The Artist vs The Machine

Many artists have found themselves in disputes with their record labels, leading some upcoming talents to choose the independent route. Binding contracts, undervaluation, conflict, and mismanagement have been key factors prompting artists to walk away from recording deals after strenuous battles. In the South African music scene, challenges with record labels are a recurring theme, reflecting a widespread issue in the entertainment industry. These conflicts commonly arise from financial disputes and award-related matters. Some artists have opted to sever ties with problematic labels, while others are actively pursuing independence. Here is a list of recording artists who have faced label-related challenges in their careers.

Zoocci Coke Dope VS [StayLow] Entertainment

The most recent of the bunch is the great musician and producer Zooci Coke Dope. The mind behind many great albums from artists such as 25K, Maglera Doe Boy, and himself included, has been embroiled in an ongoing conflict with his record label [StayLow] Entertainment. The rapper dropped a heated 7-minute long track, the fifth instalment of his ‘Current State of Mind’ series of songs, where he unleashed his grievances with his record label, including artist manager Vaughn Thiel. In the song, he details being misled in contractual agreements which evidently left him feeling trapped and upset, to say the least.

Vaughn, who is credited as the head of artist development at [StayLow] Entertainment, took to the Sobering Podcast to respond to the claims issued by Zocci. In the hour and a half interview, the label executive stated that ‘Zooci is actually still signed to the label; we have terminated Zooci on a management level. We are not managing Zooci anymore, so anything that has got to do with bookings and so forth is going through his own management.”

A-Reece VS Ambitiouz Entertainment

The unfolding saga at Ambitious Entertainment in 2017 became one of the most contentious chapters in South African Hip Hop, involving disputes between rappers and the record label. A-Reece, along with artists like Fifi Cooper, B3nchMarQ, and Flvme, departed from Ambitious Entertainment during this period due to various disagreements. Despite leaving the label without his music, A-Reece managed to successfully establish his own brand in the aftermath of the controversy.

In 2018, the rapper addressed the issue on Behind The Story with Pearl Thusi, revealing that the label had violated their verbal agreement. Speaking about the matter, A-Reece emphasized the importance of keeping one’s word, stating, “As a guy to another guy, your word is your word; you keep it.”

He recounted that he and the label owner had a verbal agreement when he expressed his interest in signing with Ambitiouz Entertainment. A-Reece also mentioned that he was unaware of the charges for his performances and highlighted the absence of a formal contract in the situation.

The Big Hash VS Innanetwav.

What feels like one of the most tragic occurrences in the new wave age was rapper The Big Hash facing a long stretch of conflict with his former record label Innanetwav. It severely impacted his career because he allegedly was not receiving royalties for his music, resulting in him not being able to release music. In 2021, the rapper took to Instagram, posting a video revealing the news when he candidly opened up about the reason behind him not releasing any music.

“I had to mentally prepare myself for this. I’m taking legal action against my former label Innanetwav. They basically lied to me, manipulated me and they stole from me. However, it has nothing to do with the artists at Innanetwav. This has everything to do with the people who run Innanetwav,” he said. According to the rapper, he has not received any royalties from the label. “I have not seen my royalties. I want to see this thing sorted out as soon as possible. This thing literally crippled me,” he said.

Emtee VS Ambitiouz Entertainment

Similar to the story of A-Reece, ‘Roll Up’ hit-maker Emtee walked away from now-closed label Ambitiouz Entertainment in 2019 after a long three years of being overworked and underpaid by the label. It is alleged that the artist would perform close to 6 gigs in one night; however, at the month, he would only receive a standardized salary, which left him feeling used and undervalued. He sat down with infamous broadcaster and podcast host MacG in 2021 where the artist shared that he started to get frustrated with the label after he overworked himself for little remuneration. The rapper announced that he was planning to leave his record label Ambitiouz Entertainment in June 2019, posting the hashtag #FreeEmtee on Twitter. He said the months that followed were some of the toughest of his life.

Emtee revealed that his wife and children had moved in with his in-laws while he tried to find a new place for them. “They (Ambitiouz) didn’t repossess the house and cars. I don’t have it anymore. They helped me get it, but it wasn’t part of the contract. It was simply that I had problems with the maintenance, and it is a matter between myself and the agents. “I just kind of go where I can. My family isn’t with me; they are with Avery’s grandmother at the moment. I miss my kids, but I try to be with them every day.”

Gigi Lamyane VS Mabala Noise

Award-winning female rapper Gigi Lamyane hasn’t had the smoothest ride to the top. After being signed to the popular label Mabala Noise in 2017, the rapper announced her departure from the label. According to reports made available, her departure was finalized on Tuesday, December 19th. Gigi Lamayne owed her departure to their inability to match vision when coming to her creative direction. Talking to Okay Africa in 2019, the rapper shared how her unfortunate partnership with her previous label should be viewed as a cautionary tale. “”I think I’m a case study at this point,” says Gigi Lamayne, “because I’m the girl who went from one indie to another to [being] independent, and now the majors are calling me.” she shared. She has since formed her own label named Hart Roc.

Moozlie VS Cashtime Life

In March 2016, CEO Thabiso Khati of Cashtime Life revealed that the artist Nomuzi Mabena, also known as Moozlie, had officially departed from the Cashtime roster, which formally included Kid X, K.O, Ma-E, Maggz, AB Crazy, Zingah, Kid X, and AirDee. The decision stemmed from disparities in vision between Nomuzi and the label regarding her artistic development. Consequently, the label chose to release her from her contract. Importantly, Nomuzi and the label parted ways amicably, maintaining a positive relationship.


In December 2020, Tshego revealed that he had not received any payment for over five of his songs, despite being the owner of the masters. Although he did not explicitly name the label in question, it was widely assumed to be Cassper Nyovest’s Family Tree, to which Tshego was previously signed before opting for independence. Tshego disclosed his silent legal battle and eventual victory, emphasizing that he owns the masters for all the affected songs, including “Hennessy,” “Garden,” “The Vibe,” “Tell Em Say,” “So High,” and “Dem Ah Wind.”

Nasty C VS Mabala Noise

Picture this, it’s 2015 and Nasty C has dropped the hottest Hip-Hop song of the year ‘Juice Back’ which took his career to unimaginable heights. There was no doubt that all the major labels were fighting to get their hands on the hottest lyricist. With many offers on the table from the likes of Jay Z’s Roc Nation, Nasty C turned them down to sign a recording contract with Universal Music Africa in 2018 to much controversy. It had been discovered that the young artist was still signed to his now former label Mabala Noise. After days of swirling speculation over Nasty C’s future, the rapper took to social media to confirm that he had joined Universal.

The company released a statement asserting that he had “signed an exclusive recording deal” with them and had become “his exclusive booking agency.” However, a spokesperson for Mabala Noise, Tumi Moatshe, clarified that the artist still remained with the stable. According to Tumi, the Universal deal primarily served as a distribution agreement to extend his reach to international markets, with Mabala Noise handling his bookings and some image rights.

“He has not left Mabala Noise. The Universal deal is just a distribution deal to take him to international markets. We are excited for him and will still be working with him,” Tumi stated. The issue got further clarification when Louise Pillay, the company’s head of local urban, mentioned that an artist cannot sign with two labels but was unable to provide further details.

“You cannot sign for two labels. The only person who can speak on the matter is our MD and lawyers, and they are not in, so you can take this as I cannot speak on the matter further.”

Nasty C joined Mabala Noise in 2016, reportedly rejecting a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation. He was introduced alongside Gigi Lamayne, Riky Rick, Khanyi Mbau, and Lvovo, many of whom have since parted ways with the company.

Today Nasty C is signed to his own label Tall Racks Records, Def Jam Recordings, Def Jam Africa and Universal Music.

Riky Rick VS Motif Records

In 2014, rapper Riky Rick made the announcement of his departure from Motif Records, a label founded by musician Tumi Molekane, also recognised as Stogie T. At the time, Riky cited the desire to explore new opportunities in his career as the reason for the move. Recently, in a tweet, the rapper delved further into the details surrounding his exit from Tumi’s label.

Expressing his respect for Tumi, Riky also conveyed his frustration, stating, “Honestly, he needs to stop trying to claim others’ success… I paid a significant amount to terminate the motif contract. Instead of repeatedly bringing it up in every track he releases, he should let it go (sic),” read the first tweet.

In a subsequent post, Riky revealed, “Let me recount what happened. I wanted to release Boss Zonke, and Tumi said the track was subpar, expressing his reluctance to be associated with it. I accepted it, paid the necessary fees to sever ties with the label, released Boss Zonke, which went on to become a classic. Family Values achieved platinum status. The rest is history.”

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