When Sean “Diddy” Combs took the stage at the annual Pre-Grammy Gala last week to accept his Industry Icons Award, the Bad Boy Records founder made headlines with a fiery speech that directly criticized the Grammy Awards for not respecting hip-hop and black music more generally. “For years we’ve allowed institutions that have never had our best interests at heart to judge us. And that stops right now,” Combs said to raucous applause from a star-filled room. “We need the artists to take back control.” It was that line in particular that set off a fiery response from Mase, who demanded on Instagram that Combs finally sell him back the publishing rights to his songs.
Mase (born Mason Durell Betha) was one of the original rappers signed to Bad Boy, and even performed in the Diddy tribute at the very same gala where Combs gave his speech. In his post, Mase argued that even though his hit songs helped propel Combs to the kind of success that eventually earned him this Icons Award, Combs also took advantage of his artists in a way that clashes with the rhetoric of his speech.
“For example, [you] still got my publishing [rights] from 24 years ago in which [you] gave me $20k. Which makes me never want to work [with] [you] as any artist wouldn’t after [you] know someone is robbing you & tarnishing your name when [you] don’t want to comply [with] his horrendous business model,” Mase wrote on Instagram, tagging Combs’ account. “However, people would always ask what’s up [with] Mase? So I would be forced to still perform to not look crazy when I was getting peanuts and the robbery would continue.”
Mase continued that he had recently offered Combs $2 million to buy back the publishing rights to his music but Combs deferred, asking him instead to match another (presumably higher) offer from a European buyer. “Give the artist back their money, so they can take care of their families,” his post concludes.
This is not the first time music publishing rights have been in the news lately. No less a star than Taylor Swift is still in a public feud with Scooter Braun after the latter bought the rights to the master recordings of her music. She originally took to Tumblr rather than Instagram, but her complaints were similar to Mase’s: “For years I asked, pleaded for a chance to own my work. Instead I was given an opportunity to sign back up to Big Machine Records and ‘earn’ one album back at a time, one for every new one I turned in…This is my worst case scenario. This is what happens when you sign a deal at fifteen to someone for whom the term ‘loyalty’ is clearly just a contractual concept.”
But this kind of dynamic also extends outside the music industry. Mase’s complaints about Combs resemble the complaints Marvel comic artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had about their collaborator Stan Lee. Lee co-created Spider-Man and Doctor Strange with Ditko, and almost every other big-screen Marvel superstar (Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men) with Kirby. But while Lee got rich and famous off those characters, eventually becoming the face of Marvel Comics for generations of fans, Ditko died in relative obscurity while Kirby’s estate only settled with Marvel in 2014 over proper compensation for his role in creating so many profit-generating superheroes.
Neither Combs nor Mase responded to EW’s requests for comment on this story.