough, earlier this year, YesJulz got major backlash for shading successful Black influencers Karen Civil and Scottie Beam. They both responded and didn’t mince words – and the culture called for her to be canceled, but YesJulz is still making lots of money by appropriating Black culture, while dissing Black people.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, YesJulz’s net worth is $3 million dollars.
8. Complex Media
Complex Media went from being a popular men’s magazine to a multimillion-dollar media magnate and they did it off the backs of Black culture. The late, great Nipsey Hussle called them out last year for their willingness to sacrifice Black people for profit.
“You got companies that add gas to them sparks for their own interest and then they sell advertising space and I don’t like that sh#t. I’m clear on what that motto is,” Nipsey said. “You playin’ wit niggas. You coonin, like you said. You taking something that’s serious and that people doin’ with integrity and you spinnin’ it for some f#ck sh#t and I don’t agree with that.”
Complex was purchased by Verizon and Hearst for approximately $400 million dollars. Having white male founders allowed them access to capital, investment deals with Nike and other opportunities that helped them profit massively off Black culture in a way that the actual Black people who created it did not.