The music industry can be cutthroat. This isn’t surprising to the thousands of artists trying to “make it big,” moving to music hubs such as L.A. or New York to try to chase down the next big record deal. Record labels, now typically owned by a bigger ‘parent label,’ can really help an artist gain public attention in the industry. However, the relationship between artist and label is not always smooth and not always pretty. Many times, a divide occurs due to the monetary deals that occur in the relationship, and sometimes, the deals are not always as pro-artist as they should be. Sometimes, huge label executives misjudge an artist’s potential. Sometimes, it’s just bad timing that makes an artist vs. label breakup occur. No matter the reason, here are the top artists who’ve been through artist vs. label breakups and have come out stronger on the other side.
Artist vs. Label: Dropping the Artist
Destiny’s Child: Destiny’s Child was one of the biggest groups through the mid 2000’s. Beyoncé Knowles, the reigning queen of arguably the entire music industry, created her solo career after her time with Destiny’s Child. However, Elektra Records of Atlantic Records dropped Destiny’s Child in 1995. It was months before their first album, and the girls weren’t even sixteen years old. Beyoncé’s mother Tina Knowles stated years later that her disagreements with record executives partially led to the split. She believed that the girls were too young to be exposed to some of the material. Eventually, Elektra Records explained they dropped Destiny’s Child because they were “too young and undeveloped;” a reason that connects to Knowles’s concerns. Yet, Columbia Records picked up the group in 1996. With group line up changes, Destiny Child’s potential became a reality, and Queen Bey was born.
50 Cent: 50 Cent signed with Columbia Records and released “How to Rob.” This single attracted attention due to its humorous lyrics about how to rob a famous celebrity. However, the label declined to release Power of the Dollar, 50 Cent’s first studio album. 50 then underwent a unique period of time in his career focused on his recovery from a gun shooting. After months in the hospital, Columbia Records dropped him. This also was due to his song “Ghetto Qu’ran” that blacklisted him from the industry. He didn’t give up. 50 recovered and kept recording. He came back to the music scene with the mixtape Guess Who’s Back that caught the ears of rapper Eminem. That’s when his fame truly began. 50 Cent signed to Shady Records under Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope. Hits such as “Candy Shop,” “In da Club,” and many more followed.
Bruno Mars: Bruno Mars is an artist who single-handedly continues to foster the Michael Jackson era musical sound on the current mainstream radio. However, his story is not all upbeat beats and smooth vibes. Mars went to L.A. at age eighteen to pursue his music career. He signed with Universal’s Motown Records soon after, and it seemed like the Hawaiian native made the industry look easy. Motown dropped him quickly after, and Mars became an unemployed DJ, another hopeful fighting for his chance in L.A. He ended up falling into songwriting and signed a music publishing deal in 2005. From there, Mars wrote and produced songs like CeeLo Green’s “Fuck You” with The Smeezingtons, a three-person music production group that included Mars. Mars finally signed with Atlantic Records in 2009 following his extensive musical development through the connections made over the previous years.
Lady Gaga: Lady Gaga has always leaned towards drama, like pop stardom was not only possible; it was inevitable. When Gaga was in New York City fighting for the industry’s attention, she finally got her answer from Def Jam Recordings with a contract in 2005. L.A. Reid, a mega label executive, heard her play the piano and stated that she would change music. She had it. Yet, Reid took it back three months later when her demo apparently sounded flat. Gaga was dropped and heartbroken. However, after a few years of revising her image to a pop/glam-rock singer with out-of-this-world funk fashion, Gaga signed to Streamline Records (Interscope) in 2007. The rest has become Gaga’s fame monster and Reid’s biggest career regret.
Katy Perry: Katy Perry is another pop diva who forged a career path through perseverance over the industry’s twists and turns. Java of the Island Def Jam Music Group dropped Perry after they parted ways with their parent label in 2004. Columbia Records then dropped Perry in 2006 even though her record was two years in the making. She worked with producers like Max Martin and Dr. Luke, and yet, Perry still found herself label-less once again. Katy Perry finally made roots in Capitol Records in 2007, and she released her smash album One of the Boys shortly following. Hits such as “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot N Cold” were the first of many hits to pump out of Perry’s artistry in the years to follow.
Artist vs. Label: Artist Rejection
The Beatles: Decca Records will always be the label that passed up on the iconic Beatles. After a listening party that left The Beatles’s manager certain of a deal, Decca Records rejected the band. They stated, “Guitar groups are on the way out,” and, “The Beatles have no future in show business.” Boy were they wrong. Decca Records chose Brian Poole and the Tremeloes instead because their local location would decrease travel expenses. Manager Brian Epstein also met with EMI producers Norrie Paramor, Walter Ridley, and Norman Newell who all passed up on the band. EMI Subsidiary Parlophone finally signed the band months later.
U2: Bono from U2 received a rejection letter from RSO Records in 1979. They deemed the demo “not suitable” for the label to sign. However, Island Records signed U2 in March 1980 after an A&R rep saw one of their Irish small stadium shows. Since their beginning, U2 has forged a unique rock sound in the industry, as their lyrics focus on sociopolitical issues and spirituality. They are one of the best-selling artists in the world. All of this success erupted after U2 pushed past early career struggles. The famous rejection letter of one of history’s best rock bands is now placed at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Artist vs. Label: Leaving the Label
DJ Khaled: DJ Khaled is a more recent player on the mainstream hip-hop scene who recently changed labels. He announced that he is not attached to Cash Money anymore, but that Birdman and Lil Wayne are like family. In a very DJ Khaled style, he’s promoted a peaceful parting of ways. Khaled’s We the Best Music label has been attached to Birdman’s for four years, and he is now forging a new path. He recently signed We the Best Music to L.A. Reid’s Epic Records, securing a hopeful future for the label. With all the growing turmoil over the Birdman vs. Lil Wayne feud, it might have been a smart decision for Khaled to take his success and good-vibes-only personality somewhere else.
Dr. Dre: Out of all the producing hip-hop sharks in the sea, Dr. Dre can certainly be called the Great White. After his successful run in the hip-hop group N.W.A., Dre leaned towards music production. His past is extremely rocky; from a Compton childhood to a successful music career to a delicate, volatile Death Row Records role, Dre has done it all. Dr. Dre now runs Aftermath Records after he left Suge Knight’s Death Row Records’s downward spiral. Aftermath is under Interscope and selectively chooses hip-hop artists for its boutique label. The roster includes Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Dre himself has grown through the entire process. He has left a pattern of violence behind him for marriage and steady success of his business endeavors. This includes Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and endorsement deals. In 2015, Forbes stated that Dr. Dre was the world’s richest musical performer.
Snoop Dogg: Snoop Dogg was one of Dr. Dre’s original hip-hop discoveries at Death Row Records in the early 90’s. Snoop Dogg stayed with Death Row for many years, through Dre’s departure and the addition of new talent such as Tupac (2Pac). Death Row Records, headed by Suge Knight, constantly attracted the dark side of gangster rap. Snoop Dogg eventually decided to sign with Master P’s No Limit Records under EMI Records in 1998 instead. With the absence of Dr. Dre, the death of Tupac, and the leaving of Snoop Dogg, Death Row Records began to see the unraveling of the monster hip-hop label. Snoop began to venture farther in the world of soft hip-hop and away from the angry intensity that made groups like N.W.A. so famous. Snoop’s laid-back, fun, casual tone separated him from the pack through his career.
Wiz Khalifa: Wiz Khalifa is in a battle with a former label that demonstrates the nasty side of artist vs. label break ups. At age sixteen, Khalifa signed a 360 agreement with Rostrum Records. Khalifa filed a lawsuit against his former manager Benjy Grinberg and Rostrum Records because he believes they convinced him to sign a deal that didn’t have his best interests in mind. The deal occurred in 2004, and now Khalifa feels like he’s fulfilled the contract’s requirements, and he wants out of the 360 deal. Other rappers such as Chance the Rapper have warned artists particularly of the sticky web of the 360 deal, and Khalifa is learning the hard way. Khalifa started his own label Taylor Gang Entertainment in 2008, and Atlantic Records recently picked up Taylor Gang. Therefore, Khalifa is surging forward regardless, but label mistakes are legally haunting the rapper for the foreseeable future.