Jay-Z spent much of his life creating his highly coveted debut album, “Reasonable Doubt.” A major part of the albums’ success came directly from Roc-a-Fella Records and their bootstrapping self-made approach. Initially, Jay-Z was contractually obligated to release music with a small-scale record label called, “Payday Records.” The main root of their falling out derived from the company’s inability to properly represent their client. For example, the label would have Jay-Z do instore performances in brick and mortar locations where his album was not even on the shelves. They would shoot videos for his own music but cut him out of the production altogether and give him “hush money.” Ultimately, Payday Records was doing the very least when it came to promoting their artist and many of the moves they were making were ones that Jay saw fit to do himself and then some. Once he began to notice their shady business practices and unwillingness to do their job correctly he took his career in a completely different direction.
Rather than trying to continue on the path of handouts and sacrificing his rights to ownership, Jay-Z chose the path of most resistance. With the final lump sum of his Payday deal, he made an unconventional choice to start his own record label with his good friends Damon Dash and Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke. They began with street-level marketing by selling tapes out of their cars and creating buzz via word of mouth, reputation and displaying their talent on wax via an appreciation of the craft. Their small enterprise began as a groundroots organization in a “dreary” area of the busiest city in the world on 17 John Street. With a hustler’s mentality, Jay-Z and his resourceful associates steadily climbed the ranks of hip-hop royalty from a very humble beginning.
At first, Jay-Z began to grow his buzz from features with Jaz-O, Ol Dirty Bastard (Wu Tang Clan) and Big Daddy Kane. It was Big Daddy Kane who gave Jay-Z his first taste of touring. Following the tour and subsequent experiential happenings, Jay-Z began to piece together his debut album. In hip-hop, the first album is juxtaposed in likeness to an equivalent of a newborn baby. Many artists struggle to piece together an album as potent as their first because they have spend their entire life making it. They compile all of their life experiences into that first album and depending on its acclaim, typically only receive about 1-2 years before they have to release another body of work. Initially, Jay-Z only planned to release this one album and he was going to be, “finito.”
The difference between Jay-Z and other artists came from the lifestyle that Jay-Z was able to portray. Thanks to his street endeavors, Jay-Z already had a fair amount of money to his name prior to releasing his first album. This ability to exhibit flashy lifestyles only added to the allure of his lyrical genius and overall marketing campaign. Reasonable Doubt revealed Jay-Z’s inner grit + realism and showcased his transition from grimey gangster to upper echelon mafioso that belonged to a different class or cognoscenti. He was able to let the studio function much like a psychiatrist couch which gave him a strong sense of inner peace. This album created a new Renaissance wave of hip-hop and provided a detailed and honest account of life experiences during that era. It was only the thirteenth album of all-time to go platinum within one week.
The release of Reasonable Doubt symbolized a grandiose beginning for these New York moguls. The critical acclaim that accompanied this album made multiple different ventures possible. Roc-a-Fella imposed their will on the hip-hop industry and did not shy away from any creative endeavor. They made their mark within the realms of apparel (Rocawear) digital, fashion, spirits, tech, sports and film. Some of their more far-reaching efforts included a Roc-a-Fella theme park and even the first social networking site of its era by the name of, “BlockSavvy.”
Prior to putting the album on the market, Roc-a-Fella Records struck a distribution deal with Freeze and Priority Records. An individual by the name of Raymond Herbert a.k.a ‘Ray Rae’ threw his name in the mix by mastering records and serving as a the middle man between the three different record labels. He mastered the album so well in the Sterling Sounds setting that Roc-a-Fella offered him a staff organization and radio promotions position. Now, Raymond is suing for above $75,000 worth of ‘Reasonable Doubt’ album royalties that he and Roc-a-Fella Records legally agreed upon back in 1995.
Here is a simple timeline to sum up the process:
1995: Herbert acts as liasion between Roc-a-Fella Records, Freeze Records and Priority Records to get distribution deal for the Roc.
All three parties agree to give Herbert 1% of royalties (A Point) for his role in mastering the sound of “Reasonable Doubt” album.
June 25, 1996: Reasonable Doubt is released and premieres at #23 on Billboard Top 200 chart.
Early 1998: Herbert leaves Roc-a-Fella Records to become an A&R for Priority Records.
December 1998: Herbert receives first check for point (1%) on RD royalties.
2008: Jay-Z forms new label Roc Nation after signing $150 million Live Nation agreement.
Between 1998 and 2008, Herbert received his stream of royalty cash as agreed upon. After 2008, the stream of money got cut off.
He is suing Jay-Z, Damon Dash, and Kareem “Biggs” Burke of Roc-a-Fella Records for “conscious disregard of earnings.” Herbert and his legal team believe that he has been “wrongfully and intentionally deprived of funds” and are suing due to his “entitlement to punitive damages.” Herbert’s team considers this an, “Oppressive, fraudulent act of conversion committed with malice and in conscious disregard of plaintiff’s rights.”
In regards to his follow-ups on the royalty stream coming to a halt, Roc-a-Fella associate Alonda Duvall replied, “I just got the 2nd quarter royalty package and I will be cutting you a check…After Biggs signs them of course.” When it comes to these instances, Herbert is clearly the royaltor and Roc-a-Fella showed a conscious disregard of his due earnings.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court for Roc-A-Fella Records, a company that prides themselves on building upon relationships rather than transactions. After making nearly $90 million within their first eighteen months of operations, they clearly have the money to pay those who deserve it.
Will the Roc be forced to cough up the dough, or will this go down as just another unsuccessful money grab at the heels of Shawn Carter, the multimillion dollar mogul?