Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In Defense of Pebbles

On October 15, VH1 aired their highly anticipated biopic CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, chronicling the successes, trials, and tribulations of the highest selling female R&B group of all time that consists of T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli.  From 1992 to 2003, the group has sold over 23 million records, ten top ten singles, four number one singles, five grammys, and made every girl at one time or another learn the choreography to at least one of their videos.  In ten years, the group had faced a myriad of adversity which not only made for good television, but a story of perseverance.  
Every good movie needs a memorable antagonist.  Since the movie first aired two weeks ago, there has been lots of talk, jokes, and memes vilifying Perri “Pebbles” Ried, platinum selling artist who was married to co-owner of LaFace records Antonio “LA” Ried (Giving You the Benefit was my favorite song in 1991).  Pebbles founded and managed TLC.  While that’s all well and good, she has caught a lot of backlash over the last seventeen years since T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli first publicly announced that they were still broke in the midst of selling ten million albums. Pebbles has been the one to blame because of a contract that was fiscally fruitful for her, and took advantage of TLC. 

In 1991, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest let the world know about industry rule no. 4080: record company people are shady.  The fact is that TLC’s contract was industry standard.  On VH1’s Behind the Music, Left-Eye gave an intricate breakdown of how a group can sell ten million albums and still be broke.  For every album sold, TLC made $.56 per album.  5.6 million dollars is a lot of money.  Record companies give an advance for production costs, videos, marketing, promotions, and anything that may come along with making an album.  The record company is Sallie Mae that gives an artist (at the time) a three million dollar loan.  Before TLC or any artist can even touch a dollar, the company must recoup their money first.   
Two and a half million dollars gets cut in half because of the tax bracket, and the rest of the money gets split three ways.  With that three hundred thousand dollars the artist still has to pay their manager about 20%, an accountant, their lawyer, their babysitter, and whoever else. That’s how one can be broke.  If you think splitting that one million three ways is tough, how do you think Wu-Tang feels having to split that nine ways?  I’ll tell you the answer: it’s why they haven’t released an album in a very long time. 
Something else to take into consideration about how TLC was compensated for the sales of their albums is that they didn’t write a lot of their big hits on those first two albums.  If they did, they would have received a larger piece of the pie.  However as a rapper, Left-Eye did write her parts on songs like Waterfalls.  That’s why she was so upset and ready to go solo.  Makes sense, right? 
The other outcry against Pebbles is that she made TLC pay three million dollars for the rights to their name.  That’s what the name was worth.  The record company owns the rights to a name.  It’s why Snoop Dogg is no longer Snoop Doggy Dogg and why Prince changed his name to a symbol that no one could pronounce.  Unlike the aforementioned examples, TLC’s name was so much a part of their identity that it would not be good for business to change their name.  T-Boz, Left-Eye, Chilli just doesn’t have the same tongue-in-cheek ring to it as TLC.  Freedom isn’t free and it wasn’t until TLC had the leverage of selling all of those albums that they could do so in the first place. 
Now, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a good thing.  It sucks.  It’s unfortunate that this happened to TLC; but it’s happened to almost every artist ever.  The practices of the music business are Machiavellian in the truest sense: deceitful and dishonest.  There are parts of contracts in play in from fifty years ago that make no sense in the digital age other than to keep more money for the company. Your favorite singer/rapper/band/group/instrumentalist more than likely started off with a contract just like TLC’s.  Once they were successful, they had leverage to renegotiate or made almost all of their money by touring (where artists make their money), or some great investments. Pebbles gave TLC a raw deal and made out like a bandit: a bad contract, she got money for being the manager, and the wife of the owner of the label they were signed to.  That’s corporate interest.  That’s business.


  1. Business 101. Class dismissed!

    1. I didn't write this one :) Chad did, thank you ladies for visiting! xo