In “Caught Their Eyes,” one of the tracks on JAY-Z’s new album, 4:44, the rapper calls out a figure now at the center of controversy surrounding the Prince estate: Prince’s former attorney and former estate advisor L. Londell McMillan.
McMillan, who worked as Prince’s lawyer and business partner for more than a decade and now serves as a business advisor to three of Prince’s heirs, had been advising the estate’s special administrator in November when the estate sued the parent company of JAY-Z’s streaming service Tidal, along with his company Roc Nation, for copyright infringement. Tidal was the only streaming service offering Prince’s catalog after the pop star died last April, and argued in court filings that it had Prince’s blessing to do so. Despite his wariness of other streaming services, Prince had given Tidal explicit permission to stream his 2015 album HITNRUN Phase One exclusively for 90 days in 2015. The estate inked licensing deals with other streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music earlier this year, and its suit against JAY-Z’s companies is ongoing.
On the track, JAY-Z rhymes: “I sat down with Prince, eye to eye/ He told me his wishes before he died / Now, Londell McMillan, he must be color blind/ They only see green from them purple eyes.”
He continues: “This guy had ‘slave’ on his face/ You think he wanted the masters with his masters?/ You greedy bastards sold tickets to walk through his house/ I’m surprised you ain’t auction off the casket.”
McMillan told Billboard: “I like the beat, but I wonder who he thinks helped Prince to take ‘slave’ off of his face. It was a homie Jay Z grew up with in the same neighborhood, Londell McMillan.”
McMillan started working with Prince in the 90s when the singer would appear in public with the word “slave” scrawled on his face to protest the terms of his record contract with Warner Music Group. He added that he was not responsible for turning Prince’s Paisley Park estate into a commercial venture.
According to an explanation on Genius.com, Tidal was “granted exclusive streaming rights to Prince’s catalog of music” in 2015, with Prince saying in a statement at the time that Tidal’s team members “recognize and applaud the effort that real musicians put into their craft 2 achieve the very best they can at this pivotal time in the music industry.”
Though McMillan hasn’t been advising the estate since Comerica Bank & Trust took over as the estate’s administrator in February, he is also at the eye of a storm surrounding the $31 million deal he negotiated with Universal Music Group for the rights to Prince’s “vault” of unreleased tunes and other recorded music. Universal is pressing for a refund on the deal due to ambiguity surrounding whether its agreement conflicts with Prince’s 2014 deal with Warner Music Group– even after a recent call on which McMillan attempted to convince UMG to stick with the agreement, sources tell Billboard.
McMillan and his co-advisor Charles Koppelman earned a combined $3.1 million commission on the UMG deal, which was approved by the court and by the estate’s former administrator, Bremer Trust, and its lawyers.
If the judge moves to rescind the deal, it isn’t clear whether he will order McMillan and Koppelman to return their commissions on it — a decision that Koppelman’s attorneys have argued should be made separately. McMillan still wields influence over the estate through his role as a business advisor to Prince’s half-brother, John Nelson, and his half-sisters Sharon and Norrine Nelson.