In the vibrant world of Nigerian music, the battle for artistic freedom rages on between artistes and their respective record labels. From contractual disputes to creative control, this Weekend Magazine feature examines the struggles of artistes like Mohbad, Runtown, Kizz Daniel, and others while shedding light on the complex dynamics of the industry.
The clash between artists and their record labels has become an enduring narrative while the industry has spawned global sensations and witnessed tremendous growth. It has also been marked by contentious legal battles and public disputes over contracts, royalties, and, most significantly, creative control.
The Mohbad and Naira Marley ordeal
The recent ordeal involving Mohbad and Naira Marley has brought to light the perilous circumstances many young artists face in the hands of their record labels. Mohbad’s troubles began when he sought to change his manager and voiced concerns about underpaid royalties and an unconducive working atmosphere.
However, the label was reluctant to let him go, creating a tense atmosphere between the two parties. To escalate matters, Mohbad made videos where he alleged that his record label had been physically assaulting him, also insinuating that Naira Marley should be held responsible for any harm done to him.
The label, however, dismissed all allegations, attributing his actions to the influence of illicit drug usage. But following Mohbad’s untimely death, it was revealed that since he left the label, he had faced harassment from assailants at video shoots and concerts. Rumours even suggested that the artiste had filed police complaints, which had never been properly addressed.
Runtown’s battle for independence
Runtown once hailed as the next big thing in the music industry, found himself tangled in a legal battle with his record label in 2016. He alleged unpaid royalties and received death threats from the label. In response, the label obtained an injunction preventing him from performing or recording until the lawsuit’s resolution, even extending its reach to a scheduled U.S. tour. After a protracted legal struggle, Runtown secured a court order allowing him to independently distribute his music. His newfound creative freedom paved the way for a thriving career, proving that artists can indeed flourish without being beholden to labels.
Kizz Daniel vs. G-worldwide
Kizz Daniel, the ‘Buga’ crooner, found himself entangled in a dispute with his former label, G-worldwide, despite the commercial success of his debut album ‘New Era’. Allegedly, he violated his contract’s terms, limiting his ability to collaborate with other artists. An injunction even barred him from performing during the festive period of December 2017, prompting him to change his stage name from ‘Kiss’ to ‘Kizz.’
In 2017, Kizz Daniel founded his record company, Flyboy Entertainment, and continued to produce music. The label, however, filed a new N500 million lawsuit against him, resulting in an ongoing legal tussle.
Cynthia Morgan’s ordeal
Cynthia Morgan, now known as Madrina, shared her grievances about her time under the management of Jude Okoye, senior brother to the famed duo Psquare. She claimed she was never promoted as an artist and was only allowed to shoot music videos. Furthermore, after her exit from the label, she alleged being denied access to her social media accounts. In a rebuttal by Jude Okoye, he refuted Cynthia Morgan’s claims, stating that she owed him money for video shoots and that she was never denied access to her accounts. He also denied ever instructing her to change her name.
May D’s unbearable conditions
May D took to social media after leaving Square Records in 2012, claiming he lived under unbearable conditions while signed with the Psquare brothers. He painted a grim picture of shared living quarters, using a television carton as a makeshift bed and covering himself with his shirt. Jude Okoye defended their stance, explaining that they signed artists to give back to society but encountered issues when May D wanted to become a part of Psquare, a brand that had taken years to build.
Brymo’s allegations of neglect
Brymo departed from his record label in 2013, shortly after releasing his debut album, ‘Son of a Carpenter’. He accused the label of failing to promote the record and ignoring his artistic aspirations. In response, the label argued that Brymo had violated a five-year contract requiring him to release three albums between 2011 and 2016. Reports indicated that Chocolate City Entertainment invested about N20 million in Brymo but only retrieved N3 million back.
Skales and Baseline Records
Skales, formerly with Baseline Records, initially had a promising contract that included a furnished flat, a new SUV, cash advances, and a maintenance stipend totalling N200 million. However, the situation soured when the label accused the musician and his manager of fraud, leading to their arrest in 2016. Skales later signed with the label under new management, but the legal skirmish had already taken a toll on his career.
These stories about Nigerian musicians’ legal disputes with record labels highlight the intricacies of the music industry, particularly in growing markets like Nigeria. While record companies can help musicians establish their careers, conflicts typically occur when artists want more control over their music, image, and revenue.
Very few artists including Burna Boy, Wizkid, Reekado Banks etc. have been able to retain their careers and image after splitting from the labels who made them, which helps to demonstrate the importance of understanding contract terms, seeking legal advice, and standing up for artistic vision.
The legal perspective
An entertainment lawyer, Akinyemi Law, said that many fights between artists and record labels are due to unmet expectations from both parties. He said that in any sphere of human interaction, there are always disagreements and disputes. Even outside the music industry, in our different private spaces and places of work, many relationships are fractured for various reasons. I believe that artist and label rifts get a lot of attention because public figures are always people of interest to the general public.
“I also think that disagreements are badly managed in the music industry because of the kind of characters that people in the music industry have. Most talents do not understand the diverse options available for them to manage dispute resolutions and often times the relationship between talents and record label is allowed to disintegrate because both parties do not know better.
“Most artists and record label battles are caused when expectations on both sides are not being met, which becomes the recipe for a broken relationship. To foster a healthy relationship between both parties, all promises made at the inception of the relationship must be met. Transparency, mutual interest, mutual respect, and accountability is also necessary to strengthen the relationship.”
He also stated that it was important for many young artists to seek out lawyers who could explain the legal terms they’d be faced with when signing contracts with labels. He said for every new artist signing a contract, there are certain things he or she should look out for such as what their obligations and commitments are, duties and commitments of the label, duration of stay with the label, compensation, expertise of label, relationships of the label, track record of the label and the owners, promotion and marketing budget.
“However, because the artist is new, he or she might not be familiar with some of the terms presented before them, which now brings in the importance of having a legal officer by your side, the record label may present you with one, but it’s better you have one with no affiliation to the label so that you are duly informed on what your deal covers and requires from you.”
Speaking on issues surrounding Mohbad’s demise and its rumoured link to his former record label, Mr. Law said, “He was a budding star who was widely loved and I am not surprised at the outpouring of love. It appears that he suffered a lot of harassment and bullying. It is sad that a very talented artist’s journey in music has been cut short abruptly. I wish that artistes and labels are able to resolve disputes in a manner that they can both continue to prosper separately even after the relationship expires.”
The Artist – Label Covenant
In an interview with Daily Trust, an artiste and record label owner, Ruggedman, said there would always be rifts between artistes and labels, however, what is important is how they are resolved.
He said, “There will always be rifts, not just in entertainment. It is how you choose to handle it that will determine how long it lasts and the end result. Mutual respect and transparency in business make all the difference. Record labels should know that they are not doing an artiste a favour by signing him/her. It is a business investment and should be treated as such and respect the agreement signed, play their part and all will be well.
“Artistes should know that getting signed to a record label is not a poverty alleviation programme, it is a business and he/she should adhere to the agreement in the contract. Put in the work needed so that money invested can be made back and with profits for all to share, which is part of the end game. Where a breach of contract happens, go to your lawyer and follow due process. If any party decides to get physical in any way, report it to the authorities and issues will be addressed. Anything outside these mostly never ends well.”
Speaking on behalf of PMAN, Ruggedman, Chairman of media, Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria, stated that the union has its legal team and will always carry up matters concerning artists that are brought before them. He said; “PMAN has a legal team to handle artist issues for all of its registered members. All the artist needs to do is report to the union and they swing into action. However, the union cannot take action on something they are not informed about.”
On the issue of artists not being able to receive royalties for their projects, Ruggedman stated that it is one of the key issues that PMAN is trying to resolve.
He said that under Pretty Okafor, PMAN has been working tirelessly on making sure the collective bodies do their jobs right. It has not been easy as a lot of companies who use artists’ materials oftentimes do not want to pay.
Following Mohbad’s passing, Ruggedman said that the union has commiserated with the family. However, he noted that there is only so little the union can do for unregistered artists.
According to him; “It is sad but they can only do so much for none registered members of the union. Can the Institute of Journalism overly jump into cases of non-members? PMAN’s past records have not been good but under Pretty Okafor all that has changed and they have been doing their best to bring Nigerian entertainers closer so that such cases get to them on time. The union might not have put out a press release on the matter but they had representatives visit the family to pay our condolences. About the union’s stand on the controversies surrounding it, the union awaits the result from the police investigations before issuing its official statement.”