From contracts to finances and everything in between, being an artist in the music industry can be tough. You might be surprised to hear that considering Ariana Grande released two albums months apart, but it's true. Legal issues, copyright problems, and more can easily complicate — and lengthen — the process. Ari did give up that 90 percent for "7 Rings," remember? It can be hard to understand why any artist or band would agree to a business deal that limits their capacity to create music on their own time, of their preferred style or with any other of their personal preferences, but it's all a part of the big business and why many artists have left or quit their labels.
Some artists, like Chance the Rapper, have managed to find success while staying independent of labels, but for others, it's a big part of their rise to stardom to be partnered with executives and big names. So what happens when things go south or when it's time to make bigger better moves? While many artists, like Kesha, have and are continuing to fight battles to have more say, more independence, better treatment, and more in relationships with their labels, some of our favorite artists have said goodbye to their labels and hello to new ones, their own companies, or none at all.
Jay-Z put it bluntly in his The Blueprint III hit song "On To The Next One" that he doesn't "get dropped, I drop the label." That's exactly what Mr. Carter did. In 2008, he resigned as the president of Def Jam, a position he held since 2004 and a place where he'd seen a number of his albums produced. The following year, he announced a partnership with Live Nation and, eventually, Sony. There, he would start his own company, Roc Nation, which would release the previously-mentioned album. The label includes Roc Nation Sports and represents artists including Big Sean, Rihanna, Lil Uzi Vert and Vic Mensa.
If you've ever wondered why Prince is sometimes referred to "the artist formerly known as," well look no further than his record label, Warner Bros. After contractual disputes in 1993 about singles and album releases, the "Little Red Corvette" singer changed his name to the famous "Love Symbol," a combination of the male and female symbols that had no pronunciation, to break contractual obligations and make it harder for the label to produce merchandise. He began releasing music rapidly in rebellion and produced five albums before he eventually signed on with Arista Records in 1998. Although he would go on to re-sign with Warner Bros. in 2014 after 18 years apart, we stan his ability to hold a grudge.
We can't imagine what the '90s, or today, would be like without *NSYNC. The band was first conceived when future member Chris Kirkpatrick didn't make the cut for the Backstreet Boys. He asked BSB manager Lou Pearlman to consider putting together a second group, and the (sort of) wise businessman obliged if the singer could find more bandmates. You know the rest. However, a big part of that history was the legal battle the band had with their manager in 1999. The boys claimed that illicit business practices were taking place, and went on to sue Lou along with his label, Trans Continental. The manager attempted to countersue, but they ended up settling out of court. The band eventually signed with Jive and produced the iconic album No Strings Attached.
Taylor Swift is, many would say, the queen of the pop industry. With more accolades then we can count, top singles and albums, money, movies and tours — you name it — it only makes sense that her next venture would be helping others get what is rightfully theirs. When the Reputation singer switched from her lifelong record label, Big Machine Label Group, to Republic Records and Universal Music Group in 2018, her big condition focused on streaming revenues. Her contract focused on distributing Spotify earnings to the artists. The star has been just one of the artists leading the fight against streaming policies. No wonder Tay doesn't spell awesome without "me!"
Boys Don't Cry
Rapper and songwriter Frank Ocean was ghostwriting for big names like Beyoncé and John Legend at the start of his career, so it should've been obvious that success for his own name was on the way. In 2009, the Nostalgia, Ultra creator signed a deal with Def Jam thanks to help from famous friends like Tyler, The Creator and Tricky Stewart. The artist, however, preferred his indie roots and chose to release his 2016 album, Blonde, by himself. The singer describes the seven-year relationship with his label as a "chess match." He would end up having to buy back all his master recordings from the company as well as struggle through a number of staff changes in the process. Here's hoping that a now-free Frank will be giving us more albums soon.
Kid Cudi was one of the many artists who signed on to Kanye West's record label, GOOD Music (Getting Out Our Dreams). The "Day 'n' Nite" singer signed on in 2008 and released his debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of the Day, and follow-up album, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, in 2009 and 2010. In 2013, the artist announced on Power 106 that he had left his label on amicable terms after feeling underused. Since then, he has released an album with rock band WZRD as well as four other solo albums and a collaboration with Mr. West entitled Kids See Ghosts. Though he's left his label, it's clear that he's been busy since.
Country singer Gretchen Wilson, known for her hit single "Redneck Woman," spent three years with Sony Music Nashville label. During that time and up until her departure in 2009, she produced three albums but stated that she felt merging companies created a difficult turnover. The singer ended up launching her own company, Redneck Records, and would go on to produce her fourth album, I Got Your Country Right Here with the label soon after. Like many on this list, she hoped that starting her own company would allow her to deliver content to fans quicker and on her own terms. She has since produced three more albums including a Christmas one.
50 Cent isn't one to shy away from a feud or a diss, but surprisingly, leaving his record label doesn't fall under either category. In 2002, Eminem, who had heard 50's mixtape, signed the rapper on to his label Shady Records under Interscope and Dr.Dre's label, Aftermath Entertainment. With the help of these two big names, the "In da Club" singer was able to put out the very successful album Get Rich or Die Tryin'. Under this label he was also able to start his own company, G-Unit Records. Despite a lot of success, 50 left his label and fellow rappers in 2014. He signed with Caroline and Capitol Music Group with the hopes of furthering his creative vision. No worries though. The departure was amicable, and his relationship with the "Forgot About Dre" rappers remains strong and supportive.
It seems like the first thing you think of when you hear The Beatles is Apple Records. But long before they signed onto Parlophone and Capitol and created their own recording label, they started off performing a residency in Hamburg, Germany under the leadership of manager Brian Epstein. In 1962, they signed on to Polydor for a year and worked as a backup band for Tony Sheridan. Of course, growing popularity and a sense of bigger potential was on the mind. With the help of producer George Martin as well, the Liverpool band was able to break contract and eventually sign with Parlophone. They'd go on to acquire Ringo Starr as their final and permanent drummer, produce the hit "Love Me Do" and the rest is history.
*NSYNC was not the only '90s boy band to say "bye, bye, bye" to their record company. "Rival" boy band the Backstreet Boys, who were also put together by Lou Pearlman, experienced a departure from their label. After 17 years with Jive and Zomba, the "I Want It That Way" singers decided to part ways in 2010. During their time with the companies, they had over 130 million sales and produced eight top-10 albums. Though they're the most successful boy band of all time, they've experienced a number of problems with the label, including in 2002 when they filed a $75–100 million lawsuit after feeling that the label breached contract for promoting Nick Carter's solo career over the band's. What can we say? As long as they love us, we're happy wherever they are.
It comes as no surprise that Eve was the inaugural winner of the "Best Rap/Song Collaboration" for her 2001 hit "Let Me Blow Ya Mind" with Gwen Stefani. The rapper has seen great success both in music and on the big screen. Unfortunately, her music faced some label issues, and in 2010, she felt the need to leave Interscope. After a long hiatus and her to-be-released 2007 album being pushed back, the "Tambourine" singer went on to sign with Sony. She released her album Lip Lock in 2013 and has since been featured on a number of TV shows and movies.
You might know OK Go for their inventive and original music videos that take place on treadmills, feature full marching bands and create Rube Goldberg Machines. Another great thing about this Chicago band? They formed their own label in 2010. The band has always been upfront about holding the rights to their merchandising, touring and other important rights, but this final move, which separated them from Capitol/EMI was the last act in securing that they'd be in full control. The label, named Paracadute, represents three other artists/groups as well as the "Here It Goes Again" group.
Like many of the artists on this list, Dr. Dre left a label to start his own. The N.W.A. rapper originally co-founded Death Row Records with Suge Knight and The D.O.C. in 1991, which reached fame producing music for artists like Snoop Dogg and Tupac. The label struggled through many issues, including the untimely death of its aforementioned rap star, and jail time for Suge. The Chronic creator made the choice to part ways in 1996 and start Aftermath Entertainment. Though many artists have left the Aftermath label just as he left his own label, he currently represents big names including Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak.
Faith Evans, who is mostly known for being the widow of famous rapper Notorious B.I.G., was also a big part of the '90s music scene. As the first female to sign to Diddy's Bad Boy Entertainment in 1994, the singer released three platinum-certified albums. However, amongst other issues at the company, the star felt that her album Faithfully did not receive the promotion or attention it deserved. In 2004, she decided to leave the label to sign with Capitol Records, becoming their first contemporary R&B artist. Since then, she has put out three studio albums and one collaboration, The King and I, featuring her departed husband.
Busta Rhymes has been recognized for years for his ability to rap at high speeds, his interesting style of dress and his rhyming patterns. His work has earned him 11 Grammys and a place on the "Greatest MCs of Our Time" list. He's also known for the many labels he's worked with. After 2002, he left J Records to sign with Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment. Due to clashes with the Interscope head Jimmy Iovine, he next moved to Universal Motown. In 2010, he formed his own label, The Conglomerate Entertainment. In 2011, he signed with Cash Money Records, but left in 2014 due to creative differences. Most recently, he has once again been collaborating with old friend Dre and working under Epic. These are just a few moves in the big career of the "Look at Me Now" rapper, and we're sure there are plenty more to come.