Hip hop artist and entrepreneur Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, widely known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco, has been candid about his contentious dealings with Warner Music Group’s (WMG) Atlantic Records early in his career. Even with solid contracts, Fiasco claims the major label “didn’t want to abide by them anymore and started throwing shitty little curveballs out of FOMO and greed. All bad after that.”
The Fiasco fiasco has others in the contemporary music industry questioning how major labels might strongarm artists as their popularity grows or fades, despite being contractually bound.
Fiasco, 41, alleged Atlantic declined to promote his records unless he signed over “a large portion” of his intellectual property or inked a 360-degree deal. Also called a 360 deal, this exclusive recording contract allows the record company to share in the profits from the recorded music sales and other income streams, including live performances, endorsements, merchandise, movie and television gigs, and publishing if the artist composes songs, as Fiasco does.
Soon after his first band Da Pak disbanded, Fiasco met the rapper Jay-Z, who was instrumental in his big break by helping him sign a record deal with Atlantic. The Chicago native released five studio albums with Atlantic, his first in 2006, Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor. His last for Atlantic was in 2015, Tetsuo & Youth. He won a Grammy in 2008 for Best Urban/Alternative Performance with his song “Daydreamin,” and is a 12-time Grammy nominee. Fiasco has recorded three albums since, his latest in 2022, Drill Music In Zion, through his 1st & 15th label and Nashville’s Thirty Tigers.
Fiasco recounted his Atlantic days through social media posts, which began when a Twitter user tweeted that Fiasco had been unwilling to conform with Atlantic’s effort to “push pop records,” which is why he perceives a lack of critical praise for his work.
“Not accurate,” Fiasco tweeted back. “I was comfortable making pop records. The issue was who controlled those records and what the ownership and splits were. Atlantic would only promote my records if they owned a large portion of them or if I signed a 360 deal. I gave Bruno Mars Just The Way You Are.”
He continued, “The issue was never my ability to make hit or pop records. The issue wasn’t even the business per se. My contracts were solid.” Fiasco went on to accuse Atlantic of greed and throwing curveballs but does not elaborate on them.
“I only put this out there again & again cuz folks think I be full of ego and or that I’m some hard to work with artist etc., but I’ve been in some deeply wack situations in this business that took all kinds of adjustments to stay sane and progress. I protect my peace at all costs.”
Fiasco responded to another fan that intimated the music industry had cheated the artist by posting two quotes attributed to WMG executives, tweeting: “‘I cannot guarantee we will promote your records if you are not a 360 artist on the label’ – Lyor Cohen President Of Warner Music 2008 and “‘We don’t think BattleScars is a good look for you so we’re not gonna sign off on the release’ – Mike Kyser Head Of Urban Atlantic Records 2012.”
Fiasco concluded by blasting WMG for not being a team player, frustrating him enough to “check out” of his Atlantic contract six years and three albums before it terminated.
“I don’t mind being controlled. It’s a team,” he said. “Let[’s] win as a team. They were calling fouls on our own plays AFTER we already won the game!! I was like WTF are y’all doing??? After The Cool I was done. I stuck around to complete my contract but I checked out in 09.”
Currently, Lupe Fiasco performs as the frontman for the rock band Japanese Cartoon under his real name. He was also the chief executive officer of 1st and 15th Entertainment and is affiliated with the entertainment company Thirty Tigers, which releases about 45 albums annually for artists who retain ownership and control of their music.
WMG and Atlantic have yet to respond to Fiasco’s take on his experience.
Fiasco’s message is aimed at emerging acts that go viral on TikTok and end up in the mainstream, pursued by major record labels overnight, making them ripe for lopsided deals. Unfavorable terms have plagued recent indie-label deals, and new artists should always arrive at the contract negotiating table with an experienced music law attorney by their side.
If you are in the music industry and wish to retain some control over your intellectual property or confirm that your contracts and licensing deals are in your best interests, contact the entertainment lawyers at Lomnitzer Law for a consultation.