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Lawsuit: Veteran Hip-Hop Group Black Sheep Wants Universal Music Group to Pay $750M In ‘Unpaid Royalties’ to a Number of Artists

Nineties hip-hop duo Black Sheep is suing Universal Music Group in a class-action lawsuit for $750 million in what the group claims are unpaid royalties to a stable of the brand’s artists.

Black Sheep, a duo comprised of Andres “Dres” Vargas Titus and William “Mista Lawnge” McLean, alleges that UMG cheated the group and other artists out of royalties through a “sweetheart” deal Universal had with Spotify that has “shortchanged” countless artists.

Portrait of American rap duo Black Sheep as they pose in the Nikko Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, November 16, 1994.Pictured are Andres ‘Dres’ Titus (left) and William ‘Mista Lawnge’ McLean. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Titus and Lawnge believe UMG owes artists millions for breaching contracts, saying the music record giant accepted cash and company stock from Spotify in exchange for music from their artists, only to “shortchange” artists when distributing royalty payments, Rolling Stone reported.

The two artists, who are both in their 60s, have filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming they know “at least thousands of artists whose identities can be readily ascertained from Universal’s records” who were allegedly cheated out of their royalties as well.

Inside the Lawsuit

The lawsuit lays out the duo’s complaint.

“In the mid-2000s, Universal struck an undisclosed, sweetheart deal with Spotify whereby Universal agreed to accept substantially lower royalty payments on artists’ behalf in exchange for an equity stake in Spotify – then a fledgling streaming service,” the court papers state, per Power 99 FM.

The lawsuit continues, “Yet rather than distribute to artists their 50 percent of Spotify stock or pay artists their true and accurate royalty payments, for years Universal shortchanged artists and deprived plaintiffs and class members of the full royalty payments they were owed under Universal’s contract.”

According to the lawsuit, Black Sheep said the label owes years’ worth of royalties.

“For approximately a decade, Universal omitted from the royalty statements Universal issued to plaintiffs that it had received Spotify stock in connection with the ‘use or exploitation’ of Black Sheep recordings,” the filing states.

Universal Hits Back

A spokesperson has denied the allegation, saying UMG has been leading the way for artists to be properly compensated for their work.

“Universal Music Group’s innovative leadership has led to the renewed growth of the music ecosystem to the benefit of recording artists, songwriters and creators around the world,” a UMG spokesperson said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “UMG has a well-established track record of fighting for artist compensation and the claim that it would take equity at the expense of artist compensation is patently false and absurd. Given that this is pending litigation, we cannot comment on all aspects of the complaint.”

About Black Sheep

Between 1991 and 1994, Black Sheep was a massive success, with its “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)” song peaking No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Rap Singles chart. 

The song, alongside their other big hits “Flavor of the Month” and “Strobelite Honey,” was part of the duo’s debut album, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” which was released on Oct. 22, 1991, via Mercury Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. 

The album peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 chart, and in April 1992 it was certified gold in sales by the RIAA, after sales exceeded 500,000 copies in the U.S.

The group’s second album, 1994’s “Non-Fiction,” also performed well. It failed to reach gold status, peaking only at No. 107 on Billboard, according to Genius.

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