ZACK O’MALLEY GREENBURG is a senior editor at Forbes, where he covers the business of music & entertainment in his column, The Beat Report. His first book, a Jay-Z biography called Empire State of Mind, was published by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint in 2011. He’s currently working on his second book, a business-focused biography of Michael Jackson, for Simon & Schuster.
Zack has been writing professionally since the age of 14, when he landed a gig reviewing video games for Boys’ Life magazine. A former child actor, he played the title role in the film Lorenzo’s Oil alongside Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon. He retired early to pursue his dream of winning a middle school intramural baseball championship before starting his writing career.
Zack’s first taste of the music business came at Yale, where he majored in American Studies with a concentration Urban Studies. When he wasn’t busy booking gigs and singing for pop/rock a cappella group Out of the Blue, he profiled artists ranging from Gunther to the Goo Goo Dolls for the Yale Daily News. During his sophomore year, he saw a flyer for an internship at Forbes posted in the newspaper’s offices; he joined the magazine that summer and continued to freelance as a student at Yale.
Two weeks after graduation, Zack joined Forbes as a full-time reporter and has since written over 500 articles for Forbes, Forbes Asia and Forbes.com. His stories on music, business, travel and sports have taken him from the back rooms of New York’s Apollo Theater to the rail yards of Omaha to the diamond mines of Sierra Leone–and, most terrifying of all, the bleachers of Fenway Park.
Along the way, Zack has interviewed luminaries from all walks of life–including Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, 50 Cent, Akon, Russell Simmons, Steve Wozniak, Justin Bieber, Timbaland, Afrika Bambaataa, Mac Miller, Richard Branson, T.I., Wiz Khalifa, Dr. Ruth, Swizz Beatz, Lil Jon, Fab 5 Freddy, Mr. T, Skrillex, Ludacris and Bill Gates (sort of) – as well as a host of non-famous mutual fund managers, musicians, CEOs, billionaires and a convicted murderer (though nobody who could be described as all of the above). He also helped arrange a ukulele duet between Jon Bon Jovi and Warren Buffett.
Zack’s first book, a unauthorized, business-focused biography of Jay-Z titled Empire State of Mind, was published by Penguin/Portfolio in March 2011 and is now on its third printing (more info on the book here). Though Jay-Z told Zack that the book was “horrible,” a lot of other people seem to have liked it–including hip-hop pioneer Fab Five Freddy, rap historians Dan Charnas and Jeff Chang, and Zack’s boss’s boss’s boss, Steve Forbes, who wrote the foreword to the book’s paperback edition. Empire State of Mind also received received high marks from media outlets including the Financial Times, CNN, the New York Times and Bloomberg News, which called it “one of the year’s best rock books.”
Aside from the book and Forbes, Zack has written for The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Vibe, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, AOL/Huffington Post and others. He has also served as an expert source for BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Reuters, MTV, Entertainment Tonight, Good Day New York and other print, web, radio and video outlets. Zack has appeared as a guest speaker at Yale College, Harvard Business School, Howard University, Berklee College of Music, Year Up Boston and Georgetown University.
Zack reveals how he first started writing about music for Forbes:
Zack talks about Jay-Z’s rise as a businessman on Bloomberg TV’s Game Changers: