Shawn Carter — the man, the myth, the legend, and the hip-hop mogul better known in the music world as Jay-Z — seems to be in court a lot for something or the other. Recently he prevailed in a legal tussle over the logo used by the record label that made him famous.
When Roc-A-fella Records Inc. and Roc-A-Fella Records LLC were created in 1996 and 1997, respectively by the trio of Damon “Dame” Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and Carter, they needed a logo to set them apart from other labels in the music industry. Dwayne D. Walker Jr. claims the trio enlisted his services to accomplish this task. He may have assisted. But a federal judge has decided the entrepreneur trio did not owe Walker any money. The court dismissed Walker’s claim, seeking $7 million and accusing the trio of breaching a contract that Walker claimed only Dash signed two decades ago. No, the dog didn’t eat Walker’s homework. But he couldn’t find a crucial document.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter in Manhattan faulted Walker in a late September ruling because the plaintiff could not produce a contract to substantiate his royalties claim. Walker filed his suit in July, 2012, asserting he created the legendary 1995 artwork depicting a vinyl record. That design was the basis for Roc-A-Fella’s logo. Walker said he was paid $3,500 two decades ago for his design, and he claimed he was to get 2 percent royalties for everything emblazoned with the logo through 2015.
The logo — with a superimposed R and a champagne bottle sitting over the aforementioned vinyl record — has been appeared on items generating millions of dollars of sales. It has become synonymous with Jay-Z himself. The logo has undergone several changes since the mid-90’s when Walker claims to have assisted in its creation and when it first appeared on Jay-Z’s 1996 single, Dead Presidents.
Jay-Z, Dash, Burke, Roc-A-Fella and Universal Music Group Inc. have insisted Adrien Vargas, a Roc-A-Fella art director, created the logo. They noted that he was also listed and credited with artwork creation on Dead Presidents on its original release.
In a 32-page decision, the judge analyzed the case under the statute of frauds, finding a lack of evidence that a contract even existed. He noted that only two people, other than Walker, claimed to even have seen any agreement; he found their testimony unconvincing.
Walker claims that he took the Dash-signed contract and stuck it in a desk drawer in a New York apartment that he then shared with his uncle. Walker moved to Atlanta in 1996 and said he believed the contract was still in place. But his uncle later died, and other family cleared the apartment, apparently tossing the precious document.