Londell McMillan Responds To JAY-Z’s Diss & Strongly Defends His Partnership With Prince (Video)
Following Prince’s death on April 21, 2016, there has been a tug of war regarding the icon’s music and assets. One month after the tragic news, JAY-Z made that battle both public and part of his own legendary catalog. On the Grammy-nominated 4:44, Shawn Carter took umbrage with the handling of Prince’s estate. The only person that Jay placed specific blame on is L. Londell McMillan, Prince’s business partner, former manager, and onetime attorney.
Growing up just blocks from Jay and attending the same junior high school in Brooklyn, Londell McMillan has history with Carter. In the 1990s, Londell represented the legal affairs of DMX, The L.O.X., and Ruff Ryders Entertainment, among many other top Rap artists. For nearly a decade he has owned The Source magazine—which he purchased in the late 2000s. On the current cover of the storied Hip-Hop and lifestyle publication (celebrating its 30th birthday in 2018) is The Breakfast Club team. Charlamagne Tha God, Angela Yee, and DJ Envy now sit down with McMillan on their platform. Even though the two parties admit there is a friendship, it did not stop the hosts—especially Charlamagne—from asking the hard questions. He allows L. Londell McMillan a platform to respond to Jay’s “Caught Their Eyes” lyrics, and explain to the public what he personally has done with Prince’s estate and legacy, and why.
At 13:00 in the conversation, Charlamagne Tha God asks Londell what JAY-Z meant by his “Caught Their Eyes” lines: “I sat down with Prince, eye to eye / He told me his wishes before he died / Now, Londell McMillan, he must be colorblind / They only see green from them purple eyes.” The longtime attorney for Prince responds with an apparent chuckle, “You’d have to ask [JAY-Z] about what he meant. I would only be speculating on what would make a wise man who’s an incredible artist, who’s known me probably 35-40 years—we grew up [nearby and went to the same junior high school]…what he would make something about being ‘colorblind’ mean, when I’ve been an activist, a community organizer, and a civil rights [and] human rights leader and advocate and champion for artists in this culture longer than anybody I know.”
Charlamagne adds that he believes JAY-Z was “upset over the handling of Prince’s estate,” pointing to the following lyrics in the verse: “This guy had ‘slave’ on his face / You think he wanted the masters with his masters?” McMillan responds, “Again, you’d have to ask Hov’, ’cause I was the guy who got ‘slave’ off of his face. Prince hired me to get him out of the contract with Warner Bros. He called me ‘the emancipator.'” In 1993, Prince made public appearances with the word “slave” written on his face. At the time, he was battling the label he had been signed to since he was 19 years old. “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face,” Prince reflected to Rolling Stone three years after the artistic statement. “But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave. That’s where I was [at the time]. I don’t own Prince’s music. If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”
Londell re-asserts that he is the one who helped remove “slave” from Prince’s face 25 years ago. “I asked Prince when I first met him, ‘How do we get that “slave” off of your face?’ Prince said, ‘You get me free. I’ll take “slave” off of my face.’ By the way, [Prince] never used to look at people directly in the eye [that] he didn’t know well. Then, he looked me in the eye [when he said this].”
Londell says he was 26 years old at the time. “I had nothing to lose; I’m from the streets. I said, ‘Freedom’s not free. You think Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas just woke up one day and said they want to be free? You gonna have to fight for freedom.’ He says, ‘I’m ready to fight.’ We [fought] and we were successful. I went from his lawyer to his manager to his partner. You know, the facts are clear: we had a historic relationship. The legacy is just unprecedented. The things we achieved, everybody, who knows the business, acknowledges. So you’d have to ask [JAY-Z] about that. Again, he’s making an album [with 4:44]. It’s clever lyrics, but factually, it didn’t have the merit. Again, I’ve known that brother for a long time, and I’ve refrained from being critical of him for a long time.”
McMillan praises Jay, but urges him to take his own 4:44 advice. “I’m so happy for his success. They got this thing called ‘Family Feud.’ When the family feuds nobody wins.’ In many respects, we have to see ourselves as a family, particularly when you know each other. He’s got children; he even came to my daughter’s baby shower back in the day. We know each other. We’re not best of friends by any stretch, but when the family feuds, nobody wins. Me taking shots [back] at Jay would have been something that just continued to rumble. I think we’ve got to show conflict resolution better than that.”
Charlamagne asks if the two men have spoken, while referencing more bars: “You greedy bastards sold tickets to walk through his house / I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket.” Londell clarifies, “First of all, I wasn’t the lawyer [at that time]. I was the business manager of the estate, at that time. I now manage half of the heirs of the estate. But anybody that knew Prince really knew that Prince left instructions to leave Paisley Park as a museum. He left instructions to at least 20, 30 people. So that was a fact. In fact he started writing out the plans for that.”
While McMillan says that the instructions were clear regarding Prince’s home, studio, and label compound, other areas are left to interpretation. “Regrettably, [Prince] didn’t leave a will, because that would have ended a lot of conversations. Again, you gotta ask Jay what he meant, and ask the people who probably advise Jay. I believe Jay was probably getting misinformation, because Jay usually doesn’t get pressed about things like that—from what I’ve seen in my dealings with him. He’s usually a very cool guy.” McMillan added that he welcomes a public conversation with JAY-Z on this issue, if the Roc Nation founder is willing and interested.
Londell confirms that Prince’s estate sued Tidal, the streaming platform that JAY-Z co-owns and also where he serves as figurehead. In 2016, almost one month to the day after Prince’s death, Jay campaigned for Prince’s catalog on his “All The Way Up (Remix)” verse: “Prince left his masters where they safe and sound We never gonna let the elevator take him down.” During this time, Tidal carried Prince and Paisley Park Records’ music while other platforms did not. That later changed, as Prince’s music is now back on Spotify, Apple Music, and other digital platforms.
Londell explains, “I haven’t seen all the agreements [but] it’s my understanding that Prince made a deal with [JAY-Z], a deal for a couple of albums—but not for the whole entire catalog. But that was the estate; you’ve got to ask the estate lawyers and his lawyers. I think perhaps what happened is that some suggested [that] because there was a lawsuit, that my hands and fingerprints were all on that.” For Hip-Hop Heads, this charge may echo the decade-long battle between the estate of Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records. Tupac was killed after recording just one double album for the label. For the next eight years, Suge Knight’s label released music from Pac’s vaults, until relinquishing full control back to the estate.
McMillan continues, “I could just tell you this: if anybody leaves their family an estate, you should want somebody like me to make sure we’re protecting it and monetizing it so your family doesn’t lose it…the same kid that went to junior high school with [JAY-Z]—created almost $100 million in less than nine months so that the IRS don’t back up a big yellow truck to the purple building and take [Prince’s] assets. Who does that? So when people talk about ‘seeing green in the purple eyes,’ me being able to generate revenue, make money, that’s a great thing. ‘Cause typically, when I came into the business, they said you had to go to the white lawyers in order to make money and get deals. So when I make money for my clients that should be celebrated. That shouldn’t be ridiculed.”
In the interview, McMillan also mourns friend, former Source Managing Editor, and fellow Cornell University graduate Reggie Ossé, better known as Combat Jack. Ossé died last month in a battle with colon cancer, just days after the death of another highly influential Black entertainment attorney, Ed Woods. “We were all out there in the game, trying to come up, trying to be Black lawyers in this predominately white legal system that represents our talent,” says McMillan at the top of the discussion.
The current Source magazine cover of Charlamagne, Yee, and Envy pays tribute to a 1997 cover for the periodical featuring The Firm’s Nas, Foxy Brown, and AZ,.