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‘It Was the Fight of My Life’: Jay-Z Shares How He Reclaimed His Masters

Sources When Jay-Z was growing up in Brooklyn, he would create lyrics and keep them in his memory until he could find a notebook to record them. The days of memorizing lyrics are long gone; he’s transformed from being a musician to being a businessman who understands the significance of creating generational wealth. And one of Jay-Z’s greatest business moves has been reclaiming his masters. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 02: Rapper, Jay-Z is seen following the conclusion of Game One of the 2022 NBA Finals at Chase Center between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics on June 02, 2022 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“You know from being an independent company from the beginning and then going through the Def Jam system not really understanding how that works and then having my masters, then going back to Def Jam as the president and then saying, ‘Okay, I’ll do this job and part of this job is my masters has to be reverted back to me.’ ”

In a recent interview with Gayle King on “CBS Mornings” Jay-Z shared how owning his masters was so important to him as an artist. 

Jay-Z, who reportedly has a net worth of $2 billion, launched his music career with the album “Reasonable Doubt,” through his independent label Roc-A-Fella Records. Jay-Z and his former business partners Dame Dash and Kareem “Biggs” Burke sold 50 percent of the label to Def Jam Recordings in 1997 for $1.5 million. In 2004, they sold the remaining shares for $10 million. That same year, Jay-Z became the CEO of Def Jam with the agreement that he would be able to reclaim his masters from the company in 10 years.

Now that Jay-Z has reclaimed his masters, he has no intention of selling them. 

“I get why people do it,” he told “CBS Mornings.” “I’ve been fortunate enough to make money in this place, but for me it was the fight of my life.” 

What Artists Have Sold Their Masters?

While Jay-Z has fought to acquire his masters, some musicians have intentionally sold their publishing rights.

According to Rolling Stone, prominent music companies as well as startups such as Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Primary Wave have been acquiring the publishing rights from celebrities looking to cash in. In return, companies such as Hipgnosis Songs Fund and Primary Wave have been able to take control of money in relation to royalties, branding, licensing and other revenue streams. 

Hipgnosis Songs Fund has focused on acquiring copyrights from songwriters and producers. The company purchased Timbaland’s catalog, which included six of Missy Elliot’s albums, and five from Justin Timberlake. Songwriters such as Johnta Austin, who has penned hits for Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey, and Sean Garrett, who has written for Usher, Beyonce and Ciara also have sold their copyrights to the company.

Interestingly enough, after a flurry of snapping up masters, Hipgnosis is on the verge of a financial meltdown.

The fate of Hipgnosis Songs Fund, a British company, is uncertain following the rejection by shareholders recently of a $440 million divestment proposal and their vote against preserving the company’s existing structure, The New York Times reported.

In addition, celebrity estates have been popular in sales and acquisitions. 

Primary Wave purchased a stake in Bob Marley’s publishing catalog in 2018. In a $50 million deal with Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, the company acquired 80 percent of Blackwell’s share in Marley’s songbook and Blue Mountain Music, which owned the copyright to music from groups such as Toots and The Maytals.  

In 2021, Primary Wave acquired a significant portion of Prince’s masters when three of his siblings decided to sell their shares to the musician’s estate. The company has a 42 percent share in the estate, providing them with access to royalties from masters, his writer’s share, use of his name and likeness and property associated with Paisley Park. 

Finally, in 2022, Whitney Houston’s Estate also inked a deal with Primary Wave Music Publishing, acquiring 50 percent of its assets. The deal included various music and film royalties, the right to use her name and likeness and merchandising. According to “The New York Times,” Houston’s estate was valued at $14 million and the sale would increase its value. 

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