The widow of Ol’ Dirty Bastard sued Wu-Tang Clan Productions on Tuesday, alleging that the late rapper’s estate is owed at least $1 million in unpaid royalties.
ODB, whose legal name was Russell Tyrone Jones, was a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, the rap group that catapulted to stardom in the early 1990s. He died of a drug overdose in 2004 at the age of 35.
His widow, Icelene Jones, alleges in the lawsuit that Wu-Tang Clan Productions did not pay royalties to the estate from 2011 until July 2021, when it sent a check for $130,000. Robert Diggs, better known as RZA, owns and operates Wu-Tang Clan Productions, and is ODB’s cousin. The estate also received some payments in 2019 and 2020 from Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., but the suit alleges that the combined payments are just a fraction of what is owed.
The suit alleges that Jones’ estate has repeatedly sought accountings and payments over the last decade, but that no detailed accounting statements have been provided.
The complaint cites a 1992 recording agreement, under which ODB was to be paid 50% of net earnings on the publishing of his copyrighted songs. The members of the group were also to split 50% of net earnings from the sound recordings. The suit alleges the estate is also owed royalties on merchandising and videos.
The suit was filed in New York Supreme Court. It alleges breach of contract, and seeks damages of at least $1 million, plus interest, attorneys’ fees and costs.
The estate is represented by Brian D. Caplan of Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt LLC.
Update, Feb. 9: The estate has issued a statement in response to some media accounts of the suit, in which the estate seeks to clarify that the $1 million figure is a placeholder, and does not represent a precise accounting of the amount owed.
“Wu-Tang Productions, Inc., owned by Wu-Tang member Robert Diggs (RZA) has willfully refused to compensate or provide accounting records to the Estate of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, despite being contractually obligated,” the estate’s media representative said. “The Estate will randomly receive partial checks such as the one sent for $130,000 in July of 2021 from Wu-Tang Productions but without financial records, we have no indication of the exact amount the Estate is still owed. It is crucial to understand that ODB’s widow and Administrator of the Estate Icelene Jones has been requesting these financial records for years and has a legal obligation to do so. This is not an attack on Wu-Tang Productions, Inc., but a last legal resort we have had to pursue after being denied and ignored on this matter for over ten years.”