Last week, in an interesting example of New York contract law, Grammy Award winning rap artist Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., a/k/a Lil Wayne, filed a lawsuit against his record label, Cash Money Records, Inc., in New York demanding $51 million.
While the relationship between Carter and Cash Money legally began in 1998 according to the November 1, 1998 Recording Agreement, Carter met the CEO of Cash Money, Bryan Williams, a/k/a Baby or Birdman, in 1993, at just 11 years old. The two became so close that Carter often referred to Williams as his father, as evidenced by their duet album, Like Father, Like Son.
Carter has released ten studio albums as a Cash Money artist and sold over 15 million records. He has been so successful that Carter has been called the best rapper alive.
Lil Wayne and Cash Money intended to make “A Milli” or two
According to the January 29th complaint, the feud between Carter and Cash Money has been building up for years. Their 1998 Recording Agreement has been amended many times. Most notably, in 2003, Cash Money and Carter created Young Money Entertainment, home to household names like Nicki Minaj and Drake. Together, they agreed to split profit and ownership of all Young Money property (including intellectual property) 51% – 49%. In later contract updates, Cash Money agreed to register Carter as a joint copyright owner for designated recordings, to pay Carter a $10 million advance per solo album and to pay Carter one third of profits for Drake’s solo recordings.
Lil Wayne wants to know “Where da cash at?”
Carter alleges that Cash Money has failed to pay him his share of profits due with respect to Young Money Entertainment artists (including Drake). Carter also claims he only received $2 million of the $10 million advance owed for the recording and production of Tha Carter V.
Even more interesting is the fact that Carter accuses Cash Money of failing to properly register the copyright in Young Money recordings, as well as Carter’s own work, as jointly owned by Carter/Young Money LLC and Cash Money.
Not only is Carter seeking money damages and a judgment declaring him partial copyright owner of the recordings in question, but he’s also asking a judge to terminate the 1998 Recording Agreement and the 2003 Label Agreement with Cash Money.
Under New York contract law, Carter will have to show that Cash Money’s breach essentially defeats the purpose of the recording agreement and the label agreement. A judge considers several factors, including the extent to which Carter is being deprived of the benefit of copyright ownership and the likelihood that Cash Money is going fix its past wrongdoings.
If a judge does terminate both contracts, the “custody” battle for Young Money Entertainment artists could get ugly. Unfortunately for Cash Money, Carter is the second signed artist to publicly express his displeasure with the record label in just a few months.
Moral of the story: “Don’t you… ever… get too… comfortable” and skip out on your contractual obligations.