There are strong indications that the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the fast-rising rapper, singer, and songwriter, Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, known professionally as MohBad, could potentially trigger a significant transformation in the relationships between artists and record labels within the Nigerian music industry.
In the wake of his passing, amid protests from his fans, the police have initiated investigations to uncover the true cause of MohBad’s demise, involving the exhumation of his body and the conduct of an autopsy last Thursday.
However, stakeholders in the industry are optimistic that the developments following the artist’s death could herald a fundamental restructuring of the sector. The Nigerian music industry is recognized as one of the fastest-growing creative industries globally, estimated at a valuation of $19 billion and generating over $2 billion (approximately N1.5 trillion) in revenue annually as of 2021. This potential transformation may involve the implementation of mutually beneficial agreements between artists and record labels.
Moreover, the National Assembly has revealed its plans to establish a commission responsible for resolving disputes between record labels and their signed artists. Senator Ishaku Abbo, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Creative Economy and representative of Adamawa North Senatorial District, made this announcement during his visit to the home of the late MohBad’s mother, Mrs. Adebose Olumuyi. The Senate, in collaboration with the Ministry of Art, Culture, and Creative Economy, is set to oversee the creation of this commission.
He said: “I have received petitions from Nigerians calling for either a creative economy or entertainment economy commission where disputes that arise between record labels and their signees would be settled. When we have this commission, nobody will start taking things into their own hands. But this doesn’t exist now in this country and I am assuring you that the Senate of the 10th assembly, in collaboration with the minister for creative economy, will come up with a commission called creative economy commission.”
Signed to Marlian Records, Mohbad, 27, died on September 12, 2023. However, he had left the record label in 2022, citing unpaid royalties from 2019. He accused the record label of refusing to pay him his royalties from monetised intellectual content and advances as mutually agreed in their contractual agreement.
The announcement of his exit from the record label was contained in a statement released on October 25, 2022, by his management and legal team, which explained that the late KPK (Ko Por Ke) crooner’s exit was as a result of the constant attacks he received, which were allegedly orchestrated by Naira Marley following his demand for unpaid royalties and change of his manager, who incidentally is Marley’s brother.
“In contravention of the terms of the arrangement between our client and yourself, you have failed to pay any advances as mutually agreed by both parties since 2019 till date. You have also failed to pay all royalties due our client from all his intellectual property works monetised, released and utilised by you from 2019 till date,” the document read.
On October 5, 2022, Mohbad had through his Twitter handle revealed bloodied bodies, claiming that it was as a result of being assaulted by the Marlian crew, because he requested to have his manager changed.
“Just because I want to change my manager who is their brother, see what they did to me at Marlian House. World pls help me oo, I’m dying inside,” he had tweeted.
MohBad had also accused Naira Marley of being present during the assault and doing nothing to stop it. His eventual death in unclear circumstances has, however, triggered a demand for fair treatment of artistes by their record labels even as artistes are also advised to do due diligence before entering into an agreement.
Rapper Fasasi Mobolaji Gaius, popularly known as Da Emperor in entertainment quarters, told The Guardian that like Mohbad, many artistes were facing exploitation and humiliation by their record labels but can’t speak up or quit.
The Da Emperor, who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Etiemelo Empire Entertainment, said: “For Mohbad’s incident, we all saw videos of multiple harassment and pronounced hatred on him which went viral after his demise. He also talked about his struggle and pains via his music, even though many didn’t pay actual attention to these details. Although we weren’t close, so many artistes have been in a similar state or are currently in such a state. I remember Pelepele, who was also an indigenous rapper and someone who I appreciated and vice versa; he spilled out a lot on his songs but people didn’t pay attention to the details.
“In fact, he titled his last project His Last Stanza; he talked about his last moment in detail, and how it was going to happen before he later passed on.
“I also know that every industry has its own challenges from favouritism, eye service, godfatherism, terms and conditions and so on. Like the popular saying, the dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.
“I am not one to judge a book by its cover; there has been speculation from left to right. So, until whoever is proven guilty, the right thing is to let the law take its course. I just hope it doesn’t go like the majority of most Nigerian cases/issues, which are mostly propaganda till they fade out. It’s saddening that his light which just began to shine very bright had to be cut, but then God knows best.”
He noted that most artistes sign contracts without knowing what they actually signed, explaining that industry professionals always emphasise on the need to review every contract with an entertainment lawyer before signing.
“Yes, I know that most deals come to artistes that have very promising futures or are doing well with music by themselves before the deal comes through to make the load lighter for them. So, most times it’s always a case of ‘omo make them help me carry the entire burden, my neck don dey pain me tey tey’.
“However, if we must be truly realistic, nothing is free even in Freetown. Anyone who spends a lot on an artiste is expecting to make a profit off such artiste (whether he/she claims it’s a form of help, business is business). Artistes should always have this at the back of their mind,” Da Emperor further explained.
He stated that by his experience, most deals always come as a matter of how bad the artiste wants it, adding: “As for me, I have turned down deals that didn’t go with my aura. Overtime, I floated my own record label/company, Etiemelo Empire Entertainment. I haven’t for once signed any artiste but I have supported so many artistes to the little of my capacity.
“Don’t get it twisted; I do not expect others to be like myself because we all have different perspectives to life, people, business, money and beliefs. I have gotten calls on making sure whoever I support signs a contract, but I turned deaf ears and just do my things as the spirit leads.
“I have noticed for a long while that most record companies owned by a known artiste in Nigeria, always have challenges when it comes to signing other artistes overtime. I feel this is so sometimes because funds can get funny and won’t be enough to cater for the needs of the artiste/artistes. Secondly, there can’t be two captains navigating a ship.
“Finally, when artistes sign a contract, for instance five years, and their ‘blow span’ is probably one year or two, they exhaust their span under their label and afterwards it feels like nothing is happening anymore.
“For some other artistes, they don’t make much money back for the label until their contract tenure is over. The label wants a renewal (so they can recoup their profit/ interest) while the artiste wants out because the contract is over. This can lead to a long time rivalry or fracas. In some other cases, the artiste didn’t take time to read the contract thoroughly and wants to or even leaves before the end of the contract, this is another scenario that gets brutal.”
On whether artistes are forced to do certain thing(s) against their conscience or belief like joining a cult or swearing an oath by their record labels as being insinuated in the case of MohBad, the recording artiste/label chief said: “I do not know. However, there is every possibility of such things happening. Every organisation has its terms and conditions. Whether boldly spelt or written in tiny fonts, there is always something that sets aside organisation A from B.
“Some of these are coined from past experiences or from their religious or street oriented beliefs. All in all, we as individuals should just try to be more observant and careful.”
According to him, challenges for artistes/labels can come in diverse forms, ranging from irregularities to change in contract terms, lack of funds, good paying shows and hit songs, among others.
For the CEO of Now Muzik, Efe Omorogbe, the news of Mohbad’s death was heartbreaking. Commenting on artistes signing recording/management deals without knowing the details of what they signed, the co-founder, Hypertek Digital/960 Music Group and founder Buckwyld Media Network, a creative and production solution outfit, said: “It’s usually down to lack of music business education and maybe desperation in some instances. The standard practice is that a draft contract is given to the artiste for review before signing.
“Artistes are expected to engage knowledgeable lawyers to assist with negotiating the terms and reviewing the draft. It is called a draft because until the artiste’s legal representatives make their input and insist on the necessary edits, the agreement cannot be signed.”
On whether upcoming artistes are forced to do certain thing(s) that are against their conscience or belief, the entertainment chieftain stated: “I don’t have the facts of the matter yet and investigations are ongoing. I however think there are isolated situations and sweeping generalisations may be misleading.
“For artistes to be ‘forced to join a cult or swear an oath’ presupposes that most of the label owners are cult members which is definitely not the case. There have been more cases where disputes between artistes and labels end up in a court of law or in a media duel that forces respected individuals to wade in as unofficial arbiters than those that have led to physical assault, gang wars and stuff like that .
“It’s unfortunate; but these situations should not be allowed to paint the labels as toxic enclaves or torture chambers for artistes. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
“Artistes face the challenges of advancing their careers with limited budgets and stiff competition. Artistes face the challenges of getting a hit record, staying relevant, visible and bankable. Through all of these, the key ally and support structure is usually the label/management. I dare say that more than family, friends and fans, the key support base for the artiste in a regular scenario is the label/management.
“They support with investment, strategy, personnel and other essential resources. A few unwholesome situations do not render the label the enemy; 80 percent of stars out there would not have a career without the labels and a good number of labels are founded or co-owned by artistes. It would be helpful to put situations in the right context.”
Checks by The Guardian showed that break up between artistes and their record label/management is not new in the country. It was gathered that many artistes are blinded by the juiciness of the contract offer and fail to do due diligence before signing the offer while many underdog artistes would embrace anything as long as it would help them realise their dreams. This explains why artistes enter into contracts which their fans see as slavery and the rising cases of contractual disputes between artistes and record labels.
The Runtown versus EricMany fight is a good example of failure to fulfill contractual obligations. EricMany had gotten a court injunction in Nigeria against the singer and interestingly from another court of law in the U.S. – a place he has been banned from going to. Notwithstanding the injunctions, Runtown performed in the U.S. At the end of the legal debacle EricMany won.
There is also the case of Brymo versus Chocolate City. Brymo called out the founder of the label, Audu Maikori, who incidentally is a lawyer first, then an entrepreneur with perfect understanding of the music industry on Twitter.
Brymo’s action was considered a bad move clearly spurred by negative advice. Chocolate City got an injunction to claim every of his recordings. The case dragged and dragged and Brymo couldn’t put out any material until he lost the fan base he had built overtime.
After being let off the hook, the singer came out to say the judge didn’t make any judgment. It needs to be noted that while other artistes on the label were making money, Brymo was fighting an injunction.
Many might not be aware of the Jaywon vs Kennis Music conflict because Jaywon wasn’t quite good with social media and it was an in-house battle. Without the expiration of his contract, Jaywon wanted a renegotiation, forgetting the directors of Kennis Music are industry veterans. They served all broadcasting stations a letter stopping them from playing any of Jaywon’s materials which is akin to putting a stop to his career.
Jaywon was asked to go and beg the head of the label. He survived, but till date he has been unable to promote any of his new material in the manner he got promoted while at Kennis Music.
There was also the Vector versus YSG. The rapper was at some point featuring Movado on a song and shooting its video in New York but got into a rift with YSG, his record label.
Upon his confirmation that he was stuck with the label till 2017, he began to throw jabs at them in records till they got an injunction refraining him from performing, recording and appearing at public events. He was caged alongside his talent and forced to render a public apology. Although he got off the hook, the music industry had left him behind.