COVER STORY | It’s no secret that the recording industry is full of shady contracts. A history of labels putting profit over the artist has resulted in many of today’s artists opting for the independent route to successfully share their music with the world. Some of our favorite 90’s acts, however; were not as fortunate. Young and hungry singers who were more focused on the music than the fine print often found themselves inked in agreements that placed them on the short end of the stick. In celebration of Juneteenth aka Freedom Day, we look at the artists who fought for their own freedom with victorious results.
Prince Rogers Nelson had it up to here with recording label Warner Bros. Records. Signed at age 18 in 1977, the genius waged a war over the first single from 1992’s Love Symbol Album, ironically titled “My Name Is Prince”, and the masters for his body of work. As a public act of protest, he scribed his cheeks with the word “SLAVE” and changed his stage name to the symbol from the album’s cover. A battle that played out publicly, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince fought for artistic control and won, releasing the aptly titled album, Emancipation, on NPG/EMI in 1996. In 2000, the Artist changed his performing name back to Prince.
Toni Braxton was on top of the world when she released her 1996 massive hit, “Un-break My Heart” with 15 millions albums sold worldwide. When it was time to pay up album advances and expenses for studio time, clothing, travel, video shoots and that infamous Gucci flatware, all Braxton had to show for it was a royalty check in the amount of $1,972 from her first recording contract. Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the sultry songstress lost her possessions and suspended her recording until she was able to renegotiate her contract with Arista/LaFace Records in 1999 in a new deal that guaranteed the living legend millions.
It wasn’t until a conversation with MC Hammer that the ladies of En Vogue realized there was foul play afoot with their initial recording contract. In an interview with Shan Britton of 90’s R&B University, Dawn Robinson recalled, “We should be making a lot more than two cents a record.” Seemingly fair, the group’s questioning of their contract led to bad blood between them and their producers. Although the contract was never renegotiated, Robinson freed herself from the group and continues to stand firm in her liberation.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes warned us to get ready to do our math, yet it still doesn’t add up that the Diamond-selling album, CrazySexyCool took the trio from Billboard-topping hits to Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995. With more than 11 million copies sold, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli only walked away with $50,000 a year PLUS a balance due for flights, hotels, music videos, wardrobe, food, and promotion to their management company and record label. When the smoke cleared, the ladies renegotiated their contract with LaFace and were released from Pebbitone by buying the rights to their name. TLC forever!