“Reasonable Doubt” & its due royalties


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 by the name of, “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 in-store performances in brick and mortar locations where his album was not even on the shelves. They would shoot videos for his music that he created but cut him out of the visual production altogether in hopes that “hush money” would keep him satiated.

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 an entirely different direction.

Unconventional wisdom

Rather than trying to continue on the fabricated path of handouts and sacrificing his rights to music 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 on songs 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 countrywide touring. Following the tour and subsequent experiential happenings, Jay-Z began to piece together his debut album. In hip-hop, an artist’s first album is juxtaposed in likeness to an equivalent of a firstborn child. Many artists struggle to piece together an album as potent as their first because they have spent their entire life making it. They compile all of their life experiences, trials and tribulations into that first album and depending on its acclaim, typically only receive about 1-2 years before they are expected to release another body of work. Initially, Jay-Z only planned to release this one album and he was going to be “finito.”

The release of “Reasonable Doubt”

The release of “Reasonable Doubt” symbolized a grandiose beginning for these ambitious New York individuals. It was only the 13th album of all-time to go platinum within one week. The terrific reception that accompanied this album made multiple different potential 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 (which did not pan out) included a Roc-a-Fella amusement park and even the first social networking site of its era by the name of “BlockSavvy.”

Receiving fair share

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 the middle man between the three different record labels. He mastered the album so well in the Sterling Sounds studio that Roc-a-Fella offered him a staff organization and radio promotions position and he accepted. Now, Raymond is suing for more than $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 one percent 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 No. 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 (one percent) on “Reasonable Doubt” 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 and all representatives of Roc-a-Fella Records for “conscious disregard of due 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?


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