A south suburban DJ who “discovered” Kanye West is now suing the controversial musician’s record label over unreleased recordings he handed over as part of a settlement over 10 years ago.
Eric “E-Smoove” Miller, a Grammy-nominated producer from Richton Park, filed the lawsuit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court. The suit accuses Universal Music Group and its subsidiaries Def Jam Recordings and Island Records of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent inducement and violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.
Miller said he first met West in 1994 when the rapper/producer’s mother, Donda West, brought the young talent to Miller’s Crestwood recording studio. According to Miller, he soon became West’s mentor.
West was working with Miller’s record label, Focus Music Group, when he recorded the ten tracks in question, which Miller previously owned, according to the lawsuit.
In 2005, West filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that sought to ban Miller from using his name or voice in connection with the tracks, as well as $1.3 million, according to the Associated Press. Miller then countersued West seeking over $10 million and additional profits from the recordings.
On July 18, 2008, Island Def Jam Music Group finalized a settlement agreement between Miller, West and Rock the World LLC., a production company that has represented West, according to Miller and the suit. When they settled, Miller turned over the unreleased recordings to Island Def Jam, which confirmed that the tracks were “technically satisfactory for commercial distribution” and agreed to return them to Miller if they weren’t released by Dec. 31, 2008.
As part of the agreement, Island Def Jam agreed to give 20 percent of the net profits to Miller if the songs were released, while 30 percent would be paid to Rock the World on behalf of West, the suit says.
Island Def Jam told Miller in 2009 that the recordings wouldn’t be released because the label was unable to get approval to use certain songs that were sampled by West, according to the suit, which calls Island Def Jam’s stated reason for shelving the project “preposterous.”
“Island Def Jam is a pioneering label in sample clearance and clearing samples is a routine function of releasing Kanye West albums, as well as hundreds of other releases in the Island Def Jam catalog,” the suit says.
Miller’s attorney then sought relief from the federal court in Illinois’ Northern District, but a judge ruled that the matter was outside of the court’s jurisdiction due to the dismissal of the suit outlined in the settlement agreement, according to the suit.
Miller said he filed the suit on Monday because the agreement’s statute of limitations was set to expire at the start of the new year. He is seeking a trial by jury, an undecided amount of compensatory and punitive damages and reimbursement for his legal fees and costs, the suit says.
Miller claimed the unreleased tracks are unique because of “the frame of mind that [Kanye] was in.”
“You can’t go back there,” Miller said. “You can’t be trying to get signed, starving — well, he wasn’t starving because he lived a middle class life — but from an artist standpoint he was starving.”
“After you’ve had the success and the fame and all that stuff, you can never get that energy back,” according to Miller, who said he has no specific plans to release the recordings should the court rule in his favor.
Prior to the settlement agreement, Miller remembers meeting with West and Jay-Z, the former president of Def Jam whose real name is Shawn Carter. Miller recounted that Carter said the unreleased recordings were “hope to all of those aspiring emcees.”
Universal Music Group and West’s management team didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. West is not named in the suit.