Rapper Squid Nice at Center of $80M Label Fight

MANHATTAN (CN) – Bringing a $80 million suit over fame-adjacent Squid Nice, a music label says the rapper’s manager is playing both sides of an exclusivity deal. 

Squid Nice became a viral sensation in 2015, when a childhood photo of the Staten Island native circulated as the popular “If he’s 5, I’m 5″ meme.

The 22-year-old otherwise known as Joseph Kai Joseph is now represented by Rudyard Muir of Ruddy Rock Inc., which was hit with a fraud complaint Thursday.

Muir, according to the complaint, was a childhood friend of onetime Bad Boy Records marketing executive Jonny Shipes, who filed Thursday’s complaint in Manhattan Supreme Court through his record label Cinematic Music Group.

Shipes says CMG tried to sign Squid Nice this past January but went a different route as a favor.

“At that time, Ruddy approached Shipes and, invoking the trust built upon their long friendship and business relationship, asked Shipes if he would agree to allow Ruddy‘s participation to be more than just A&R [artist and repertoire] and, instead, to act as a furnishing record label for CMG, and share in the development and exploitation of Squid Nice’s talents with CMG,” the complaint states.

Shipes says the so-called 360 deal was to work out for his label just as though he entered into an exclusive artist agreement with Squid Nice, while giving Muir both shares in the income streams from the sale of Squid Nice’s recorded music, and from his touring and live performances, merchandise, endorsements, appearances in film and TV, and music publishing.

“However, having snagged the prize ‒ an exclusive 360 deal with Squid Nice ‒ defendants executed a predetermined course of conduct to deceitfully and fraudulently deprive plaintiff of the benefit of the bargain Defendants had just agreed to,” the complaint states.

Shipes, whose real name is Jonathan Shapiro, says a critical component of the fraud was the addition of a loophole by which Ruddy Rock can remove Squid Nice as an “Available Artist.”

Shipes says Ruddy Rock is now refusing to execute the deal after he has invested significant funds, including the underwriting of Squid Nice and Muir’s 2017 trip to South By Southwest “where Squid Nice showcased his musical talents for record labels and music industry executives.”

Shipes seeks $80 million in compensatory and punitive damages, as well recognition “that Squid Nice is an Available Artist under the Label Agreement.”

Cinematic Music Group releases music through RED, a division of Sony Music Entertainment.

The label struck gold 10 years ago signing a then-teenaged Sean Kingston and more recently with signing the mixtape-certified rap heavy-hitter Big K.R.I.T. and Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$.

Shipes is represented by Robert Meloni of Meloni & McCaffrey in New York City. Ruddy Rock’s attorney has not returned a request for comment.

Thursday’s complaint includes a pointed jab at the agency’s namesake.

“Over the past few years, Ruddy has been eking out a living doing free-lance Artist & Repertoire work for various music labels, finding talented artists and trying to get them signed directly with those music labels,” the complaint states. “He has never owned or operated a functioning record label and, upon information and belief, has always understood he lacked the skills or experience to do so.”

The complaint comes a week after Squid Nice released a free, streaming mixtape called “The Craccen,” featuring an illustration of Squid Nice as a creature in the vein of Kraken or Clthulu mounting the Staten Island ferry.

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