Chance the Rapper is being sued by his longtime manager Pat Corcoran, who accuses his former client of refusing to pay out over $3 million in unpaid commissions after his firing in April.
According to the complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court of Illinois on Monday, Corcoran alleges that Chance the Rapper (real name Chancelor Bennett) ignored his professional advice in the lead-up to the release of his debut studio album, The Big Day, on July 26, 2019, and subsequently blamed Corcoran for the album’s mixed response, as well as poor ticket sales for the accompanying tour. After Bennett fired Corcoran, Corcoran alleges his requests for more than $3 million in unpaid commissions were denied, with Bennett’s father, Ken Bennett, instead offering a flat sum of $350,000.
Corcoran is suing for breach of contract, violation of the Illinois Sales Representative Act and unjust enrichment, among other counts. He is additionally asking the court to order an accounting of all amounts earned by the Bennetts beginning in Feb. 2013 — the date Corcoran says that Bennett agreed to pay him 15% commission on all touring, merch and album sales, among other income streams — as well as to enforce a sunset clause that will entitle him to future commissions for a three-year post-termination period ending Apr. 25, 2023.
The complaint names as defendants Chance the Rapper, LLC as well as the rapper’s merchandise and touring companies Cool Pop Merch and CTR Touring.
When reached for comment, Bennett’s legal team sent the following statement: “Mr. Corcoran has filed a suit for allegedly unpaid commissions. In fact, Mr. Corcoran has been paid all of the commissions to which he is legally entitled. Most of the complaint consists of self-serving and fabricated allegations that are wholly unrelated to Mr. Corcoran’s claim for commissions and were plainly included in a calculated attempt to seek attention. Those allegations are wholly without merit, are grossly offensive and we will respond to them within the context of the litigation.”
The 20-page suit (read in full here) narrates Corcoran’s years-long relationship with Bennett and his instrumental role in building the rapper’s career beginning in 2012 — a journey that culminated in Bennett’s rise to superstardom and Grammy win for best rap album in 2017 for his mixtape Coloring Book. Throughout, Corcoran asserts his influence in steering Bennett towards eventual fame and fortune, including encouraging the rapper to continue building his brand independently despite overtures from record labels — most notably Sylvia Rhone at Epic Records/Vested in Culture — after Bennett sold out his first headlining show at Lincoln Hall in June 2012. Ultimately, the suit paints a portrait of a dedicated manager frustrated by his superstar client’s alleged self-sabotaging behavior, as well as the eventual implosion of his first proper album release and national tour.
Among the many deals highlighted in the complaint, Corcoran emphasizes his key role in negotiating Coloring Book‘s exclusive release on Apple Music for a two-week period in 2016 — all while allowing Bennett to retain control of his masters. Not only characterized as a savvy deal where “Corcoran and Bennett were able to secure the funds necessary to clear the album,” which included features from Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Young Thug and others, and they were not required to pay any royalties to Apple, the suit also signals it as a “paradigm shift for the music industry” that led to a flood of independent artists carving out successful careers free of label influence.
The complaint additionally draws out Corcoran’s role in building out a mammoth independent merchandising operation for Bennett. Included is the deal Corcoran struck with New Era Cap Company for a Chance the Rapper-branded hat that went on to become one of the best-selling non-sports caps in New Era’s history, resulting in “massive profits” for Bennett and his associates.
Explains the suit: “In a standard merchandising agreement, the artist would simply receive a percentage of sales of the merchandise as a royalty. Corcoran instead negotiated a deal with New Era in which Cool Pop Merch, LLC purchased the hats wholesale and sold them exclusively on chanceraps.com. This approach resulted in increased upfront risk for the business, but also resulted in massive profits when demand for the hat skyrocketed. The Chance ‘3’ hat, quickly became and still remains one of New Era’s best-selling hats ever produced that is not affiliated with a major sports team.”
The relationship between Bennett and Corcoran began to show cracks in Feb. 2019, when Corcoran alleges the rapper failed to consult him before publicly announcing he would be releasing The Big Day that July. He claims Bennett subsequently ignored his reservations about producing an album in such a short amount of time (particularly in light of Bennett’s upcoming wedding scheduled for that March) and instead forged ahead with recording sessions that Corcoran describes as “unproductive and undisciplined.”
“Procrastination and lackadaisical effort, perpetuated by various hangers-on uninterested in the hard work of writing and recording, resulted in a freestyle-driven product of sub-par quality, a complete deviation from the meticulous writing process the brought Bennett fame for his wordplay and wit,” the complaint reads.
Though The Big Day ultimately debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics, the complaint characterizes the album as a disappointment overall, citing it as “Chance’s least popular project to date” that “deliver[ed] a blow” to Corcoran and Bennett’s reputations.
It is that cool reception from fans, the suit claims, which ultimately led to the cancellation of a 30-city tour Corcoran had planned behind the much-anticipated album. Estimated to gross between $25 and $35 million early on, low ticket sales and poor attendance projections eventually led Corcoran to recommend that Bennett cancel the tour and “use the time to regroup and refocus.” Bennett postponed the tour just days before it was set to kick off in Sept. 2019 before canceling it altogether that December.
A chunk of the complaint is dedicated to Corcoran’s fraught relationship with Bennett’s father and brother, Ken and Taylor Bennett, who exerted increasing influence over the direction of the rapper’s career around The Big Day‘s release. Corcoran states that while a merch strategy had been in place “for months” prior to the album’s release, it was thwarted at the last minute by Taylor, who put the brakes on the rollout and thereby halted the production and fulfillment of pre-sale orders.
The relationship only grew more strained from there, with Corcoran claiming that Ken and Taylor (“despite having little or no experience in the music industry”) began steering Bennett’s career in a direction that conflicted with the manager’s vision. Instead of following Corcoran’s advice to keep a lower profile and focus on songwriting and recording, under the direction of the Bennetts, the rapper instead made “monetizing every available promotional opportunity” a priority, including appearances on talk shows such as Ellen, Good Morning America and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. “These appearances only served to exacerbate the failure of The Big Day,” Corcoran concludes.
Following the tour’s cancellation — and after Ken and Taylor allegedly “eroded” Bennett’s confidence in Corcoran — the manager says Bennett blamed him for the relative failure of the Big Day album and tour “rather than accept that his own lack of dedication had doomed the project.” Corcoran was ultimately fired on Apr. 27, 2020 after eight years.
After “months of contentious interactions” with the Bennetts over unpaid commissions, Corcoran says he eventually presented them with a list of all commissions owed from streaming and sales of album releases and singles as well as proceeds from touring and merchandise. He claims that in response, Ken Bennett offered a lump sum of $350,000, in violation of Corcoran and Bennett’s longstanding agreement giving Corcoran a 15% commission on net profits.
“Despite months of outreach and efforts at reconciliation,” the complaint concludes, “Bennett has refused to pay Corcoran the amounts Corcoran is fairly owed under the parties’ long-standing agreement and well-settled course of conduct.”