megan thee stallion enter the hottieverse

This is a guest column by Nick Eziefula, partner and leading music and entertainment lawyer at UK law firm Simkins. Nick, who specialises in commercial law and intellectual property (and is a recording artist himself), takes a look at Megan Thee Stallion’s recent legal dispute – and argues that, from a legal perspective, there is an increasingly blurred distinction between EPs, albums and mixtapes.

What is an album? This seemingly simple question lies at the centre of a high-profile dispute between multi-award-winning rapper Megan Thee Stallion and her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment.  

In 2018, Megan signed with the Houston based record label, which is owned by former baseball star Carl Crawford. Just a few years later, Megan filed a claim against 1501 alleging that many aspects of her recording agreement were unfair. She also claimed that she was being prevented from releasing new music after she requested a renegotiation of what she saw as an “unconscionable” agreement. 

Nick Eziefula

She has expressed publicly that she was young when she signed with 1501 and was not fully aware of what was in the agreement. She claims she only became aware of the full details of the agreement when she later appointed Roc Nation as her managers and consulted a legal team, who flagged the issues to her.  Some of the issues between her and 1501 have since seemingly been resolved, after a settlement was reached and she was able to release further music.

Other issues, however, seemingly remain and the dispute continues, with both parties airing their grievances publicly over social media.  In particular, Megan has said on Twitter, in comments directed at Crawford and 1501: “Your team signed off on SOMETHING FOR THE HOTTIES to count as an ALBUM now it’s not?

Also, how can I owe you any of MY money out side of music when your team can’t even provide ACTUAL statements of what i owe… you also haven’t PAID ME since 2019. Your team signed off on SOMETHING FOR THE HOTTIES to count as an ALBUM now it’s not? Jokes

— TINA SNOW (@theestallion) March 22, 2022

This refers to the counter suit that 1501 filed in response to Megan’s claims that 1501 had refused to consider the October 2021 release, “Something For Thee Hotties” as an “album”. The significance of this is that only an album would satisfy her contractual recording commitment.  Megan claims that, under her arrangements with 1501, the only condition for a project to be considered an album is that it must be 45 minutes long. Conversely, 1501’s countersuit alleges that “Something For Thee Hotties” does not constitute one of the albums required, but is merely a “mixtape”. 1501 allege that Megan knew an album “must include at least twelve new master recordings of her studio performances of previously-unreleased musical compositions”. 

“Something For Thee Hotties” is over 45 minutes long and consists of a mixture of new releases, previous material and freestyles. 1501 have said that the release contained just 29 minutes of new material and was not pre-approved by the label. If the Court agrees with 1501, Megan may remain contractually obliged to release a further two albums with 1501 before she can be released from her agreement with them. 

From a purely creative perspective, there is an increasingly blurred distinction between EPs, albums and mixtapes, particularly in certain musical genres. One of the main factors which has complicated these distinctions is the fact that many artists release long-form collections of tracks and refer to them, not as albums, but rather as EPs or mixtapes.

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However, from a legal perspective, it is common for recording agreements to include specific requirements as to the nature and amount of material that the artist is required to deliver. Such delivery requirements often involve an agreed number of albums, typically with a fairly detailed definition of what counts as an album. An album definition will often stipulate a minimum overall length of the project, as well as a requisite number of tracks, and will commonly require that the project should consist of entirely new material. 

Nevertheless, under English law, an awareness that certain provisions are common within an industry does not necessarily result in them being contractually binding. The outcome of a dispute such as this will usually depend on the court’s interpretation of the precise wording of the contract, considering not just the relevant provisions but also the document as a whole, and how the intention of the parties was captured. In certain circumstances, it is possible to imply terms into a contract that have not been expressly stated, but the bar to establish this is high.

The fact that the parties are disputing the nature of the album delivery requirements indicates that the relevant contractual wording may be ambiguous, inconsistent or incomplete. 1501’s counterclaim suggests that there are multiple legal documents involved in this dispute. In such situations, it is not uncommon for there to be some discrepancy or conflict between the various documents.  The court may have to consider the definitions and delivery requirements contained in each relevant document and (if they conflict) determine the order of priority between them. 

When various written or verbal agreements contradict each other, or where arrangements around key requirements of the deal are unclear, confusion and litigation become more likely. By contrast, contractual clarity provides all parties with certainty, and helps to avoid reputationally damaging disputes and costly litigation.  Labels and artists should always secure good quality, independent legal and business advice before signing or amending a recording contract. Sadly, in the fast-paced and euphoric buzz of securing that elusive record deal, many young artists rush into an agreement that they later regret. 

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