Lil Wayne has filed a lawsuit against his record label Cash Money, alleging that he's owed $51 million by CEO Bryan “Birdman” Williams. It's not the first time an artist has clashed with their label, though. There have been plenty of other explosive - not to mention expensive - wrangles over the years. Here are some to savour...
Not for the first time, Moz bit the hand that feeds him in 2014. The former Smiths singer’s band sported fetching ‘Fuck Harvest’ t-shirts on stage recently in protest over the way the label allegedly handled the promotion of ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business’. He's said to be currently unsigned and working on new material, with an eye to re-release 'World Peace...'
It seems Moz wasn’t too enamoured with Rough Trade’s promotional skills, nor label boss Geoff Travis’ parsimony. "There will never be one instance in the Smiths' history with Rough Trade when Geoff would treat the band to a lavish none-too-cheap dinner or salutary clink of earthenware," he said in last year’s Autobiography.
Death Grips had a very public spat with their label, Epic, and then leaked their album ‘NØ LØV∑ D∑∑P W∏B’ to fans via the internet no doubt much to the annoyance of their paymasters. The Sacramento hip hop three piece then went to the trouble of setting up their own label before splitting up, the big dopes.
La Roux’s Elly Jackson recently complained that Polydor had not met up to her expectations in promoting ‘Trouble In Paradise’ properly. “You never really get an explanation,” she told Digital Spy, “you just realise something is not quite right and there's nothing you can really do about it."
Radiohead’s relationship with EMI turned particularly frosty when the band fulfilled their contract with ‘Hail To The Thief’ and went elsewhere. Parlophone put out a box set of six studio albums and a live album without consulting the band around the same time the Oxford five-piece brought out ‘In Rainbows’.
If the pay-what-you-like release of ‘In Rainbows’ was a watershed moment, then Radiohead singer Thom Yorke was at it again recently, bringing out ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ via BitTorrent, another thumb in the eye to labels.
When Johnny Borrell’s label Stiff Records recently released the disappointing figures for his solo record (594 in its first week), he wasn’t surprised, noting that “the no.1 rule” is that all record “labels are scum”. With an ever revolving door of musicians in his old band Razorlight, you imagine Borrell tried his label Mercury’s patience and vice versa.
It seemed “like a coup” said the Guardian when Azealia Banks signed to Universal in the middle of 2012, but protracted squabbles saw her released from her contract earlier this year, with Azealia comparing herself to Miss Celie in The Color Purple. ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ is still missing in action and has become this decades very own ‘Chinese Democracy’.
It transpires that Azealia had problems with XL back in the day too. "This is not what I worked so hard my entire life to do,” she said of the strained working relationship with the Wandsworth-based label, “to be rejected by some English guy in West Bumblefrickin' nowhere London, telling me I'm amateur or something like that."
Maya Arulpragasam had a proper moan to Zane Lowe last year about trying to release music in the traditional way (ie. through her label Interscope). She described ‘Matangi’ as her “last stab”, adding “I keep finishing the record, handing it in… I was literally just gonna start making records and putting them out from the bedroom straight on the internet.”
The Rolling Stones
To fulfil a contractual obligation with Decca in 1971, Mick Jagger wrote ‘Schoolboy Blues’, a song about a Leicester Square rent boy: “Oh, where can I get my cock sucked?” sang Mick, “Where can I get my ass fucked? I may have no money but I know where to put it every time.” Strangely Decca decided to release it in West Germany and nowhere else.
The Beatles’ label Apple Corps sued EMI in the late 70s for more than 10 million quid in royalties. The pair finally settled out of court in 1989. Apple Corps also sued Nike and Wieden + Kennedy for use of ‘Revolution’ in a trainer advert, also eventually settling out of court with the ad disappearing from the airwaves in 1988.
With Apple Corps having been awarded healthier revenues from EMI in the first settlement, The Beatles decided the payday was in order that they’d missed out on in the 60’s. The remaining members went their own way and released their Anthology series in the mid-90s.
The Stone Roses
After the euphoric high of their self-titled debut, The Stone Roses were frustratingly locked down contractually when Silvertone, having lost a court ruling, went to the court of appeal. It would take four years to bring out follow-up ‘The Second Coming’, and the lengthy interregnum took the momentum out of the band who unsurprisingly split soon after in ‘96.
Why keep something to yourself when you can have a good moan on Twitter? Rapper Wiley, aside from beefs with other rappers and a hilarious tirade about Glastonbury, also used the social network to sound off about his employers Warners back in 2013.
Lana Del Rey
Lizzy Grant aka Lana Del Rey bought herself out of the contract she had with modest label 5 Points Records in order to conquer the globe via a major deal with both Polydor and Interscope in 2011. The original label apparently weren’t too fond of ‘Video Games’ as a lead single, but LDR had other ideas. She uploaded a video to the internet, and the rest is history.
Papa Roach complained about harbouring serious issues with their previous label Interscope back in 2010 - who they claimed still owed them money - and in time-honoured fashion they released a single ‘Burn’ about how terrible the music business is.
When Prince scrawled ‘SLAVE’ on his face at the Brits in 1995, it signalled the beginning of what would become one of the most protracted and widely talked about spats in music history - partly thanks to Prince’s insistence on calling himself The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, TAFKAP and a glyphic squiggle you won’t find on wingdings.
When Prince was finally freed from his deal with Warners in 2000 he resumed working under his original name and he’s been releasing albums on his own terms ever since.
Henry Rollins’ old band went through a confusing two-year dispute with MCA subsidiary Unicorn when president Al Bergamo declared their album ‘Damaged’ as “anti-parent”. Black Flag found themselves in the bizarre situation where they couldn’t release music under their own name. The hardcore classic eventually came out on STT in late ‘81.
The Fall have had more labels than Mark E Smith has had hot dinners. After releasing ‘Your Future, Our Clutter’ with Domino this decade, they upped sticks in customary fashion. Smith told the Quietus: “it was bit like going in a fucking time warp. It's a different mindset altogether and I get a bit frustrated with that y'know.”
The Fall likened being on Domino to their time with Rough Trade in the early 80s: “We were very much in danger of becoming another Rough Trade group. So we left them and went to Kamera who were great. They were a heavy metal label and they just said ‘Do whatever you want!’”
Chris Martin appeared on an early version of ‘Dry Your Eyes’, but interference from EMI (it wasn’t a hit apparently) meant the version went unreleased. Mike Skinner started his own label The Beats but says he found “speculating more nerve-wracking than performing.” He killed it off and even held a funeral for it.
Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor isn’t afraid to say what he feels, and the Nine Inch Nails man took issue with Interscope’s high pricing policy in Australia. "You've got a core audience that's gonna buy whatever we put out", came the reply. Reznor released records from then on via his own independent The Null Corporation label, and is now signed to major Columbia.
George Michael famously fell out with Sony back in the 90’s and sued them. Claiming his “contract constituted an unreasonable restraint of trade”, Michael was unsuccessful in his bid when a judge ruled in favour of the electronics giant in ‘94. Ironically the former Wham singer is now back with the label that made him a “pop slave”.
When Def Jam founder Rick Rubin fell out with label president Lyor Cohen in New York in 1988, he moved over to LA and formed his own Def American Recording, signing a bunch of metal bands and eventually Johnny Cash. He also eventually dropped the Def.
Cher sued Universal for $5 million in 2009, alleging executives were “engaged in wrongful tactics” between 2000 and 2003, which is a nice way of saying they embezzled cash. In 2011 a judge ruled that there was “no evidence” of impropriety.
The Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer had a major spat with label ZTT when he tried to leave for MCA after the band dissolved. The courts eventually sided with Johnson and gave him free license to pursue his solo career.
Indie skiffle merchants The Holloways soldiered on valiantly until 2011, despite being besieged by a run of bad luck that not only included their label TVT folding in 2008, but also saw their flat burn to the ground when they lived above venue Nambucca on the Holloway Rd. To keep going so long was above and beyond the call of duty.
Kings of Leon
In 2010 Kings of Leon severed ties with Columbia and signed with Warners, and word has it they secured themselves a tasty deal in the process with a larger slice of profits than the artist usually commands. ‘Mechanical Bull’ went gold everywhere, meaning a lot of bullion for the Followills.
Kelis became so frustrated with record company wrangling that she went off for four years and trained as a cordon bleu chef. She’s back on Ninja Tune now, and should she get disenchanted again, the certified chef can certainly knock up more than a milkshake as backup. Unsurprisingly she called her latest album ‘Food’.
It could be suggested V2 didn’t know their arses from their Elbow, as albums from the Bury miserabilists fell into the arms of devotees but few others. To be fair the label had stresses of its own, being stripped, restructured and sold off, while Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ went triple platinum and won them the Mercury Music Prize with Polydor in 2008.
Ooh baby baby. Baby baby. Salt-N-Pepa - or Cheryl Wray and Sandra Denton to their mums - unanimously overturned a ruling that Noise in the Attic could take $540,000 and a slice of their future royalties when they appealed in 2004 against a decision a year earlier. Which makes you wonder how the courts could get it so wrong in the first place.
Psychobilly legends The Cramps got into an unfortunate, er, contraction with Miles Copeland - brother of Stewart (you know, the Police drummer) - and his Illegal Records label back in the 80s. After some handbags at dawn, they eventually settled out of court.
Melancholic 60s teen idol Del Shannon had a string of massive hits including ‘Runaway’, but after disputes with managers - who he sued for royalties - major record companies shied away from working with him again. Troubles with labels certainly aren’t a new thing.
Famously affable, peace-loving and laid-back, Billy Corgan went against type when he sued his label Virgin for using the band’s music to promote products he said hurt the band’s credibility. Sorry, did we say peace loving? We meant to say he makes Jack White look like the Dalai Lama.
Pink Floyd dragged EMI over the coals for selling individual songs through iTunes instead of their albums as complete works. Apparently this was a stipulation in their 1999 contract, and the judge agreed that the label had violated the agreement. The band signed a new contract with EMI in 2011 anyway.
The Beach Boys
Ahh the old “missing paperwork” excuse. The Beach Boys apparently sued Capitol many times over the years for loss of earnings and royalties due to missing paperwork on sales tallies.
When Rob Halford left Judas Priest in 1992, he also sued Sony for restrictive practices on the way out of the door, whatever ‘restrictive practices’ actually means.
30 Seconds to Mars
Jared Leto’s 30 Seconds to Mars sold 10 million records, but that didn’t stop Virgin from suing the band for $30m for breach of contract when they failed to deliver two further albums. “We had more success than we ever dreamed,” Leto told Forbes. “We never expected to get rich, but we certainly didn’t expect to be millions of dollars in debt.”