New York appeals court rejects lawsuit against record label over Remy Ma shooting

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NY court axes suit vs. label over Remy Ma shooting

NEW YORK — To the woman shot in a dispute over money with rapper Remy Ma, her wounds are the product of the artist’s thuggish persona and a music industry that promoted it.

But an appeals court Tuesday rebuffed her effort to hold Remy Ma’s former record label accountable for the 2007 shooting, which sent the Grammy Award-nominated rapper to prison. The court noted that a Universal Music Group Inc. affiliate had severed ties with the rapper before the shooting.

The lawsuit is one of several that have tried to take record companies to task for the misdeeds of rappers who cultivate an outlaw image.

Remy Ma, nominated for a Grammy as part of the Terror Squad’s 2004 hit “Lean Back,” was convicted of assault and other charges in the shooting of acquaintance Makeda Barnes-Joseph outside a nightclub.

They and others had been celebrating the hip-hop artist’s birthday, but the evening turned ugly when she accused Barnes-Joseph of taking $2,000 from her purse. Barnes-Joseph denied it, and the rapper ultimately went through Barnes-Joseph’s bag without finding the money, according to court documents.

At Remy Ma’s trial, her lawyer said the gun went off accidentally as the women struggled. The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Remy Smith, is serving an eight-year sentence.

Barnes-Joseph’s lawyer, Lauren Raysor, argues that the real-life violence reflected the image Remy Ma projected in songs laced with references to guns — and that the record companies groomed her tough persona for profit.

“Possessing a violent disposition, advocating violence and hatred and the ability to be vulgar were all a part of (Remy Ma’s) job requirements,” Raysor wrote in court papers.

Universal noted that the rapper was released from her contract nine months before the shooting and said the incident had nothing to do with her work.

“This event, this assault, was clearly undertaken for personal reasons only,” a lawyer for Universal, Ross P. Masler, told a panel of state Supreme Court Appellate Division judges last month.

Pointing to the contract release, the judges upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss Barnes-Joseph’s case against Universal and various affiliates. She is still pursuing claims against Remy Ma and the nightclub and seeks roughly $100 million in damages.

Lawyers for the rapper and the club declined to comment. Masler didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday.

Raysor said she was disappointed in the ruling, suggesting that the label’s relationship with Remy Ma had more facets than the contract alone. The rapper was still listed among artists on some Universal websites even after her conviction, according to court papers; company executives said the lists weren’t always kept updated.

Rappers have long faced questions about the border between chronicling violence and celebrating it, and several have contended with criminal charges and lawsuits over their behavior.

Some previous lawsuits have tried to link the artists’ record labels to their conduct.

In one example, the mother of a teenager threatened by rapper Tony Yayo — who pleaded guilty in 2008 to harassing the youth, a recording rival’s son — included record companies in a lawsuit over the incident. The suit said the companies encouraged him to live out a “gangsta” image.

The portions of the case concerning the companies were dismissed. Yayo has contested the allegations against him.

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