‘Tis the season to be jolly… and, evidently, for the ex-managers of hip-hop superstars to sue their former clients.
Earlier this month, we learned that Chance The Rapper had split with his long-time manager, Pat Corcoran, with Corcoran suing Chance for alleged under-payment of commissions.
Now, it’s the turn of former Lil Wayne manager, Ronald E. Sweeney, to fire a multi-million dollar lawsuit at his ex-client.
In Sweeney’s suit, filed in California’s Superior Court on December 10, the executive accuses Wayne (real name Dwayne Carter Jr) of failing to honor an oral agreement to pay Sweeney a 10% share of certain one-off windfalls.
Exploring those one-off windfalls means we crash into an ongoing industry narrative here on MBW: huge music companies paying big money to acquire copyrights.
Sweeney’s lawsuit alleges that, as Lil Wayne’s “personal manager”, the artist agreed to pay Sweeney 10% of proceeds from three separate paydays: two lawsuit settlements – which we’ll come back to – plus the sale of “any master recordings owned by the Young Money [record] Label”.
An important bit of history: Young Money Entertainment was formed by Lil Wayne in 2005, following a renegotiation with the artist’s label, Cash Money Records (which itself is a subsidiary of Universal Music Group).
Since Young Money launched as an imprint/JV of/with Cash Money, the label has put out huge records by artists such as Drake (including Scorpion, Views, Nothing Was The Same and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late), plus Nicki Minaj (including Pink Friday, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, The Pinkprint) and Wayne himself (including Tha Carter IV, Rebirth, I Am Not A Human Being).
According to Sweeney’s lawsuit, which you can read in full through here, in June 2020, the artist sold Young Money’s entire catalog of masters to Universal Music Group in a nine-figure deal.
“specifically in or about June of 2020, Lil Wayne was able to sell the Young Money Masters to Universal Music Group for in excess of $100 Million.”
Ron Sweeney lawsuit
The suit reads: “Plaintiffs are informed and believe… that, subsequent to [Sweeney’s] termination [as Wayne’s manager], specifically in or about June of 2020, Lil Wayne was able to sell the Young Money Masters to Universal Music Group for in excess of $100 Million.”
Whether or not that price-tag is accurate, this piece of information chimes with something MBW observed earlier this year: Drake’s new records in 2020, including hit Toosie Slide and the Dark Lane Demo Tapes mixtape, have been released on OVO – Drake’s own label – under exclusive license to Republic Records. However, all of Drake’s big albums up to and including Scorpion (2018) show a recording copyright credit of Young Money/Cash Money on platforms like Spotify.
It therefore seems Drake has inked a new deal with Universal Music Group and Republic (via OVO) for his latest recordings. But, with UMG having acquired Young Money, the major record company now owns the star’s pre-2018 catalog.
A Universal Music Group spokesperson declined to comment on Sweeney’s claims when contacted by MBW.
(This wouldn’t be the only nine-figure deal Universal has pulled off this year, of course: earlier this month UMG announced its acquisition of the publishing catalog of Bob Dylan. That deal is believed to have been priced between $300m and $400m… and closer to the latter number).
Now, back to the lawsuit from Ron Sweeney (who MBW readers may remember from his powerful ‘The Elephant In The Room’ op/ed published on this website in June)
In addition to Sweeney’s allegation that he missed out getting paid a full 10% of the Young Money sale proceeds, Sweeney (pictured inset) alleges that he also didn’t get paid a full 10% share of monetary settlements in two legal disputes.
One of those legal disputes saw Lil Wayne sue Cash Money in 2014, alleging alleged unpaid revenues that Cash Money owed to Young Money for money generated by Drake and Nicki Minaj records.
The other legal dispute saw Lil Wayne jointly sue Universal Music Group and SoundExchange, alleging unpaid royalties owed to Wayne as an artist.
Sweeney claims that both of these lawsuits were settled in and around May 2018, with “substantial” settlement payments being made to both Lil Wayne and the Young Money label.
Sweeney got paid a piece of each settlement as they came in, he says – but didn’t receive any further payments that would have squared his share at 10%.
That claim is a big part of why Sweeney is now calling for “at least $20 million” from Lil Wayne’s business in “consequential and incidental damages”.
According to Sweeney, his working relationship with Lil Wayne began in around 2005, and lasted for nearly 14 years.
Sweeney characterizes his role as “personal manager” for Wayne, which explains how another individual – Cortez Bryant – acted as Lil Wayne’s “day-to-day manager” along the way.
Sweeney says he was first hired by Lil Wayne in 2005 in order to help the artist renegotiate a “terrible contractual agreement” with Cash Money Records. Sweeney claims he was “extremely successful in this endeavor”, securing a new recording contract for Lil Wayne as well as the return of his publishing rights and touring rights from the label.
“On more than one occasion, [Sweeney] essentially had to protect Lil Wayne from Lil Wayne, himself.”
Ron Sweeney lawsuit
It was subsequent to this renegotiation, says Sweeney, that Lil Wayne “orally agreed to hire [Sweeney] as his personal manager, as the manager for… Young Money Entertainment… and Lil Wayne’s other Young Money business entities… in return for 10% of [the artist’s] gross compensation from all entertainment activities”.
During the near-14 years Sweeney worked with Lil Wayne, claims the exec, his personal efforts “generated tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in revenue for [Lil Wayne]”.
Sweeney claims that, subsequent to this 2005 oral agreement, he “managed and handled all of the day-to-day business decisions” for the Young Money label. He also claims that part of his job was “protecting [Lil Wayne] from his record company, his other managers, and a vast amount of parasites and others who were trying to take advantage of Lil Wayne”.
Adds Sweeney’s suit: “[In] fact, on more than one occasion, [Sweeney] essentially had to protect Lil Wayne from Lil Wayne, himself.”
Sweeney says that for nearly 14 years after that oral 2005 agreement, Lil Wayne paid him and his company, Avant Garde Management, 10% of gross earnings from across the artist’s entertainment businesses, “without complaint”.
Then, at circa 2am in the Mandarin Hotel, Atlanta, Georgia at “the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014”, Sweeney claims that manager and artist struck upon a second oral agreement.
That meeting, alleges Sweeney, had been triggered by his own realization that “Cash Money no longer had the funds to pay Lil Wayne as an artist”.
Sweeney alleges that because of this situation, he was working for “little or no payment of management commissions… for a significant period of time”, despite his heavy involvement in Wayne’s operation, including overseeing the artist’s legal action.
Sweeney says that, during that 2am meeting, he advised Lil Wayne to sue Cash Money, which ultimately resulted in a lawsuit, and that 2018 settlement.
“[Lil Wayne] reconfirmed and represented… that [Sweeney] would receive 10% of the settlement proceeds from the Cash Money Action and the Universal/SoundExchange Action, in perpetuity, as well as 10% of all proceeds from the sale of [the] Young Money Masters.”
Ron Sweeney lawsuit
Sweeney suggests that Lil Wayne then “reconfirmed and represented… that [Sweeney] would receive 10% of the settlement proceeds from the Cash Money Action and the Universal/SoundExchange Action, in perpetuity, as well as 10% of all proceeds from the sale of [the] Young Money Masters”.
Said settlement money landed “in or around May 2018” – four months before Cortez Bryant and Mack Maine (Jermaine Preyan), President of the Young Money label, sacked Sweeney as Lil Wayne’s personal manager.
Sweeney alleges that, during the hotel discussion, Lil Wayne intended to “induce [Sweeney] to continue performing personal management services on [the artist’s] behalf… for a significant period of time, with little or no payment of management commissions during that period”.
He further claims that, despite the alleged 10% settlement and master sale oral agreements, Lil Wayne actually “had no intention of performing such promises, conditions, and obligations… and intended to enjoy the benefits of [Sweeney’s] continued management without having to pay therefor.”
Sweeney, via Edwin McPherson at McPherson LLP, is suing Lil Wayne himself, as well as businesses such as Young Money Entertainment, Young Money Publishing, Young Money Records and Young Money Ventures.
The complaint contains five Causes Of Action that each call for “at least $20m”. An additional Cause Of Action sees Sweeney call for “a full and complete accounting of all books and records maintained by [the] defendants”.
Sweeney’s suit alleges that Lil Wayne and his businesses “have breached the aforementioned agreement by, among other things, failing and refusing to pay to [Sweeney] any of the amounts owed to them, including amounts owed… in connection with back commissions, the settlements of the Cash Money Action and the Universal/ SoundExchange Action, and the sale of the Young Money Masters”.
Sweeney, a qualified attorney and veteran manager, has over the course of his career represented stars such as Eazy E and Ruthless Records, plus Irv Gotti and Murder Inc, Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and Bad Boy Records, as well as James Brown, Public Enemy, DMX and Ja Rule.Music Business Worldwide