Too Short & Others Explain How Record Companies Are Robbing Artists Blind (Video)
For decades, record labels and the artists they represented, have developed a love/hate relationship. If the public bought records, fame followed. Fortune, however, was not guaranteed. Some of the more successful artists across music did not receive compensation to reflect their success on charts or stages.
In the most recent episode of BET Network’s Rules To This Sh!t, several industry heavyweights sit down to discuss the ins an outs of the record business. Among them, Oakland Rap pioneer Too Short, Producer LV, SRC Recordings Founder/CEO Steve Rifkind, D Dot and the late Combat Jack (aka Reggie Ossé) provide insight into petrifying loopholes that left many an artist broke and/or stuck in irreversible contracts.
“Puff is like my idol,” admits producer LV. He and partner Sean C produced JAY-Z’s “Roc Boys,” among other songs. “He’s one of the reasons why I wanted to be a part of Bad Boy [Records], why I wanted to be a [member of the] Hitmen. So Puff was like, ‘I want to sign you to a publishing thing. I want to do this. I want to manage you,’ and I was thinking, if I sign all this stuff, that means he gets paid for everything I do and even if I produce with him, it’s like he’s getting paid twice. And I was like, ‘Get the f*ck outta here!”
LV further explains how matter of fact Puff’s response was upon his declining the offer. In fact, the Bad Boy impresario actually invited him to a party after the session.
“At that moment I realized there was a difference between friends and business,” LV discloses. “He didn’t stop being my friend because I wasn’t going to sign the papers, but it was like, ‘Sh*t if you gon’ let me do it, I’ma try!’”
It’s a learning experience he’s happy to have had and one he thanks Puffy for to the day. Elsewhere in the clip, Too Short breaks down a points and percentages concept that was illustrated fully in the N.W.A. blockbuster Straight Outta Compton.
“They have f*ckin’ clauses in these sh*tty contracts that say, ‘We’re only going to pay you 15%,’” says Short. “In that 15%, the label is charging you for every-f*cking-thing that takes place… Every dime they spend, they’re either gonna charge you half or 100%. All these motherf*ckers with the sh*tty paperwork, your money’s got to go through all of them [first].”
“The artist has to pay everybody,” producer Deric “D-Dot” Angelettie adds. “The producers, the songwriters… so most of us, including myself, had no clue what the f*ck that meant. Damn, I’m only getting 12 cents off a dollar? And out of my 12, I gotta pay [all these people]? Damn can you at least put some Vaseline on [this set-up]? Can we have some wine and cheese before? God damn.” D-Dot made a famous alter-ego The Mad Rapper. He says his industry experiences warranted real-life anger.
Shawn Martin, an executive in the A&R Department of Atlantic Records, provides knowledge and perspective from the label side, having seen how money blurs the lines. “If you get offered $20,000, you’re going to sign the contract and figure the rest out later – when all the money is gone.”
It’s a vicious cycle that begins and ends with an artist’s willingness to learn the business and as Shade Room CEO, Angelica Nwandu so eloquently puts it, “There is no school for Hip-Hop.” Rapper/singer London Jae contends that as long as an artist can read, he/she has the ability to prevent signing a bad contract.
“You chose not to read,” he insists, suggesting predatory distractions. “You’re looking at the fact that they put these two big stacks next to the contract – and that’s all you’re going to ever get, because you didn’t look at the contract.”
While the popularity of record labels has decreased substantially due to the emergence of the Internet and streaming platforms, this episode is a staunch reminder of how ruthless they were once upon a time.
“You have a frustrated rapper that wakes up one morning and realizes that, ‘I’m all over the f*ckin’ radio. These motherf*ckers love me. Why the fuck am I broke?’” Short asks. “Then they explain to you, ‘This is why: Paragraph 64 clause B says, You don’t get sh*t!’”
In 2018, Too Short released The Pimp Tape on his own Dangerous Music imprint.