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Superstar Pride Stays Independent, as ‘Painting Pictures’ Sample Issue Clears Up

The song, which was removed from Spotify over a rights issue, is back up, while the Mississippi MC has decided to remain with UnitedMasters for now.

Superstar Pride’s breakout hit “Painting Pictures” has been one of music’s early success stories so far in 2023, as the song — part of the Mississippi MC’s 5 LBs of Pressure EP that was originally released last October — stormed onto the Billboard Hot 100, debuting at No. 99 in the week ending Feb. 25, before leaping to No. 35 the following week and No. 25 last week, reaching No. 7 on the Streaming Songs chart.

The song’s viral success — fueled in part by TikTok — caused a stir, with multiple labels coming in with offers to sign the rising rapper, who had originally uploaded the EP through independent distributor and services company UnitedMasters, launched five years ago by industry entrepreneur and Translation founder/CEO Steve Stoute.

But then, just as the song was beginning to reach new heights and seemingly poised to soar into the upper echelon of the charts, its momentum was briefly halted: The song’s production — which samples the Faith Evans song “Soon As I Get Home,” released in 1995 by Bad Boy/Arista Records — was flagged by Sony Music Publishing for not being properly cleared. The song was removed from Spotify for two days and some versions were also taken down from YouTube, though it remained available on Apple Music, Amazon Music and YouTube Music. The issue in part contributed to a 29% drop in U.S. streams over the prior week, from 14 million to 10 million, and “Painting Pictures” came in at No. 62 on the Hot 100 this week. (While the drop in placement on the Hot 100 is partially due to the streaming hiccup, the strong performance of Morgan Wallen’s new album One Thing at a Time saw its songs flood the Hot 100, meaning a placement jump would have been difficult regardless.)


That sample issue has now been cleared up, Stoute told Billboard this weekend. According to Stoute, Bad Boy chief Sean “Diddy” Combs, who also co-wrote and co-produced “Soon As I Get Home,” met Superstar Pride and “loved him,” and subsequently cleared the Faith Evans sample, paving the way for the song’s return to Spotify. Additionally, Stoute confirmed that Superstar Pride has decided to stick with UnitedMasters and remain independent for now, despite strong interest from major labels to sign him.

Now, Stoute and his UnitedMasters team are focused on restarting the song’s momentum, with a video to be shot this week and a radio campaign that is now underway. In the past week, sales increased a modest 15% and radio airplay jumped significantly, up 270% week over week to 3.1 million in audience, according to Luminate.

“This video, more playlisting support, radio, that’s the next step to making a top 10 record,” Stoute told Billboard in a conversation last week. “It’s a phenomenal song that has been growing like wildfire. This seismic growth, I haven’t seen anything like this since Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road,’ or something like that. It’s been pretty crazy when you look at the steep, hockey stick growth curve. But I give credit to the platform for being able to allow artists like Superstar Pride the opportunity to put music out, be able to track his performance and have the confidence that he’s distributing music and it’s in good hands.”


Superstar Pride originally uploaded the song on his own through UnitedMasters, before the company started to track its growth and reached out to offer support with playlisting and the TikTok campaign that eventually pushed it onto the Billboard charts. But Stoute sees the song’s success as stemming from its inherent quality — and as further evidence as to how the industry is changing.

“I think the artist should always own their music, because the biggest lift in all of this is the work that they did, which is making the song,” Stoute says. “There’s nothing a record company or anyone can do to make a non-hit a hit. And if the artist has a hit, in today’s music business, it’s less about what a record company can do and more about, how can you support the artist and what they want to do? It’s not like we have this magic silver-bullet idea that the artist doesn’t understand. What are your marketing ideas? What do you believe in? We’ll give you money and support to help accentuate what you believe in. And that’s why [artists] also get a lion’s share of the revenue — because it’s you. With the old record business, they didn’t respect that. The old record business was, ‘You make the song, and we’ll take it from here.’”


Since Stoute launched UnitedMasters in 2018, the music business at large has seen a shift as more services-oriented companies have come into the industry, and some established players shifted their business models toward a more distribution-and-services offering, giving artists more choices to chart their paths than the traditional record label model, while even the majors have increased their distribution offerings to reflect the reality of the marketplace. UnitedMasters, through Stoute’s sister company Translation, has marketed itself as an option with more brand services offerings to artists than its competitors; Translation represents clients such as the NFL, NBA, AT&T and State Farm, among others. But its path towards success also lies within the broader shifts in the industry.

“[The indie path] is much bigger than a cottage industry that is an alternative for people who can’t get a record deal; this is actually a solution that empowers the artist,” Stoute says. “[Superstar Pride’s success] is just another example of an independent artist finding tremendous success without the need to give up his rights, and ownership of his rights, to a record company. And the more successes that are happening like this much more frequently, the more people are seeing that the record companies are nothing more than just banks.”