Although Megan Thee Stallion has developed a reputation for using her Instagram Live to pal around with other rappers and joke with her fans, on Sunday, she found another use for it. Rappers complaining about their record deals is a time-honored tradition as old as the genre itself and as Megan revealed, she has recently joined a pantheon of artists laboring under deals they consider unfair including De La Soul, Lil Uzi Vert, and more.
Like Lil Uzi, as well as Meek Mill and an ever-growing stable of artists seeking favorable splits, Megan recently signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management team. However, the move to the label’s management arm seems to have caused a rift between Megan and her original independent label, Houston’s 1501 Certified Entertainment. 1501’s CEO, Carl Crawford, apparently issued a legal action to block Megan from releasing new music until their dispute is resolved.
Megan Thee Stallion says that 1501 isn’t letting her drop new music due to her requesting to renegotiate her contract. pic.twitter.com/4Uz5vXwmD0
— Ronald Isley (@yoyotrav) March 1, 2020
Megan’s fans, of course, have instinctively sided with Megan — perhaps partially out of self-interest, but also because Megan’s complaint echoes similar laments from artists throughout the years who have claimed that they signed “bad” deals without knowing explicitly what was in them. While some feel that this amounts to shortsightedness on the part of the artists, it still leaves many artists — and the labels who finance them early on — in dire straits when resolutions can’t be reached. So, who’s right? Without seeing the contract in question, it’s hard to say, but judging from comments made by Crawford, it’s probably not as cut-and-dry as either side seems to believe.
Megan first signed to 1501 in early 2018 after releasing her first mixtape in 2016. Over the next year after releasing that tape, she increased her public profile with a series of viral freestyles, but it wasn’t until after signing to 1501 that she seemed to truly garner the first inklings of mainstream accolades. In March 2018, she performed at SXSW, gaining more exposure, and later released her Tina Snow EP in partnership with 300 Entertainment, which was many mainstream outlets’ first introduction to Thee Stallion as a complete artist.
The rest is pretty much history: “Big Ole Freak,” the standout single from Tina Snow, helped make Megan a household name after its video took the internet by storm. Her followup tape, Fever, peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, spawning the hit singles “Cash Sh*t” featuring fellow 2019 breakout star DaBaby, and “Realer.” Standout features on albums from Chance The Rapper, Gucci Mane, Maxo Kream, and Wale all shot her star higher than ever as the anticipation for her next full-length project reached a — sorry — fever pitch.
It seemed that her rise would eventually culminate in a triumphant debut with the release of her latest single, “B.I.T.C.H.,” but instead it looks like her prior label situation may have caused her upward momentum to stall out at the worst possible time. With the move to Roc Nation, it seems that Megan wanted to renegotiate the terms of her original contract, and that was when, as she puts it, “everything went left.” While she was careful not to reveal which terms in the contract were so unfavorable — and to state that she held no ill will toward 1501 — she did say, “It’s really just, like, a greedy game.”
None of us have seen Megan Thee Stallion's contract with 1501 to really comment fairly. But one thing we've seen in hip-hop history is that when you combine Youth and Need, the likelihood of signing an exploitative deal becomes immensely more likely.
— I’m Gary #CABBAGES (@noyokono) March 1, 2020
However, Crawford tells a slightly different version of the story and that’s why the devil is in the details — details we as outside observers can’t possibly hope to know. According to him, he was blindsided by the news of Megan’s new management deal, saying he found out “when y’all did.” In an interview posted earlier today, Crawford called it “disappointing” but said that he “kinda expected it.” It’s worth noting that the credits of “B.I.T.C.H.” still list 1501, which may mean that Crawford’s label was still investing in Megan’s career right up until the recent friction between the two parties.
This is why the situation can appear so tangled and complex from the outside looking in: 1501 has obviously invested extensive resources in helping Megan get to where she is today and expects a return on that investment. Meanwhile, Megan is perhaps looking for more artistic freedom or a larger cut of the profits from her own creativity and labor — a proposition that has landed many artists and their labels in relative stalemates when they can’t agree on how much the artist’s work is worth.
From the label’s perspective, there might be 100 artists who have talent, but don’t have the network, finances, and strategy to help them reach that level. To the artists, the labels would have no product if not for their creative labor. And in the middle of it all lies decades of exploitative labor practices and “industry standard” deals that often tie artists to their benefactors for multiple projects, paying them back pennies on every dollar earned, even after they recuperate the label’s initial investments (Crawford revealed in an interview in October that Megan’s deal with 1501 is for four albums, of which she has completed zero since Tina Snow and Fever were considered “mixtapes”).
Back in October we asked Carl Crawford about the label situation w/ Megan pic.twitter.com/3kgUQno5qN
— Dirty Glove Bastard (@DGB_Media) March 2, 2020
It’s ironic that this is all happening as decades-old disputes regarding royalties and contracts have bubbled to the surface elsewhere in the industry. Kamaiyah recently celebrated her newfound independence by releasing the pointedly titled Got It Made. Mase called out his former employer Diddy for not paying him as much as he should have in the ’90s, and Kelis claimed that The Neptunes “tricked” her out of her fair share of their joint profits. Even outside of the hip-hop world, this has proven to be a prevalent problem.
Unfortunately, only those with access to the contracts can really say whether or not the terms are fair and favorable to Megan or 1501, and most of them have their own vested interests in the outcome which would likely color their opinion. Fortunately for us fans, it seems that the contract dispute won’t live anywhere near as long as the one between De La Soul and Tommy Boy or Lil Uzi Vert and DJ Drama. As Megan tweeted last night, new music will be dropping,” so perhaps both parties were able to reach a solution after all.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.