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Kodak Black Is Headed to Capitol — He Just Has to Release Some More Records With Atlantic First

The "Super Gremlin" rapper plans to drop Kutthroat Bill: Vol 1 later this month.

Kodak Black is headed for Capitol Records — he just has to fulfill his obligations to his current label, Atlantic Records, first. That’s according to sources familiar with the situation, who note that Black still has two releases left under his agreement with Atlantic. 

The rapper’s eventual move follows last month’s announcement that Orlando Wharton — who previously signed Black to Atlantic — had joined Capitol as executive vp and president of the relaunched Priority Records. Wharton starts the new role early next year.

Representatives for Atlantic and Capitol declined to comment. 

Black released his major-label debut album through Atlantic Records in 2017, and has scored 34 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 to date, including “Super Gremlin,” a solo cut that climbed to No. 3 last year. When he moves to Capitol, he will be one of the biggest active artists on the label’s roster.

While Black has enjoyed commercial success, he has also faced a series of charges for sexual assault, drugs, robbery and weapons. The rapper was sentenced to 46 months in prison on federal weapons charges in 2019; former president Donald Trump later commuted that sentence on his last day in office. During a sexual misconduct case last year — Black was accused of sexually assaulting a high school student following a 2016 show — the rapper pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and battery.

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While Black’s decision to eventually leave the label where he built his career is notable, entertainment attorneys say it’s not unusual for artists to start having conversations with potential new label partners once they enter into the final stretch of their current recording contract. Recording agreements are typically structured so that an artist is required to deliver a certain amount of music during an initial contract period. Labels can then usually choose to pick up an “option” (they have a set amount of months to mull over the decision), which triggers the release of another advance payment and recording budget for the artist to put towards the next project for that company. If the label decides not to pick up the option, it ends its relationship with the artist. 

Historically, managers note, it was common for artists to sign longer-term deals — what the industry likes to call a “one plus four” or “one plus five,” meaning that the label was able to exercise four or five options and potentially keep the artist under contract for many years. Recently, in a world where acts are increasingly able to generate streams on their own without help from a label, the balance of power in some deals has shifted. 

It’s more common now to hear about buzzing artists signing a “one plus one,” or even a deal for one album with no options attached, if an act has a lot of streaming momentum. Fewer options means that acts who are unhappy with their record company don’t need to stay with that partner for long if the relationship sours. Matt Buser, a music industry lawyer, says “it’s rough when an artist gets locked in with a team that has lost its appeal, or if the artist loses their champion in the building due to lateral movement or termination — that’s one reason why we try to keep the option number low in negotiations.” 

When artists start to search for a new partner while still working with an old one, managers and lawyers alike say they usually try to keep these conversations discreet. If an artist still has music to deliver under his current agreement, but he’s flaunting the fact that he’s hunting for a fresh deal, “depending on the circumstances, it might undermine the enthusiasm of his current label to market and promote that last project,” according to Larry Katz, a veteran entertainment attorney. 

There are other political reasons for an artist not to upset a record company before his or her contract is up. A label that feels spurned, for example, might decide to classify an artist’s project as a mixtape rather than an album, according to one manager. That seemingly small decision around nomenclature could mean that the act then has to turn in another entire project, depending on the terms of his or her contract, to fulfill recording obligations. (Debates over what constitutes an album and what constitutes a mixtape are more prevalent in hip-hop than in other genres.)

In addition, lawyers say that some artists make another mistake when they are gearing up to switch labels: They turn in the final album required by their contract and then immediately begin to record music in anticipation of a new deal elsewhere. But many exclusive recording agreements extend for nine to 12 months past the date that the last album was delivered or released — meaning songs that artists cut during this period still belong to their previous label partner. (Contract terms vary, of course, and stars have a lot of negotiating power, which gives them more latitude.)

“Artists may not be aware that in most record deals, the recording services remain exclusive during the entire term, and there’s often a period of time in between the release of the last project and the end of that exclusive term,” Katz says. “If you’re not careful, anything you record during that period is owned by the old label.” 

Black released his fourth official album under his Atlantic deal, Back for Everything, in February. According to the rapper’s Instagram posts, he is now planning to release a follow-up, Kutthroat Bill: Vol 1, on Oct. 28.