One of the greatest business moves artists and rappers can make is owning their masters. This means they control where their music is licensed (in TV, film, and advertisements) and, as a result, reap the financial rewards. Record labels began taking ownership of artist's masters in the 1950s. During the "golden age of vinyl," they cornered the market. And yet, to this day, "...a label is still contractually owning the voices of people who spent their whole lives honing their craft and becoming great writers, vocalists, and superstars, " said Chance the Rapper in an interview with Success. Many of today's rappers were inspired by trailblazing artists like Ray Charles and Prince, who took control of their legacies by regaining their masters. Here's a list of rappers who have been wise enough to gain ownership of their masters.
In January 2017, fresh off the enormous success of his EP Savage Mode, 21 leveraged a deal with Epic Records. He has a 70/30 split with the label. "I make more money off my album sales than I do off touring. For a lot of rappers, most of their money comes from touring," he admitted on the podcast A Million Dollaz Worth of Game.
The American Dream rapper says that his masters serve as generational wealth for his family. However, if the bag is long enough, he has no problem with handing them over. "But...if a m-thaf-cka come and say, 'Aye...I got a billion for your masters,' that m-thaf-cka's gone," he added.
"My children gonna own my masters...not your children, my children".
Kanye West is currently without a record label or a music publisher but has made one thing clear: he has no intention of selling his catalog. Just last year, West acquired his masters from the 2013 Yeezy album up to the present. Def Jam owns the copyright to his recordings up to sometime in the mid-2010s and distributed subsequent releases up to last year's Donda album. But his actual deal with the label ended in 2021. Sony Publishing will continue to administer his work (such as Vultures ) per the terms of the deal for an unspecified time.
Billboard estimated the songs generate $13.25 million in publishing royalties annually. Sources said West earns $5 million from his share, valuing the catalog at roughly $175 million. In an effort to give artists the same autonomy, Kanye also tweeted in Sept 2020 that he would be giving all of his G.O.O.D. Music artists back the 50 percent share of their masters. He also proposed an eight-point plan that would revolutionize the music industry. Artists and rappers would receive master ownership, short-term deals, an 80/20 split of royalty payments in the artist's favor, and transparency.
Media mogul Jay-Z demanded control of his Def Jam masters when he became president of the label in 2004. The rapper's masters would later revert back to him in 2014, with his publishing rights returned to him around the same time in a separate deal with EMI. As of 2021, his music catalog was worth $95 million. In an interview last year with CBS Morning's with Gayle King, he revealed that he's not interested in selling his musical repertoire. "I want my kids to see my work and if they decide to sell it, then it's up to them."
Chance The Rapper has mentioned many times the huge impact owning his masters has made on his career. In 2016, Chance declined a record deal with Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music, opting to stay independent. It paid off because he owns all his recording rights, publishing, and distribution. The rapper, who has a 50/50 royalty split, continues to influence rappers and emphasize being in control of one's career. In 2022, he even helped iconic singer Anita Baker regain control of her master recordings after she asked fans to stop streaming her music.
In 2021, Drake received the largest deal in music history from Republic Records and Universal. The $400 million deal included recordings, publishing, merchandise, and visual media projects. Prior to the Scorpion rapper's historic deal, Michael Jackson held the top spot as having the largest deal in music history. According to reports, $250 million went to his estate in 2010 from Sony Music.
LL Cool J
An OG in the game, LL Cool J has owned his masters for over 20 years. The Queens native has full authority over all 13 of his studio albums on Def Jam. In an interview with Million Dollaz Worth of Game, he revealed that being sampled by rappers like Rick Ross and The Notorious B.I.G. proves his legacy is cemented.
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