Music Business

Bad Move: Ycee attacks Sony West Africa’s Michael Ugwu on social media, accuses him of “raping” artists in “silence”

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UPDATE: Exclusive: Freeme Digital issues statement on Ycee-Michael Ugwu Sony saga, “we definitely have no current and existing contractual relations with Ycee”

In January 2016, Sony Music Entertainment announced the launch of its West Africa subsidiary in Nigeria and appointed Michael Ugwu, former CEO of IROKING, as the General Manager of that region. While Sony has a relatively established presence in South Africa, it has been absent for decades in West Africa. About eight months later, October 2016, Sony announced an exclusive signing of one of Nigeria’s hottest rising stars Ycee to Sony West Africa.

The duo gave no tangible information about the nature of the deal except for Sony, through Ugwu who brokered the deal to say,Ycee is the future of hip-hop in Africa and we will be front and centre of SME West Africa’s strategy as we take Africa to the world.”

Seven months later, in April 2017, Ycee launched his Extended Play (EP) album through Sony’s subsidiary label, RCA Records. Ycee has since been aggressively promoting his album on the continent, Europe, and now North America.

The Current Dispute

Two days ago, Ugwu, perhaps in a good mood or engaging in marketing and promotion services for  Davido’s artist’s Dreamo, tweeted a line from Dreamo’s song ‘Ojere,’ “Ni*ga ask about me ni*ga ask about me…I’m a hustler am a am a hustler.”  

In response, Ycee tweeted, “that’s what you call what you be doing to artists now ay?”

He added, “@iam_magicmike “I run Sony music west Africa” running it to where? Running it straight into the ground! And you don’t even give half a sh*t!”

“Funny how we all know these ni**az ain’t straight and we just keep quiet… meanwhile they raping us in silence. Omo nawa o. Don’t even know how this dream started and you just wanna reap completely of man’s hardwork and sweat? God forbid!”

Ycee’s tweets went viral with many members of the press asking Ugwu for a response. Ugwu, allegedly replied to the press that Sony Music was aware of the tweet and would be responding. A day later, Ugwu, rather than another Sony representative, responded telling Ycee via a series of tweets that there are steps to follow if he is unhappy with a business relationship: “1)Negotiation 2)Mediation 3)Arbitration 4)Litigation.”

Unhappy with his response, Ycee replied with the following tweet, “This is about the growth of our industry and helping upcoming artistes who aren’t enlightened. I imagine you in politics.” He added, “You sat on my EP for months without doing anything. My sweat, my life and all I’ve got. Thank God my label had a plan B.”

Ms. Uduak’s Take

A few of you have asked for my take. Here we go.

1. Social Media Rants of this Nature is Not Okay: Haba! Nigerian and African artists we have passed this stage and level. Common on! Get it together on the public relations front with how you manage your brands. This is unacceptable! It is highly unprofessional for any artist, especially an artist like Ycee, to do this. Sony did not put a gun to Ycee’s head to sign any type of deal with them. Ycee voluntary and freely did so. Therefore, if he has any grievances with the deal terms or management, then he should contact his  lawyer to help resolve this issue through negotiations or litigation. AML artists, in the ordinary course of business, when you are unhappy with a deal term, you should try to renegotiate it through your lawyers, especially if you claim or suspect foul play. If negotiations reach an impasse, your lawyers will know how to advise you on the next step which usually includes options to mediate, arbitrate or sue. If you choose to sue, once the lawsuit is filed, there will be an opportunity to still mediate i.e. try to settle the case short of a trial. If your contract calls for a mandatory arbitration, then you must arbitrate the case i.e. have a pseudo trial in an informal setting. If it does not, you can bypass arbitration and go straight to trial.

Also, AML artists, it is not enough to consult and hire a lawyer. You must LISTEN to the advice they give you and follow instructions. If not, you are a walking liability for yourself, your label, and anyone that thinks about doing business with you. Acting the way Ycee has is effectively screwing yourself over. This is because the market Ycee is now operating in is beyond Nigeria. So while Nigerian labels may ignore the rant, as many have over the years, a brand like Sony that is trying to get its foot off the ground in West Africa has a vested interest in ensuring Ycee does not “pour sand in their garri” i.e. soil their reputation before they even take off in the region. If you have a problem with the executive Sony has hired to oversee its operations in West Africa, get your lawyer to communicate that to Sony. Again, why all these unprofessional and unsubstantiated rants on social media for industry heads from all over the world to see by virtue of the fact that Sony’s name is attached to the dispute? When you make such a move, what exactly are you looking to accomplish? Accusing executives at major labels of theft and “raping” artists without nothing more to substantiate your claims? Haba!

2. Ycee’s Anger Against Michael Ugwu is Misplaced: Let’s be clear. If you an artist and you sign a recording deal with any label, especially a major, you DO NOT run things, even if you can manage to negotiate creative control in your favor. Let’s also be clear. If you work for an employer, small or big, in any part of the world, you DO NOT run things, regardless of your fancy title, perks etc. you are, when all is said and done, an employee. This means, at any time, you can be fired. Michael Ugwu is a general manager for a newly launched division of Sony in West Africa. HE IS NOT THE OWNER OF SONY. He answers to Sony, not the other way around, and that includes when an artist’s album will be released, how marketing and promotions should be done for that artist and more. Ugwu’s job is to facilitate how Sony wants things done in West Africa. Knowing how traditional labels work, and seeing the many artists on Sony’s subsidiary labels, the new deals it has with four Nigerian artists (so far), the rate it has moved on launching artists projects including that of Nigerian artist Davido, can somebody tell me again why we are having this conversation? Ycee, why the rant and the anger? Since when did Ugwu become owner of Sony? Ugwu will have to beg like any other music executive employee to push Ycee’s project forward and get the budget needed to realize Sony’s plans for West Africa through Ycee, among others, regardless of any bragging Ugwu does about “running Sony West Africa.” If Sony says “we are not ready, “wait” or “no” we are not giving you that money”, sorry there is not much Ugwu can do than to wait. It is what it is and yes delays can and typically occur. Don’t hate the player, hate the game you voluntary got into. 

3. Michael Ugwu needs to be clear and transparent on his role with Sony: As to Michael Ugwu, I will say this is not the first time Michael has been involved in a major controversy, although it had nothing to do with artists, and was focused on his role as an executive and the inner workings at IROKING.

In addition, I do think there may be a conflict or an appearance of a conflict of interest given that Ycee’s rants drags Ugwu’s digital distribution company, Free Me Digital, into the mix. Therefore, it might be helpful for Ugwu to be clear about the exact nature of his role with Sony. I underscore this because, after Ycee’s rants, Ugwu reportedly said Sony would respond to the rants. However, Ugwu was the one that came back to deal with the rants, on his own. This to me seems like there is no support from Sony Music Entertainment. If they are not responding to the rants and having Ugwu deal with it, then they may be treating Ycee’s rants as exclusively a FreeMe Digital issue.

Further, on Ugwu’s FreeMe Digital website, FreeMe states it distributes artists music globally. One of its subdistributors is Sony Music. This clearly shows and suggests Ugwu has a relationship with Sony that extends beyond being just a general manager. So, is Ugwu exclusively an employee of Sony, or is his arrangement something more? Either way, how is his role at FreeMe affecting his role at Sony and his relationship with Sony artists like Ycee? Is this creating a conflict of interest or perceived conflict? All of my aforementioned questions, among many, need to be sorted and answered by the parties, and they should definitely do it OFF SOCIAL MEDIA!

-Ms. Uduak

Ycee is best known for his April 2017 release ‘Juice’ – The song has over 7million views. For some viewers, the video may be too sexually explicit (Olamide NBC saga on my mind). Click at your own discretion.

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ABOUT THE FOUNDER

Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at https://msuduak.com.

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