Old Slaves: Entertainers Who Signed Bad Record Deals
As the saying goes, not all that glitters is gold – especially when it comes to contracts in the entertainment industry. Though many celebrities have inked deals that are making them millions, plenty have gotten the short end of the stick by signing what’s often referred to as “slave contracts.” Here are 15 stars who’ve signed bad record deals.
This is how a group can sell 10 million records and be broke: They sign a slave contract that not only pays their management too large a cut of their money, but also requires that they foot the bill for every one of their expenses and retain little ownership of what they produce. Pebbles may be alleging that the women of TLC were heavy spenders, but she can’t seem to explain away the fact that each member only took home about $35,000 a year – at the height of their careers.
And TLC isn’t the only Atlanta-based group to sign a bad deal either. Former Xscape member and RHOA star Kandi Burruss admits that her group also signed a slave contract early in their careers. But Kandi says “everybody got a bad deal in the beginning” and actually appreciates her first contract. “I never take it back because that opened the door for me to be able to come into the game.”
Soulja Boy’s career has been struggling for a while now, and part of the reason, he claims, is because of his ex-manager, Philip Ransom. According to a lawsuit filed by Soulja Boy in 2011, Ransom pressured him into signing an “oppressive” contract when he was just 16 years old. The contract gave Ransom 5% of Soulja Boy’s income forever and gave 50% of copyright ownership to the record label. But Ransom has denied doing anything wrong and even went so far as to countersue Soulja Boy for money still owed.
After the formation of Ruthless Records (the record label that managed N.W.A.) by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller, members of the iconic rap group immediately began voicing their displeasure with the management of their finances. Despite their unhappiness, all members went on to sign solo slave contracts with the record company – except Ice Cube, who’s departure from the group was the first nail in its coffin. Dr. Dre left soon after and went on to found Death Row Records – a rival to Ruthless Records – with Suge Knight.
After two successful albums, 20 million records sold, and a handful of awards, Toni Braxton filed for bankruptcy and shocked all of her fans. Following the announcement, the media (and especially Oprah) were quick to blame her spending habits, but Toni set everyone straight when she revealed that her financial woes were really the result of a bad contract she signed with LaFace Records that took too much of her money and bankrupted her with overbearing expenses.
R&B Diva Dawn Robinson has taken a lot of heat for the (multiple) breakups of En Vogue. But Dawn says the group’s issues were less about her and more about the slave contracts that robbed them of their money for years. During an interview with Essence Magazine in 2009, she explained that the record deals were written in “Old English” and were very hard to understand. Although the women had legal counsel they didn’t know the “right questions to ask.”
Qwanell “Que” Mosley
Darn near everyone who’s contracted with Diddy has signed a slave contract at some point, and the Bad Boy contracts formulated specifically for his Making the Band contestants are definitely no different. According to former Day 26 member Que – who’s never provided any specific numbers related to his Bad Boy deal – the group was so unhappy with its contract that they were forced to seek new management.
When Salt-N-Pepa signed their first deal with Next Plateau Records in 1985, the women unknowingly agreed to be paid half the going cent-per-album rate with no option to renegotiate their contract no matter how successful they’d become in the future (which of course was very successful). By their third platinum album, the group members were only making about $100,000 a year each, while their management was making millions.
Ma$e has revealed a lot about the shadiness of Bad Boy contracts over the years: one shocker being that he performed for Bad Boy’s ‘No Way Out Tour’ for free 99 – until he came to his senses partway through and stopped performing. His spot on the tour was ultimately re-filled by Junior M.A.F.I.A member Lil’ Cease.
Diddy’s contractual hold on the Lox was so strong that a “Free The Lox” campaign was held in the late 90’s just to get him to release them from their oppressive Bad Boy contract. Even more shocking? Just a few years ago, Jadakiss revealed that not only had he and Diddy resolved their issues, but he was seriously considering returning to Bad Boy Records. Go figure.
After the release of BDP’s highly regarded debut album Criminal Minded, KRS-One sued the record company B-Boy records for failing to pay royalties owed for the disc and to get out of the long-term contract he and Boogie Down Productions had signed with them. KRS-One ultimately went on to work successfully with Jive/RCA Records, and B-Boy eventually folded.
Record labels giving black musicians bad record deals back in the day should come as no surprise to anyone – and according to Little Richard this was standard practice in the industry. In his biography, The Life and Times of Little Richard, the rock and roll front runner explained how it didn’t even matter how many records you sold if you were black. The record label owned all publishing rights before the record was even released; meaning successful artists were paid just as little as unsuccessful artists.
Kid ‘n Play
Early rap groups like Kid ‘n Play are said to have received lower cent-per-album rates because of the uncertainty of hip-hop’s long term viability in the music industry. Although that sounds like complete BS to me and an extension of the thinking that was popular during Little Richard’s time (the overwhelming majority of hip-hop artists who’ve signed record deals have been black after all), Kid n’ Play reportedly only received one percent of sales on their first album. So we guess it’s true.
Earlier this year, Lil’ Kim sued her lawyers for tricking her into signing a series of branding and licensing agreements that apportioned them nearly 50% of her profits. Kim claims she had no idea what the fine print within the contracts read, but her lawyers say she’s just looking for a way out of the deals.
“American Idol” Contestants
“American Idol” has had plenty of controversies over its 11-year run: one of the most questionable being the contracts that it requires its contestants sign. According to documents: in order to participate in the show contestants must contract with its production company 19 Entertainment which retains 100% control over merchandising, touring, sponsorship and movie deals. 19 Entertainment also reserves the right to record contestants and their behavior in any way for the show – and use their likenesses, voices and biographical materials.
Season 8 alum Ju’Not Joyner even made the explosive claim that he was cut from the show because of his reluctance to sign its slave contract. He’s even alleged that Kris Allen beat out show favorite Adam Lambert because Adam also disagreed with most of what he was signing.