The Business: Tupac’s Mom Sues For $1M+ In Royalties

Mita Carriman Music/Entertainment attorney, empress of contracts, Okayplayer contributer. @mitacarriman


In Tupac’s 1995 lyrical love letter “Dear Mama”–addressed to his real-life mother Afeni Shakur–he made known how good he feels “putting money in her mailbox,” and that “his plan is to show her that he understands.” Yesterday Ms. Shakur attempted to cash in that promisory note–in the courtroom.

In a 1.1million dollar lawsuit filed against defendants Entertainment One and Death Row Records, Ms. Shakur–the co-executor of Tupac’s estate since he died of multiple gun-shot wounds in 1996–alleges that the defendants “avoided paying her royalties for more than four years and refused to return masters of unreleased recordings, including several recordings where he performs on other artists’ songs.”

Cutting through the he-said/she-said complications of the story, this is basically what happened:

Tupac signed a three-album deal with Death Row Records in 1995; under rather unique circumstances as some may recall – the contract was signed on toilet paper while ‘Pac was serving time upstate in a New York prison. All Eyes on Me, the first LP under this contract was released in 1996 – the same year he died. After his death, his mother became the co-executor of his estate and in 1997 got a settlement agreement from Death Row in the matter of their differences on how to move forward regarding Tupac’s music recorded under the Death Row original contract.

Under the 1997 agreement, Death Row and Tupac’s estate/Ms. Shakur agreed that Tupac’s estate would secure all rights to Tupac’s masters and audiovisuals (AKA music videos for the most part) while Death Row would pay the estate royalties on an unreleased Tupac album within 60 days of the 10 year anniversary of the agreement.

BUT. There were some complications that followed the settlement agreement (there always are, aren’t they?).  First, in 2003, Death Row entered into a distribution agreement with Koch Entertainment (now known as Entertainment One/ E-1 Distribution), and then in 2006, Death Row filed for bankruptcy. Under the Death Row bankruptcy proceeding, the property of Tupac’s original 1995 Death Row record deal had an “option” clause that the bankruptcy trustees decided to activate. It gave them the option to release the unreleased Tupac’s masters, which they did in 2007 under the name Beginnings: The Lost Tapes.

Then one more complication happened – Death Row was then sold in its entirety to an entity called “Wide Awake Death Row Entertainment.” Under the terms of the sale, all of the Death Row “Tupac” related assets were likewise handed over to “Wide Awake Death Row Entertainment” – Tupac’s 1995 Death Row original contract on toilet paper,  Tupac’s estate’s agreement with Death Row in 1997, and the 2003 distribution agreement with Koch aka E-1 Distribution.

Just kidding! There’s still more complications (bear with us, we’re almost through the hot-legal-mess portion of the breakdown). After Ms. Shakur–an ex-Black Panther, who rates as a $50 Million Dollar Lady–filed the original lawsuit to this whole ordeal earlier this year, she learned that E-1/Entertainment One Distribution had actually acquired all of Death Row’s assets in July 2013. Which explains how E1 distribution ended up as a defendant in the case she filed yesterday.

While Tupac may have once wondered if “Heaven Got A Ghetto,” this case has a lot of folks wondering if it has a Western Union–and if his Mom can find simply find justice. Stay tuned for more info as this case develops, though the main takeaway should already be crystal clear: Mama don’t take no stuff.

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