In 2013, A$AP Mob member A$AP Ferg broke out as a solo artist with a vicious and catchy single titled “Shabba.” Ferg’s record label RCA released the track and its music video in July in advance of the New York rapper’s debut studio album Trap Lord. The song sold over 500,000 units, earned critical acclaim, and spawned a remix featuring Migos, Busta Rhymes, and the song’s inspiration, Jamaican dancehall artist Shabba Ranks. The video currently has over 67 million view on YouTube. In a new interview with DJ Booth, one of the song’s producers claims he only earned a $500 advance for his contribution.
Matthew Alexander Washington, who records under the name Marvel Alexander, said the credited producer Snugsworth sent him an early version of the track, and Alexander programmed the drums. The producers sent Ferg the beat under the impression that it might be placed on a non-retail project. Alexander claims RCA released the track before contracting the instrumental, and strong-armed the producers into accepting an advance below the market rate by referring to Ferg’s album as a “mixtape.”
“They released the record without the permission of Snugsworth or myself and sent us paperwork shortly afterward that they urged us to ‘sign immediately,'” Alexander told DJ Booth. “I didn’t sign anything until the publishing splits were where I wanted them to be. But when it came to the advance, they told me that because Trap Lord was slated to be a mixtape it had no budget even though they were releasing it as a commercial album.”
Alexander said that he and Snugsworth ultimately agreed to split a $1000 payment for the instrumental and 12.5 percent of the song’s publishing royalties. (In response to a fan, Alexander later tweeted that he made three percent off of “streaming,” though it’s unclear what that is meant to signify. We’ve asked him to clarify and will update with his response.) Alexander is credited as a songwriter on “Shabba.”
RCA isn’t the only label accused of misleadingly marketing commercial rap albums in order to pay producers less for beats. E. Dan told BeatStars this week that Atlantic Records underpaid him for six beats placed on Wiz Khalifa’s 2016 project Khalifa. The label justified itself by calling the 13-song work a “compilation album.” (The lead single “Bake Sale,” featuring Travis Scott, received an official music video and reached 56 on the Hot 100.)
In the wake of E. Dan’s accusation, DJ Burn One, who has produced for A$AP Rocky, Gucci Mane, and Freddie Gibbs, accused RCA on Twitter of similar tactics regarding beat placements on Rocky’s debut mixtape Live.Love.A$AP. At a time when virtually all hip-hop projects are listed on commercial streaming services and feature original production, but receive varying degrees of marketing pushes from record labels, this may be the tip of the iceberg.