Lil Pump was 16 when he signed with Warner Bros. Records last summer, and since then the SoundCloud rapper has catapulted to stardom. Unfortunately for the record label, however, the gravy train may have ended before it ever got started.
In December, top music attorney John Branca, whose clients include Aerosmith, Enrique Iglesias and the Michael Jackson estate, sent a letter to Warner Bros. on behalf of Pump’s management team, Tha Lights Global, that pointed out that because the “Gucci Gang” MC signed his deal while underage, the contract is not valid. Typically, labels seek court approval to validate their agreements with minors, and renegotiate such deals when the artist becomes an adult, to be on safe legal footing.
As of press time, Warner had not yet responded to the letter and was still working “Gucci Gang” with no change to the day-to-day relationship between the companies, says one person close to the situation. Meanwhile, Branca and Tha Lights Global attorney Todd Rubenstein are fielding offers from other labels.
The error is an embarrassment for WBR, and has led to significant internal finger pointing, though there’s no case law to predict the impact on its existing Pump releases. Sources tell Billboard that Cameron Strang, who left his post as chairman/CEO of the label at the turn of the year, was the only one inside the building with a close relationship with Pump and Tha Lights Global; as his exit neared and Pump’s team saw Warner’s mistake and the opportunity to land a more favorable deal, they brought on Branca in December to help with negotiations.
The situation is compounded by the fact that WBR has lagged behind the times as R&B/hip-hop has risen to become the biggest genre of music in the streaming era over the past year, and label brass saw Pump as a key cog in their attempts to shore up that side of the roster. And Tha Lights Global’s origins as a viral internet marketing company — 2016’s “Juju On That Beat” by Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall that peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 was TLG’s first major success in the music sphere — combined with Pump’s own star power, which was already on the rise in the months before the WBR deal, created a situation where, moving forward, Warner needs Pump more than Pump needs Warner.
“Gucci Gang” peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts last month, and his self-titled debut album — released on Tha Lights Global/Warner Bros. — launched at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, moving 46,000 equivalent album units in its first week, according to Nielsen Music.
Warner’s new management team could still hold onto Lil Pump: Strang was replaced this month by new WBR co-chairman and COO Tom Corson; Aaron Bay-Schuck will start as co-chairman/CEO later this year, and one source says the possibility of a renegotiation isn’t off the table. But the other two major labels — as well as a handful of indies — are also vying for the deal, which is likely to go to the highest bidder, sources tell Billboard.
Additional reporting by Hannah Karp.