Top 10 Rapper vs. Label Beefs – Tell ‘Em Why You Mad, Son
An artist dispute with a record label is nothing new to music biz. It’s par for the course, as some of the biggest names in music have had very public disputes with their employers, but rappers tend to handle their squabbles with their employer a bit differently than other entertainers. We’ve all heard of the stories of MC So-And-So running up to the label threatening the record executives to gain the upper hand in negotiations. But, for the most part, things are handled in a non-violent manner through diss records, lawsuits, or the old fashion silent protest.
No new music until I get my way.
With the recent flare up between Nas and Def Jam Records and the running drama between Lupe Fiasco and Atlantic Records, XXLMag.com decided to take a look back at some of the more memorable confrontations between artists and their labels. While no rapper has gone as far as changing his/her name to a sign in protest of a label, there have been some career changing moments to speak of in these very public disputes. This could have gone on forever, so we capped the list at 10.
Tell ’em why you mad, son…
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THE LOX VS. BAD BOY: 2000-2008
After dropping their 1998 RIAA-certified platinum debut Money, Power & Respect on Bad Boy Records, The LOX turned around a year later and demanded to be let go from the house that Puff built. The Free the LOX campaign (famously marked by the “Let the LOX go” T-shirts that flooded NYC streets) worked and the Yonkers trio ended up signing to Ruff Ryders/Interscope, where they dropped their sophomore album We Are the Streets in 2000.
Still, the beef with Bad Boy didn’t stop there. Even though the group left the label, Puff still held on to percentages of the LOX’s publishing. In 2008, Jada and Styles P. had it out with Diddy during a Hot 97 radio interview. Even though, Puff and the LOX have since made peace, this remains one of the best rapper/label beefs in hip-hop history.
Diddy vs. LOX on Hot 97
CLIPSE VS. JIVE RECORDS: 2004 – 2006
Caught up in the merger between Arista Records and Jive Records, Malice and Pusha T (originally signed to Star Trak/Arista) found themselves on Jive, while a majority of the Star Trak roster ended up on Interscope. The Virginia duo was soon at odds with Jive over the release of their sophomore album Hell Hath No Fury. Noticing that they were not a priority over the label’s pop acts like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Usher, they sued for their release. In the midst of the suit, the Clipse released their notable mixtape series, We Got It 4 Cheap, to keep their buzz alive.
Jive settled the lawsuit by agreeing to a distribution deal for the Clipse’s Re-up Gang imprint. Hell Hath No Fury was finally released in November 2006 to critical acclaim, but meek sales. The duo eventually left the label to sign a new deal with Columbia Records, while Pusha recently scored a solo deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music.
JOE BUDDEN VS. DEF JAM: 2004-2007
Despite his self-titled debut selling over 500,000 copies, Joe Budden found himself in the doghouse at hip-hop’s most storied label. While the anticipation for the New Jersey rhyme slinger’s sophomore album The Growth was there amongst fans, the label didn’t see fit to drop the effort. With rap icon Jay-Z in place as Def Jam’s president at the time, rumors circulated that he was intentionally blocking Budden’s shine due to a personal slight dating back to 2004. After Hov recorded a freestyle over Budden’s “Pump It Up,” Joey recorded new verses for the song and fans speculated he was taking shots at Jay, but both parties denied the lyrical battle. Budden didn’t remain idle, though, as his album was held in a holding pattern by the label. His popular mixtape series Mood Muzik provided fans with the razor-sharp bars they came to expect from the outspoken MC. It was also an outlet for Budden to vent his frustrations.
By the fall of 2007 Budden was officially dropped from the label and that triggered the release of two diss records from Joey aimed at Jay-Z and the Def Jam. “Talk 2 Em,” off Mood Muzik 3, was aimed at Jay-Z, and “The Growth (Intro),” a track from Joe’s unreleased album, went at his former employers. Of course Hov didn’t directly respond to the diss and Def Jam went along with business as usual. This wouldn’t be the last of Budden’s public disputes with a label, as he was involved in a Twitter back-and-forth with indie label Amalgam Digital earlier this year.
“Talk 2 Em”
ICE CUBE VS. RUTHLESS RECORDS: 1989
Ice Cube is about his paper. After helping bring N.W.A to superstar with the group’s 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton, Cube noticed that his money was coming up a bit short. When it was time to re-up and sign a new contract in the summer of 1989, Cube first consulted a lawyer.
“They was supposed to give me $75,000 if I signed,” Cube told XXL in the November 2008 issue. “But I refused to sign, and he never gave it to me. But, in the end, [Ruthless CEO Jerry Heller] ended up giving it to me after that. They ended up paying me once they thought I was going to sue.”
Cube never did sue, but he scared Jerry and business partner Eazy-E enough that they let him out his contract with the label and group. It pays to read your paperwork.
DR. DRE VS. RUTHLESS RECORDS: 1991
Like Ice Cube before him, Dr. Dre noticed something funny with his money and set out to leave his longtime label home. With Eazy-E and Jerry Heller not being the types to let a talent like that go so easily, Dre allegedly called in the muscle, in the form of his bodyguard Suge Knight. As legend has it Suge strong-armed Easy into letting Dre out of his contract and the two went on to launch Death Row Records. The first album off the soon-to-be powerhouse label would be Dre Dre’s seminal release The Chronic, which was laced with several scathing disses aimed at Eazy and Heller.
One of the most historical “Artist vs. Label” disputes in hip-hop was played out in the video of Dre’s ubiquitous single, “Fuck Wit Dre Day.” It ain’t nothing but a G thang, baby.
“Fuck Wit Dre Day”
CAM’RON VS. SONY: 2000
Things started well for Cam’ron in his union with Sony Records. Signed to Lance “Un” Rivera’s Untertainment imprint at the behest of Brooklyn rapper the Notorious B.I.G. in 1998, Cam released his gold-selling debut, Confession of Fire. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly on his second album, S.D.E. (Sports, Drugs, & Entertainment).
Cam wanted off the label and things got real tense when he refused to release another album. Rather than deal with the drama, Sony allowed Cam to sign with his childhood friend Dame Dash at Roc-A-Fella Records in 2001.The rest is history. Cam joined the Roc, The Diplomats became rap superstars and eventually became a major factor in the demise of Roc-A-Fella as they beefed with co-owner/No. 1 breadwinner, Jay-Z.
The moral of the story here is: one label’s headache can be the next label’s downfall.
CAPONE-N-NOREAGA VS. TOMMY BOY: 2001
Unhappy with the sales of their sophomore album, The Reunion, in 2000 the Queens duo made the decision to ditch Tommy Boy Records for Def Jam. The split would get ugly as Tommy Boy held on to the rights to the group’s stage names. As a result, the tandem would have to change their official name from Capone-N-Noreaga to the abbreviated version C-N-N, while Nore adjusted his rap moniker to N.O.R.E.
During the legal tussling, the comical MCs employed one of the more unique ways of beefing with their label by ordering dozens of pizzas and fast food orders and charging it to the company card any time they visited the office. As Nore explained, sometimes you gotta hit ‘em where it hurts.
BIG BOI VS. JIVE RECORDS: 2010
As it did with the Clipse, the corporate restructuring of BMG also had an impact on another (far more noticeable) group in rap, OutKast. After making their mark with LaFace Records—an imprint of Arista—the Georgia duo found themselves on Jive/Zomba following the release of their 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. Though the album was a success, Big Boi, one half of the multi-platinum selling tandem, blamed the label for dropping the ball on the ensuing projects, including the soundtrack to their 2006 film, Idlewild.
In the July/August 2010 issue of XXL, Big explained, “They ain’t fuckin’ with no niggas over there. If you ain’t Justin Timberlake, or Avril Lavigne, or Pink, you’re done over there.” Such was the case this year as the label released him from his solo contract, allowing Big to release his much delayed solo album, Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty on Def Jam Records.
Still, OutKast the group has to deal with Jive when they do decide to put out their long awaited, sixth album.
SAIGON VS. ATLANTIC RECORDS: 2007
Before rappers were taking to Twitter to gripe with their label, Brooklyn MC Saigon took to his MySpace page to air out Atlantic Records. Dealing with the frustrations of his oft-(and still) delayed debut, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Sai unleashed a long explanation for the delays on his blog.
“Pleassssse don’t believe that the hold up of my album has ANYTHING to do with me or my work ethic or my rate of producing GREAT music. If you go to YouTube and type in JBTV Saigon, you will hear snippets of my album that Atlantic doesn’t seem to have the desire to release. I just think the once great Atlantic Records has been belittled down to a home of ringtone making artists, like they sign the great jingle writers and real artist like myself don’t get a chance to showcase my musical abilities. I feel like Tupac now — it’s me against the world,” Sai wrote on his MySpace in June 2007.
To no avail, the greatest story ever still hasn’t been told.
CHARLES HAMILTON VS. INTERSCOPE: 2008-2009
Things really were going well for Charles Hamilton for a while. In 2008, the Harlem spitter had the blogs buzzing behind his deft lyricism, singular style and steady flow of free music. But it seemed that just as Sonic was curling up in a ball, ready to speed up and snag Golden Rings left and right, he couldn’t stop landing on spikes.
There was a beef with his already-established label-mate Soulja Boy in late ’08. Having an unproven rapper go at one of the label’s top earners didn’t sit well with the higher ups.
Then, in June ’09, there was his decision to credit the late J. Dilla as Executive Producer on what was going to be his Interscope debut, This Perfect Life. The homage rubbed many people the wrong way, not to mention the album continued to sit in limbo, making it obvious the label was losing faith in CH.
In September 2009, reports surfaced that Charles had been dropped from Interscope without his debut ever seeing the light of day (though he later dropped it for free). Despite the dismissal it clearly had nothing to do with the kid’s ability to spit. Seriously, do you have 27 minutes to spare for this extended freestyle?