Family Business in Hip-Hop Is Still Business

The South Florida music scene starts with brotherhood, not business. But over the past eight months, rapper Splash Zanotti learned that’s really not true.
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Who your real friends? We all came from the bottom” — Kanye West, “Real Friends

In June 2019, Howard Hardee wrote the following in his Miami New Times interview with Broward County rapper Splash Zanotti:

“Homeless and without a family to lean on, he stayed in Airbnbs and hotels with a host of creative types who became like brothers to him. They also became some of the biggest names in South Florida’s renaissance of hardcore rap — XXXTentacion, Smokepurpp, Lil Pump, and Ski Mask the Slump God.”

During this period of homelessness without financial or familial assistance, Splash had music, his music. However, no artist knows if they’ll survive long enough to become rich and famous like a JAY-Z or die broke and talented, like a Van Gogh. All an artist can do is create despite insurmountable odds. Create art and communities in the hope of creating a way out of strife and into success.

I met with Splash, born Kejuan Campbell, in February at his Airbnb in Clayton County, Georgia, about 30 minutes south of Downtown Atlanta. He’s NBA tall with a personality and voice that match his giant stature. Inside the home, five men are with Splash, one his manager, Selmen Selman. On the kitchen table are wings they bought from a local spot, T&K, and a bottle of brown liquor.

In good spirits, Splash, 25, explains how, over the past eight months, his TuneCore account was frozen, with the company withholding all his royalties. The reason? A copyright infringement claim sent against his 2017 song “M.O.B.” featuring Lil Pump and RiFF RAFF.

“I ain’t gonna lie, when it first happened to me, I ain’t know what the fuck to do,” Splash admits. “I’m sitting here like, how the fuck can they do this?”

“This is right after we did Rolling Loud last June,” Selman chimes in. “We just got on Lyrical Lemonade and was verified on Instagram. All our marketing dollars are pumped into this press run, and then comes the copyright claim. We aren’t spending money on legal fees and stuff, because the lawyers are just looking for a quick commission check when they’re not working on a retainer. We can’t afford to give that money to have a lawyer work on retainer because we wouldn’t have a marketing budget. That’s the life of an independent artist.”

Without the royalties Splash was earning from his music through TuneCore—everything he worked for, the fruits of his labor—suddenly, overnight, he couldn’t support himself—without first proving his innocence:

“As long as a claim is made, everything gets shut down until you can prove your innocence. Gray Zone, a private company, sent the claim to TuneCore. TuneCore locked everything down. When they put a stop to that, I was really in the dirt. I had to figure that shit out, bro, and it ain’t happen overnight. It was a lot of nights of me just staring at my balance, thinking about everything I could do with that [money] right now. I couldn’t touch it until I resolved this one fucking song.”

To understand South Florida’s game-changing hip-hop scene—a scene that assisted in the accelerated growth of SoundCloud rap—is to recognize how the progression of their art and community starts with brotherhood, not business. 

When Splash Zanotti integrated himself into the local music scene, everyone was recording at multi-Platinum producer Jimmy Duval’s Bayside penthouse. Duval, who is well-known for producing XXXTentacion’s “Look At Me,” lived on the 51st or 54th floor—Splash doesn’t recall which—but he remembers it was right across the street from the AmericanAirlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat.

Before SoundCloud was turning South Florida artists into world-renowned names, these young rappers were just a bunch of misfits, making the music they were passionate about, unsure if anyone would hear it. There were no split sheets or recording agreements; no business structures or managerial accounting. 

Splash Zanotti’s “M.O.B.” was made in that penthouse, produced by Jimmy Duval. 

“Lil Pump wasn’t even rapping back then; he was just my friend,” Splash reminiscences on the song and the feature he received from Lil Pump. “I was really in the studio; he was just vibing with me. So when we did the song, we thought nothing of it. When you hear him say, ‘Bitch, I’m Lil Pump, and I’m gonna be rich,’ he was just trying to speak that shit into existence at the time.”

As for RiFF RAFF’s guest feature, Splash just reached out and asked him. “He was one of the many celebrities who just gave me a chance,” Splash said of RiFF RAFF. “For the first time in my life, I sent somebody a record, and in 30 minutes, he sent a verse back.”

Unlike his vocal collaborators, Splash admits he fell out with Jimmy Duval before mass attention was upon the South Florida scene. “I had countless songs in the penthouse with Smokepurrp and Lil Pump,” Splash says, “but then Jimmy and I fell out, and he deleted my shit.” According to Splash, Duval deleted his recordings after what he described as a “personal altercation.” 

“When everyone popped, I didn’t have my ammunition to put in the mix when it was popping,” he says.

Despite numerous setbacks and myriad lessons learned, Splash Zanotti isn’t slowing down. After Duval deleted his recordings, he made more. When his account was frozen, he spent the next eight months figuring out how to work through his circumstances without ponying up the required fee. It took Splash eight months to regain his TuneCore account. He believes proving his innocence was more important than throwing money at a bogus copyright claim.  

“If you made a certain amount of money on one song and that amount of money outweighs what you currently have in your [bank account], you have to wait until you hit that balance on that song because there’s a claim on the royalties already,” Splash explains. “Let’s say I made $7,000 off the song. They want the whole $7,000 back and will hold my account until I put that amount back in my account. I had to get on my independent shit, bro, as if I was a lawyer. It opened my mind to this business shit. Shit, I should’ve known from the beginning.”

“There’s nothing you can really do to learn the music business,” Selman chimes in. “It’s either you’re taught [the music business] because you have somebody in the game, or you learn as you go.”

“A nigga told me some real ass shit,” Splash concludes, piggybacking on Selman’s point. “If a nigga don’t sign a contract, even if you’re friends or best buds or whatever, he has every right to change his mind in the end. That’s what I never realized. Y’all can be the best of friends right now, and he can say, ‘Yo, you have this. This is yours. I love you. You my family.’ But the moment you didn’t sign a contract or do it properly, later on, it could be 10 years later, he could be like, you know what, I want to keep that song.”

After our interview, Selman confirmed they don’t know who sent the copyright claim to Gray Zone. In speaking with both Lil Pump and RiFF RAFF, none of the parties involved are aware of the legal issues still unfolding. Splash also reached out to Duval about the claim, but Duval has yet to respond to their correspondence. Through trial and error, Splash and his team are aware now, more than ever, that blood is thicker than water, but business is business. 

Don’t forget about your split sheets and recording agreements, kids. They might save your life. 

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