Rita Ora Proves the Blessing & Curse of Signing to Jay ZPosted June 7, 2016 by Nathan S.
It was six months ago now that Rita Ora sued to be released from her Roc Nation contract, and today that lawsuit has finally come to an end and Ora was officially removed from the house that Jay Z built.
And so ends the once promising Rita Ora experiment, at least as far as the Roc is concerned. When she signed a five album deal at just 18-years-old, Jay was clearly planning on making her the English version of Rihanna, but that vision came crashing into the hard wall of reality. Ora certainly became a well known name with her fair share of hits, but the buzz never amounted to anything more substantial than just one released album in 2012 that was a hit in her native U.K. but failed to gain any real traction in the U.S.
In short, Ora claimed that Jay and Roc Nation were so focused on their other ventures, from Jay's personal career to launching a sports agency, that they neglected to give her career the support they had promised. For their part, the Roc responded that they had spent $2 million promoting her, and that if she wasn't popping that was her fault. There's only so much a label can do.
It's a story that's as old as the music industry itself. Artist signs to a powerful manager or label thinking that those connections will pay off in a big way, but they often don't also realize that they're not going to be a top priority, or even a priority at all, once they sign on the dotted line, and understandably so. Like Jay really has much time left over after he's done closing out multi-million dollar deals with Budweiser and helping Beyonce write songs about his alleged infidelities. For a long time J. Cole was the only rapper on Jay's label, and Jay barely even got him a guest verse in time for his debut album.
It makes me think of DJ Charlie White, a great artist I first met back when he was with the band Freesol. At the time Freesol was signed to Justin Timberlake's new label, Tennman Records, through Interscope. Signed to Justin "Biggest Pop Star of His Generation" Timberlake, songs with Timbaland, how could they not become stars themselves?
But, without getting too deep into the specifics, they instead found themselves caught up in some brewing tension between Timberlake, Interscope and Sony/RCA, the label Timberlake was signed to as a solo artist. As the months ticked by and some of the most powerful forces in the music industry battled, some pushing Timberlake to focus on a solo album, others wanting the band to succeed, they found themselves caught in the middle and effectively shelved. Of course if Justin Timberlake wants to sign you it's nearly impossible to turn him down, White's always been nothing but grateful for the opportunity, but it's a cruel twist of fate that the same force that made signing so potentially lucrative, the power of Timberlake's name, is also what ultimately stopped them.
If everyone who sat across the table from Jay Z and signed on the dotted line was guaranteed success we'd be be counting up Amil's platinum plagues and Mayaeni would be a household name. Time and time again I've seen artists sign to a label expecting their careers to take off and then realize that it's still largely up to them to make their careers happen - in many ways the story of J. Cole's rise is the story of him relying less and less on his label - and now it's on Rita Ora to prove it was the label holding her back, and not herself.
She's far from the only artist to come to regret relying on a co-sign that once seemed so promising, and she certainly won't be the last.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.