SCAM AFTA SCAM: A TRUE STORY
OZONE investigates how a new breed of greedy artist managers and booking agents, led by Gucci Mane’s representatives, are sucking the blood out of the music industry.
by Julia Beverly (this article also appears in the upcoming print edition of OZONE Mag)
“Johnnie [Cabbell] is the grand vampire,” proclaims legendary Chicago-based promoter Godfather. For over twenty years, Godfather has been promoting concerts through his company Star Power Entertainment Group. He estimates his losses from bad business deals with Johnnie Cabbell and Debra Antney to be nearly $100,000. “I don’t work with Johnnie anymore,” he states emphatically. “He sucks the blood out of you.”
As the CEO of Hitt Afta Hitt (otherwise known as HAH), Johnnie Cabbell is Gucci Mane’s exclusive booking agent and also manages Bankhead rapper Shawty Lo. Johnnie’s “partner in crime,” Godfather says, is Debra Antney, who describes herself as Gucci Mane’s “business partner and manager.” As CEO of Gucci’s So Icey Records and the management company Mizay Entertainment, Antney also oversees the careers of OJ da Juiceman, Nicki Minaj, and others. Multiple promoters from across the country allege that Cabbell and Antney have collaborated to defraud them collectively of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
THE SO ICEY TOUR
Scheduled for at least 12 cities in July 2009, the So Icey Tour was supposed to feature OJ da Juiceman, Nicki Minaj, and the headliner, Gucci Mane. It sounded promising. Gucci’s buzz was at an all-time high. He had just returned home from prison a few months earlier to ecstatic crowds at “Welcome Home Gucci” parties throughout the South. His artist/protégé OJ had been steadily building a buzz of his own and helping to keep Gucci’s name alive by flooding the streets with mixtapes and fresh material. They were both hot commodities. And in an industry nearly void of female artists, up-and-coming emcee/sex symbol Nicki Minaj was quickly building a name for herself, strengthened by her affiliations with Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane. The timing seemed perfect.
But by all accounts, the “tour,” organized by a Carolina-based promoter named Shannon Marshall, was a mess and fell apart almost immediately. None of the artists showed up for the first two Florida dates (July 4th & 5th), leaving veteran promoter Mr. CC (who, like Godfather in Chicago, has been successfully promoting concerts for over 20 years) with losses of over $140,000. He claims that nearly half of that money, around $70,000, is in the hands of Cabbell/Antney, who refuse to return the deposits or reschedule his dates.
On July 19th, 2009, midway through the scheduled tour dates, Soulja Boy tweeted, “My nigga Gucci back in jail. Free Gucci.” (right) Rumors quickly spread that Gucci had again violated the terms of his probation and was back in jail (or rehab). Although Gucci’s management and label denied the rehab rumors and it’s still unclear exactly where Gucci was in mid-July, it’s clear where he wasn’t: He wasn’t on the So Icey Tour. Of the 12 scheduled tour dates, OZONE has confirmed that at least six, but probably more of these shows (Jacksonville, FL; Pompano Beach/Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Louisville, KY; Chicago, IL; Baltimore, MD; and Detroit, MI) never happened, leaving furious promoters demanding refunds.
That’s a less than fifty percent success rate. “People get fired for those type of numbers in baseball,” laughs Baltimore attorney Paul W. Gardner, of the Gardner Law Group. Gardner spoke to OZONE on behalf of his client, who also lost “a significant sum of money” by booking the So Icey Tour for a stop in Baltimore on July 18th, the day before word of Gucci’s alleged re-incarceration leaked on the ‘net.
“[About] four days before the event, [Cabbell/Antney] said that [Gucci] might not show up,” says Gardner. “Later we found out it was because he was in some sort of rehab facility.” Gardner declined to reveal the exact amount of the deposit, but based on other promoters’ experiences, it is reasonable to assume his client’s total losses were in the range of $40,000-50,000.
When Gardner’s client attempted to reschedule the date, So Icey suddenly changed their story. “They said, ‘How can we reschedule something we don’t have the [deposit] for?’” he laughs. It’s a theme that is repeated over and over in other promoters’ stories: after months of contracts, wire transfers, and conversations, Cabbell/Antney suddenly played dumb, either pointing the finger at each other or hiding behind a complex web of multiple contracts with middlemen.
The So Icey Tour dates were officially contracted through two other entities: reputable New York-based booking agency Ujaama Entertainment, and the much less reputable third-party agent Shannon Marshall. Both of them apparently kept a small percentage of the deposits as a booking fee before sending the bulk of the funds to Cabbell/Antney, presumably to secure all three artists. Because of the complicated paper trail, most of the various promoters’ attempts to legally retrieve their deposits have been difficult and thus far unsuccessful.
“I’m not sure if it’s on purpose,” notes Attorney Gardner, “but [the way the contracts are written up] are very nasty and sinister. It’s multi-layered. From a legal standpoint, when someone does something wrong to you, you can sue that person. Person A sues Person B; laymen understand that [concept]. But the problem arises when a middleman is included and the person on the backend does the harm. Person A has to sue Person B to get to Person C, but in this situation, Person B’s contract says ‘You can’t sue me.’ With the [So Icey Tour] contracts, Person A is the promoter. Person B is Ujaama [and/or Shannon], Person C is Johnnie, Person D is Deb, and E is the artist.” For this reason, he explains, proceeding with a lawsuit is both a difficult and costly endeavor. “Because of the difficulty of the third-party situation, I have to prove which party has the money,” he explains. “Or maybe it’s all of them.”
Complicating the matter even further, the agents’ contracts state that they cannot be sued in the event of a breach of contract. Although this clause is standard in most booking contracts where the agent is only a broker for the artist, Gardner advises his clients to cross it out before signing. “You can’t do business with people you can’t sue,” he says. “It’s legally impossible.”
Ujaama’s attorneys have advised them not to comment on the matter due to pending litigation. Shannon Marshall, who did not return numerous calls for comment, appears to be in hiding. Most of the promoters interviewed have not been able to reach him at all since the cancelled tour dates. “I guess Shannon was a guy that got caught up with them thinking they were good businesspeople over there at Mizay Entertainment and found out they weren’t,” theorizes Godfather. “They were double-booking shows and Johnnie was taking all the deposits.”
Unanimously, the disgruntled So Icey Tour promoters say their money vanished into the hands of Cabbell and Antney. Although the initial deposits were wired to Ujaama, most of the promoters have seen confirmed wire transfer receipts that verify the money ended up in Antney’s bank account. Many have done business with Ujaama for years and never experienced similar issues. “I’ve dealt with Ujaama [before] and never had a problem, so if they say they [sent] the money to the next person, I tend to believe them,” adds Attorney Gardner, who compares the scenario to the sleight-of-hand shell game (left) practiced by street magicians. “It’s like being on the beach and watching the guys with the coconut shells. We just don’t know whose hand is on the coconut.”
“I’ve had a great relationship booking artists with Ujaama for over ten years and I really didn’t wanna get into a legal battle with them. [In the past,] if [an artist] didn’t show up, Ujaama promptly refunded my money. But this? This is a nightmare,” says a frustrated Mr. CC. “I’m out so much money right now that I don’t have a choice. Legally, I have to sue Ujaama. Then Ujaama has to sue Shannon, who disappeared, and then Shannon’s gotta sue Gucci’s management.”
Godfather, while emphasizing that his Ujaama representative Dave Nelson is “a good dude,” blames the fiasco on Cabbell/Antney. “[Ujaama] did a good job of trying to sit down and work the [So Icey Tour] situation out, but [Johnnie and Deb] didn’t want to. If you had $300,000 in deposits, would you want to ‘work it out’?” he asks. “Who’s going to come down to Atlanta and mess with an old lady and go to jail? That’s why you have to sue [Deb]. Everybody else is suing her too.”
Attorney Gardner agrees that hundreds of thousands of dollars appear to have vanished. “The one [deposit] my client sent was a significant sum, and if you multiply that by a 10+ city tour, that’s a hefty bill they have to return. Somebody has the money and can’t repay it,” he reasons. “I don’t know if it’s Johnnie, Deb, or Ujaama. We don’t know how deep the rabbit hole goes, but what’s in the dark always comes to light. If my client decides to sue, we will get to the bottom of it. Multiple defendants always end up telling on each other.”
MODERN DAY SLAVERY
While it’s clear that Ujaama, Shannon, Cabbell, and Antney all received a piece of the So Icey Tour pie, it’s unclear how much – if any – of the initial hundreds of thousands of dollars in show deposits actually went to the artists. It appears that none of it went to OJ da Juiceman or Nicki Minaj, and it’s questionable how much the headliner Gucci received, if any.
Chicago-based John Mosley of Power Move Promotions, a.k.a. John Doe, believes Gucci received little or nothing of the upfront deposits. Since 1997, Mosley has been successfully promoting events in Chicago, Miami, and Atlanta with artists like R Kelly, Jeremih, Twista, Too Short, Gorilla Zoe, and Plies. He partnered with Godfather for the Chicago So Icey Tour date. Although he didn’t reveal the source of his information, Mosley claims that Gucci is locked into a 360 deal with So Icey/Asylum/Warner, and a good portion of the initial show deposits goes to the label, So Icey, which Deb controls. “Gucci Mane is a slave, man,” says Mosley. “Call him and ask him how much of the [show deposits] he’s actually getting.”
360 deals, which are the norm in today’s digital music world, guarantee record labels a percentage of their artists’ revenue from many different sources, including touring. A high-ranking executive at Warner Music Group wouldn’t disclose the exact terms of Gucci Mane’s deal, but did confirm that 360 deals are now standard. “All new [record] deals are inclusive to everything [including a percentage of show monies]. It’s a full-fledged deal,” says the exec. If true, it would appear that large portions of the show deposits (the 50% upfront) are being pocketed by Cabbell and Antney, and the artists themselves don’t get paid at all until they actually show up for the show and receive the back-end money – which could explain why Cabbell/Antney don’t appear to be too concerned if the shows actually happen.
Another source familiar with 360 deals at WMG doubted that Warner itself would have received a portion of the show deposits, stating that the artists’ performance revenue isn’t closely monitored by the major label.
Regardless, “I’m sure Gucci never saw any portion of the deposit,” insists Attorney Gardner. “The artist [only] gets the back end when he shows up [to the show]. I’ve seen it [in other situations]. The label tells the artist, ‘You have fees.’ It’s just business. If Gucci owes them $10,000 for bottles or flights or jewelry, they’re gonna take 100% of what’s owed out of the [deposit].”
The most sinister element of the scenario is the fact that it appears Antney/Cabbell continued accepting show deposits throughout much of the Fall 2009, fully knowing that Gucci would not be able to leave the state of Georgia. They allegedly told one promoter that they were simply “hoping” the judge would clear Gucci Mane’s legal obligations.
According to Attorney Gardner, conspiracy to commit federal fraud (which can bring both civil and criminal charges) “involves two or more people coming together to fraudulently take someone’s money.” Accepting deposits and signing contracts for show dates that legally cannot happen is fraud, and money has been wired across state lines, potentially making it a federal offense.
Taking it a step further, Gardner implies that Gucci himself could be liable for criminal fraud charges, even though he didn’t personally sign the contracts. “The state [of Georgia] already has Gucci [imprisoned], and the Feds are licking their chops to get him on something,” notes Gardner, who is also advising his clients to demand that artists personally sign booking contracts in addition to their management. “If you want to hire Gucci Mane, there should be one page with Gucci Mane’s signature saying, ‘I know about this date, and I agree to be there.’ Tie him into it legally.”
Attorney Gardner notes that both he and his client had previous dealings with Deb, before her stint as Gucci Mane’s manager, which were “extremely positive.” So although his client is not currently pursuing criminal charges, Gardner adds, “I wouldn’t play with it [if I were them]. I’d say Johnnie, Deb, and Gucci need to meet and figure out where the money is, [because] any attorney that really wants to spend some time on this could make things interesting for them.”
Even if Gardner’s client chooses not to go that route, it appears that Pittsburgh attorney Jim Cook, who represents promoter William Marshall of B. Marshall Productions, is preparing to “make things interesting” for Deb and Johnnie. Marshall, along with his partner Derrick Brown of Rock Star Entertainment, invested nearly $50,000 for two Gucci Mane dates that never happened. Their pending lawsuit alleges that “[Radric ‘Gucci Mane’] Davis/Cabbell/Antney have continued to book shows, take money from other associates & clients, refuse to return deposits or lost promotion expenses, and reschedule show dates, although they are/were aware that Gucci Mane is not allowed to leave Georgia..thereby committing a state and federal fraud.” In addition to a civil lawsuit on behalf of Marshall, Cook is threatening to turn the case over to the Pennsylvania Attorney General and the FBI for investigation into criminal fraud charges.
In June 2009, Marshall wired $27,500 to Hitt Afta Hitt and So Icey Entertainment to book Gucci Mane for a show on August 22nd, 2009. He also spent an additional $13,500 to begin promoting the show and secure the venue. About a month later, in mid-July, Marshall heard the rumors of Gucci Mane’s imprisonment and immediately contacted Johnnie and Deb, concerned about his $41,000 investment.
On August 5th, Deb and Johnnie assured Marshall both verbally and in a written letter on HAH letterhead (below) that the show was “in good standing” and would proceed. They also offered similar assurances to G. Rowell, an associate of Marshall’s in Washington D.C. who had another upcoming Gucci Mane show. Based on these guarantees, Marshall continued spending money to promote the event. Just two days before the scheduled date, he was notified by Deb that Gucci Mane would not attend. She refused to return his $27,500 deposit or cover any of the $13,500+ he lost promoting the show.
“At no time would Cabbell/Antney explain Gucci Mane’s confinement or restriction or the length thereof, and both were aware that Gucci Mane could not make the Pittsburgh or DC show dates when they issued the letters [on August 5, 2009],” Marshall’s pending lawsuit continues.
Several weeks later, Marshall was issued a new contract for a rescheduled date and guaranteed a video drop to help salvage his reputation in the city. Video and/or audio drops are typically used by promoters on radio or TV commercials to prove to local fans that the show is legitimate (for example, “Hey, this is Gucci Mane, and I’ll be in Pittsburgh on November 7th!”) After two months of waiting for the video drop, which was never received, Gucci was again a no-show for the rescheduled date.
“Why are [they] continuing to book shows and Gucci Mane doesn’t have movement yet?” asked Godfather, during our interview in late October. “What if the judge says no when he goes to court?” It appears Cabbell/Antney continued scheduling dates for Gucci, including Birmingham, AL, Chicago, IL (Nov. 19th), Lakeland, FL (Nov. 28th), and Houston, TX (Dec. 27th), even as he was legally unable to leave the state of Georgia.
And as it turns out, the judge did say “no.” On November 12th, 2009, Gucci was led away in handcuffs from a court hearing and sentenced to twelve months in prison (he may only be required to serve six months; his lawyer, Dwight L. Thomas, is optimistic and told MTV News that Gucci could possibly be released as soon as the first of the year with good behavior).
The second paragraph of Marshall’s contract with Hitt Afta Hitt explicitly states, “In the event that Artist fails to appear, 100% of the show money is guaranteed to be refunded to the Purchaser.” But despite the written guarantee, as of press time, Marshall has not been refunded the $27,500 deposit that Cabbell/Antney have held for over six months, not to mention the money he lost on promotion, the credibility he lost as a promoter, and the money he could’ve made had he invested those funds elsewhere.
Around the same time B. Marshall sent his Pittsburgh deposit, Florida promoter Mr. CC of Mr. CC Productions (right) says he wired $105,000 to the Shannon/Ujaama/Cabbell/Antney collective to secure three consecutive dates on the So Icey Tour - July 4th (Pompano Beach), 5th (Jacksonville), and 6th (Orlando). According to Mr. CC, his contract with Shannon Marshall – who then had contracts in turn with Ujaama, Cabbell, and Antney - stated that the total $55,000 fee was all-inclusive, meaning that CC was not responsible to pay additional travel expenses (OZONE was not able to obtain copies of these contracts and was therefore unable to verify the specifics of the travel arrangements).
On July 4th, says Mr. CC, “I spoke to Shannon the evening of the [first date] and he said [the artists] were on their way.” He never heard from Shannon again and the artists never showed up. Frantic, he tried to contact Ujaama, So Icey, and Hitt Afta Hitt – and the following day, no one showed up for the second date either.
By the time Mr. CC finally got in touch with Johnnie, he says, word had spread that Gucci and co. were no-shows for the tour dates. “[Johnnie] told me the artists didn’t come [to Jacksonville and Pompano Beach] because we didn’t send them travel money,” reveals Mr. CC, who says that his reaction was one of shock. “’Travel?!? My contract doesn’t say anything about travel. It’s all inclusive. It’s stated specifically in our contracts!’ They said my contract [with Shannon] was wrong.”
Johnnie told him the only way to make the Orlando date happen was to send $10,000 – that same day – for travel expenses. To salvage his name, Mr. CC paid the $10,000 immediately and Gucci and OJ did perform in Orlando on July 6th (but no Nicki Minaj – Johnnie refunded Mr. CC only $3,000 for Nicki’s no-show, while during the same timeframe, he was charging promoters upwards of $7,500 to book her). The previous no-shows, CC says, seriously hindered the turn-out. “We lost $30,000 in Orlando,” he sighs, noting that the local crowd didn’t think the artists were coming. “Those other two Florida no-shows directly affected the Orlando date.”
“Johnnie and Deb admitted that they did receive the [deposits] for all three dates. No one ever called me [prior to the shows] about travel [expenses],” insists Mr. CC. “Not once. They had all my information and nobody called me, so I had no idea [that travel was an issue].”
Between the $30,000 loss in Orlando, the $35,000 Jacksonville deposit, the $35,000 Pompano deposit, and an estimated $40,000 he spent securing venues, radio commercials, flyers, and other forms of promotion, Mr. CC calculates his losses to be over $140,000. And on top of that, he alleges that Johnnie personally robbed him of an additional $5,000. “I said, ‘Look, man. I just need those two makeup dates because I’m out a lot of money. I’ll deal with the travel,’” recalls CC. “He said if I sent him a $5,000 [booking fee], he would work it out for me. He didn’t work it out, and now he refuses to refund my $5,000. He’s lost his damn mind, because I’ve never heard of that in my life. Holding money for a booking fee for an event that never happened?”
CC even agreed to pay the additional $10,000 travel fee per date, even though he says it wasn’t included on his initial contract, just for the opportunity to try to recoup some of his losses. “I just want my damn dates!” he exclaims. After months of getting the runaround from Johnnie, who insisted that he would reschedule, the story suddenly changed. “Now he’s blaming it on Ujaama and Shannon. He’s saying, ‘We didn’t get paid for travel, so it’s a breach of contract. We don’t have to give you back your money.’”
“I guess I have to do a lawsuit that includes everybody,” sighs Mr. CC. “I have to go after all of them for my money and let the judge decide who’s gotta pay. Somebody’s gotta pay for damages – potential earnings and the losses I incurred while going through all of this.”
Cabbell told Atlanta newspaper Creative Loafing, which briefly investigated the fraud allegations, “I’ve been doing business since 2002, and I never [before] had a problem with any promoter.” But OZONE found plenty.
“If any promoter deals with [Johnnie Cabbell], [it’s because] they just don’t know. I’m not gonna do business with him ever again. I’m done,” says Mosley. Several promoters didn’t want to speak on the record to avoid “burning bridges” or damage pending dates, but many have a negative impression of Cabbell as a businessman. One word that kept coming up over and over again: “disrespect.” And phrases like, “I just don’t like his attitude.”
At worst, Johnnie Cabbell is conspiring with Debra Antney & co. to commit federal fraud. At the very least, he’s a liar, according to promoter Jesse Peak (left).
“That whole camp is fucked up. Johnnie is someone who continually tells you he’s gonna do something and then doesn’t do it. He promised me 200% support [on my show],” says Peak, who followed up a successful Plies show in Orlando by booking Gucci Mane in New Orleans in May 2009. In early 2009 when he sent a deposit for Plies [to his booking agent Coach], he promptly received a phone call with a voice drop, an email with eight pre-recorded studio drops, and met Plies at a local radio station to film a video drop for promotional TV commercials.
Impressed with Plies’ camp and their professionalism, he then contacted Gucci Mane’s agent expecting the same courtesy. “I told [Johnnie], ‘This is what I expect from you.’ He promised me radio drops as soon as I sent my deposit. They promised video drops so I [paid extra] to book TV commercials,” recalls Peak. But after sending his $21,000 deposit, weeks went by with no response. Finally, HAH directed him to the Mizay/So Icey office, where he also spent several weeks calling with no response.
“Once Johnnie gets your money it’ll be at least a week before he picks up his phone again,” concurs Godfather, who also never received drops for multiple Shawty Lo shows before his attempted Gucci Mane booking. “Johnnie must be busier than damn [Barack] Obama,” snorts Mr. CC. “I have to call eight or ten times before I can get him on the phone, and he’s always ‘busy.’”
According to Peak, his show’s turnout suffered without drops to add credibility to the promotion. “The city of New Orleans thought it was a fake [Gucci show], just some bullshit, because I didn’t have any [drops].” Also, when he brought the balance of $17,500 cash to Gucci Mane’s road manager G-Boy on the day of the show, he was told that he had to pay an additional $3,500 for travel or Gucci Mane would not perform. Peak’s contract does state that he was responsible for travel – however, he claims that So Icey/Hitt Afta Hitt never told him the cost or details of the travel even after repeated calls to their offices inquiring.
Some people have successfully booked shows through Cabbell. “We haven’t booked Gucci Mane, but I haven’t had any issues dealing with Johnnie Cabbell or Hitt Afta Hitt when I’ve booked Shawty Lo through them,” states Amy Jurkofski of Atlanta-based booking agency The Music Group. Tallahassee, FL promoter Willie McKenzie, who booked Gucci Mane to perform at Florida A&M University’s homecoming this past October, received his deposit back (from a third-party booking agency, not Hitt Afta Hitt) when Gucci was unable to perform due to his legal troubles.
If there’s one thing Johnnie has done right, it’s lock down a niche in a previously untapped market. While Hollywood actors and actresses have a wide selection of agencies to choose from and New York-based acts or major pop/R&B artists are often represented by established agencies like the William Morris Agency (WMA), ICM Talent, or Creative Artists Agency (CAA), the recent explosion of Southern rap left a void waiting to be filled. At least in Atlanta, Cabbell helped fill that void by representing many of the smaller acts that sprang up.
“Johnnie came to me for advice on how to do [bookings],” says Coach of Florida-based Direct Connect Entertainment, a reputable agent who has been booking shows for over 15 years. Currently, Coach is Plies’ exclusive booking agent (pictured at left together). “I’m not saying I trained [Johnnie], but I kinda lectured him on the business when he first started out,” Coach recalls. “And as far as what he does [now] I’m not 100% pleased, and he knows that. He’s never put me in a bad position, but I’m hearing stories from other people saying that he has. He’s never done me wrong, I guess because of his respect level for me or because he knows I wouldn’t tolerate that type of behavior.”
Pittsburgh promoter B. Marshall agrees. “[Johnnie] does a lot of deals with dope boys because he knows they won’t go the legal route. He wouldn’t try to pull some of these moves on [someone like well-known Atlanta promoter] Alex [Gidewon of AG Entertainment] because he won’t get away with it.”
Some of Cabbell’s affiliates defend him. “I think [Johnnie’s] reputation comes from being a hard-nosed businessman,” says South Carolina DJ Chuck T. “He’s known for having crazy ass riders… but he’ll bring in one of the lesser-known groups he fucks with and have them open up. So basically you get a good deal on booking artists but at the expense of bringing one of his new artists and paying for their shit.” Marcus “Rip” Rippy, of Hoodrich Entertainment, echoes the same sentiment. “I’ve seen Johnnie at work and I can understand why some people could feel the way they do. But the truth is that he goes hard for his artists. They are his top priority.”
California-based DJ Nik Bean (left) disagrees, arguing that Johnnie’s bad business practices hinder his artists more than help them. Billing himself as “LA’s Mixtape King,” Nik Bean has toured with Cali up-and-comer Glasses Malone and worked with many other West Coast favorites like Daz, Kurupt, and Nipsey Hussle. Prior to the BET Awards in June 2008, Nik says, he contacted Shawty Lo to inquire about doing some work with him as a DJ.
“[The experience] changed my perception of [Shawty Lo],” says Nik, bitterly. “I liked his music but [dealing with Johnnie] made me question him. Like, ‘Why are you doing business with this guy?’ I can’t say anything bad about Lo, but I’m not doing no more business with Johnnie, period, point blank. And I’ll make sure he can’t do business out here [in L.A.].”
As Shawty Lo’s manager, Cabbell asked Nik for a favor. “[Johnnie] was like, “We’re gonna be out there [in L.A.] for the BET Awards. Set something up for me; get me some money,” recalls Nik. “I made some calls and got the ball rolling on a situation for him to make some show money.” As other promoters got involved, Nik sensed things getting too complicated and backed away. “I was supposed to get some money off the show but the situation got too sticky. I saw too many sharks in the tank, so once I realized I was gonna get screwed, I’m not a professional booker, so I just said ‘fuck it.’”
Johnnie agreed to “make the situation right” with Nik by promising him a Shawty Lo verse for his digital album. Shawty Lo got his money for the LA show Nik set up, but Nik never got his verse. “I had everything ready,” recalls Nik. “I had Glasses Malone do the hook, and we put the beat together. We left an open verse for Shawty Lo. The song was custom-made for him, ‘Concerns of A D-Boy,’ right up his lane. Johnnie promised me, ‘I got you. No problem,’ and I assumed that since he’s Shawty Lo’s manager, it was official. I didn’t think people would do business like this; it just didn’t make sense to me. I would think an artist of that caliber would have the sense to have a decent manager.”
After the BET Awards, four months passed. Nik called Johnnie’s phone repeatedly only to hear, “Yo, I’m in a meeting.” “He kept bullshitting me; I heard the same thing four or five times,” says Nik. “I could smell the bullshit from a mile away. How many ‘meetings’ could you have?”
Nik never received the promised verse. “I told Johnnie, ‘Don’t ever come back out here [to L.A.],’” Nik recalls. “It’s not a [physical] threat, but I meant, ‘Don’t try to [break] no records here.’ There’s other people in the game like [him] too. I guess I’m too nice. If I ever get wind of Johnnie trying to work a record out here, best believe I’m gonna try to shut that shit down.” While it might appear a minor incident, Nik felt personally insulted. “I was so mad because I helped him make money in my city. It’s disrespectful and foul.”
Personally, I’ve had my share of problems with Johnnie. The first was a feature I booked for Shawty Lo for an independent label. Johnnie quoted me $10,000 and I set up the deal for $12,000. I sent the record and the paperwork to Johnnie’s email and waited several weeks as he continually assured me that Shawty Lo would get the verse done. When I later learned that Johnnie had contacted the artist directly after seeing their name on the paperwork and charged them $12,000 for the feature, pocketing my commission, I confronted him. He claimed to not know that it was the same feature I had set up – even though I had emailed him the record three weeks prior. I reluctantly gave him the benefit of the doubt and let it slide.
Then, I booked Shawty Lo to host a party at Las Vegas nightclub Prive on a Monday night with Johnnie’s explicit assurance that he would perform two songs from the DJ booth to satisfy the club’s expectations for the event. I was awakened at 5 AM East Coast time on the night of the event to a conference call/screaming match between Johnnie, the club’s manager, and one of the club owners – a huge mess which went on for hours until Shawty Lo calmly took the phone from Johnnie and agreed to fulfill the requirements of the date. Problem solved. The manager is supposed to fix things for the artist – not the other way around.
Diamond, who was a standout member of the group Crime Mob (represented by Cabbell) before launching her solo career, feels that Deb, not Johnnie, is primarily to blame for the bad business. “I’ve heard of [promoters] having situations with Johnnie, but when I was dealing with him, he was about his business. I haven’t had problems with him myself. It’s about 50/50. I know some people that don’t fuck with him and some people that do fuck with him,” says Diamond. “But I don’t deal with Deb at all and I don’t wanna ever deal with Deb. I’ve heard her attitude is fucked up and her business is fucked up. I’ve never heard anybody have anything nice to say about Deb.”
Often confused as Gucci Mane’s “auntie” because of her last name, Debra Antney is actually not a blood relative of the rapper. She is, however, the mother of up and coming So Icey rapper Waka Flocka Flame (pictured at right together). 49-year-old Deb made the unlikely transition from a non-profit organization called Rah Rah’s Village of Hope and popped up on the scene as Gucci Mane’s manager after bonding with him at a charity event a few years ago.
And yet even with a background in non-profit and charity organizations, many people who’ve dealt with her question her integrity. “[Deb] is the ringleader behind the desk,” says Godfather. “She’s got everybody by the nuts. She’s robbing everybody over there [at So Icey/Mizay], and Johnnie is her partner in crime.”
Some evidence appears to corroborate this. Although most of the promoters’ anger is directed at Cabbell, it appears that bad business practices existed in the So Icey/Mizay camp long before Cabbell/HAH got involved in March 2009. A high turnover rate within both entities and poor communication between the two appears to have only complicated the existing problems.
A year ago, in the fall of 2008, Gucci Mane’s asking price was $15,000 plus expenses. Illinois party promoter Yungwaun (left) booked him through So Icey/Mizay for $17,500 plus expenses – a premium rate for a holiday performance. Gucci was scheduled to perform in Rockford, IL on Halloween (October 31st, 2008). Yungwaun sent a $10,000 deposit along with several thousand dollars for travel, secured a venue, and began spending money advertising the show.
“No one ever [contacted me] to let me know that he wouldn’t make the date,” he says. On September 12th, 2008, a month and a half before Yungwaun’s scheduled show, Gucci appeared in court for a probation violation hearing. Various websites reported that Gucci, who had been convicted of assault in 2005 and sentenced to probation, had failed to meet his required community service hours (he was required to serve 50 hours a month and had only clocked in 25 hours over a three year time period). In addition, he had reportedly tested positive for ecstasy, marijuana, and alcohol during a random drug test. The judge revoked one year of his probation and sent him to jail.
Concerned, Yungwaun contacted So Icey/Mizay to find out the status of his show deposit. Severe Green, a So Icey employee, told him that it was not her responsibility to handle his show because the original person he dealt with at the company had already taken a commission and no longer worked there. After repeated inquiries, Severe assured Yungwaun that the show would move forward as planned and advised him to continue promoting, but he was skeptical. “My investor said, ‘No one’s gonna come because [they know] Gucci is locked up,’” says Yungwaun. “It’s all over the internet.”
Two weeks before the scheduled date, he was officially notified that Gucci Mane would not be attending. Naturally, he wanted his money back. But So Icey/Mizay refused to refund Yungwaun’s $10,000 deposit, first claiming that the “force majeure” clause in the contract released them from the obligation. According to Wikipedia, force majeure is “a common clause in contracts which essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, or an event described by the legal term “act of God” (e.g. flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption), prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.” Clearly, Gucci Mane popping pills, smoking weed, failing to do community service, and therefore returning to prison on a probation violation does not qualify as an “act of God” (continues Wikipedia: “force majeure is not intended to excuse negligence or other malfeasance”).
So Icey/Mizay held Yungwaun’s money for over six months. When Gucci Mane was finally scheduled to be released in March 2009, he says, “[Gucci] was so booked up [So Icey] wouldn’t even tell me when he was getting out.” Instead of scheduling a make-up date at his initial contracted price of $17,500, So Icey/Mizay tried to sell him a date for $30,000. “They told me I couldn’t get a date unless I paid the [difference of $12,500],” recalls Yungwaun. “I told them they must be out of their mind, because I had