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Hey Artists, Be Like 21 Savage & Own Your Masters

21 Savage owns his masters because he leveraged proven success in his contract negotiations.

During his appearance on the Rap Radar podcast this past January, 21 Savage revealed, for the first time, he signed a record deal with Epic Records. “I ain’t want to sign on some straight business shit,” he told hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian “B.Dot” Miller. “I wanted to sign to someone who’s going to believe in me. Like, who’s going to understand me.”

The someone who 21 is referring to is now former Epic chairman/CEO L.A. Reid, who was booted from the label in May after spending six years at the helm, but as it turns out, it was something that made the deal a no-brainer.

According to Kei Henderson, 21’s manager at King Me Collective, 21’s recording contract allows him to retain 100 percent ownership of his masters.

Henderson opened up about the deal in response to our Wednesday story about SZA’s record deal with RCA, which allowed SZA to retain ownership of her masters and included a 70/30 split in favor of the artist. Like SZA, who signed to RCA through TDE, 21 signed to Epic through his own label, Slaughter Gang.

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For those unfamiliar with the business behind the music, most record deals stipulate that the artist must relinquish their “master rights” in exchange for financial support from the record label. By controlling the master rights, a label can license the artist’s recordings for use in TV, film, and advertisements without asking for permission, retaining 100% of the profit. If an artist owns their master rights, he or she controls where their music is licensed and, in turn, will reap the financial reward.

So, how was the 24-year-old Atlanta native (and his team of lawyers and managers) able to create the necessary leverage to negotiate a record deal that allowed him to own his own masters?

Simple: a proven track record of success.

In 2016, before inking his deal with Epic, 21 released Savage Mode, a joint album with hit-making producer Metro Boomin. The now Gold-certified LP, which was released independently through Slaughter Gang, LLC., was a smash success. The project produced two bona fide, Platinum-certified hit singles: “No Heart” (peaked at No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100) and “X” featuring Future (peaked at No. 36). “Red Opps,” another single independently released before Savage Mode, was also certified Platinum last month. (I should note all three singles earned Platinum certification following 21’s signing announcement.) 

On Friday, July 7, 21 will release his major-label debut album, ISSA, which features production from Metro Boomin, Pi’erre Bourne, Southside, Wheezy, DJ Mustard, and Zaytoven. To date, Epic has yet to release any material from the project, but rest assured, when it does hit streaming services at midnight Eastern, the revenue the album generates for 21 after the label recoups their advance payment will look a lot heftier than if he signed his contract without the ascendancy of power.

A lot can change in 18 months.

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