Jun 7, 2024 3 min read

Universal wants Tupac ‘Dear Mama’ rights dispute dismissed

Producer Master Tee last year claimed that he wrote and produced 1993 Tupac track ‘Dear Mama’, but was denied his credit and copyright as a result of the devious tactics of another producer, Tony D Pizzaro. Defendants had agreed to mediation, but now say Master Tee is making unreasonable demands

Universal wants Tupac ‘Dear Mama’ rights dispute dismissed

Universal Music has begun the process of seeking dismissal of a lawsuit filed over who wrote and controls the publishing in the 1995 Tupac Shakur track ‘Dear Mama’. 

The litigation had been paused to allow mediation. However, the major says the producer behind the lawsuit - Terence Thomas aka Master Tee - is now being unreasonable in his demands, so it wants to restart the proceedings so it can file a formal motion for dismissal. 

Universal record label Interscope and Universal Music Publishing are named as defendants in the case, alongside some other music publishers, various media companies involved in the 2023 ‘Dear Mama’ documentary TV series, and producer Tony D Pizzaro. The dispute is really a beef between Thomas and Pizzaro relating to events that allegedly happened in the 1990s. 

In a new letter to the court, Universal says that it agreed to take the dispute to mediation after Thomas’s lawyer said his client simply wanted “formal credit” for his involvement in writing and producing ‘Dear Mama’ and “a modest writer’s royalty”. But then an email arrived proposing either a “$1.6 million cash settlement” or “a $200,000 cash settlement, an award of a 15% writer’s royalty for ‘Dear Mama’ and a doubling of his producer royalty”. 

That proposal, insists Universal, is “pure fantasy”, adding that “a 15% writer’s royalty would be nearly twice the Shakur estate’s 8.33% royalty”. 

Thomas claims that he “co-wrote, produced and published” the music in ‘Dear Mama’ in 1993, which then prompted Shakur to write the lyrics in “a single one hour epiphany”. His lawsuit, filed last year, includes a note allegedly handwritten by Shakur at the end of his 1993 recording sessions which lists Thomas as producer of the track. 

However, Thomas says, he was never properly credited because Pizarro - then an “upstart music producer” - “conspired with executives at Interscope Records and Universal Music” to hide his involvement, allowing Pizarro to claim the credit and glory. 

Then, the lawsuit continues, “having stolen from Master Tee the provenance of what became one of the most iconic pieces of hip hop culture”, Pizarro “catapulted himself and engineered his grand reputation” within the music business. 

Core to Universal’s motion for dismissal - when it is filed - will be the argument that Thomas has left it far too long to start squabbling over his role in creating a track that was released in 1995. 

Thomas claims that all the devious stuff involving Pizarro and Interscope happened while Shakur was in jail and he had no knowledge of what was going on. It was only after watching the ‘Dear Mama’ documentary series that he discovered what had happened. 

He also says he was receiving royalties from collecting society BMI in relation to his work with Shakur and, being a “relatively unsophisticated producer”, didn't realise that he had been frozen out of other income generated by ‘Dear Mama’. 

But Universal argues that, by Thomas’s own admission, “Pizarro has touted himself as the writer of ‘Dear Mama’ for years”. Indeed, Thomas’s lawsuit notes how “Pizarro took every opportunity possible in public forums, websites, social media, Pizarro’s own public relations forums and interviews to lay claim to every aspect of the written creative work associated with ‘Dear Mama’”. Therefore Thomas should have been aware of and dealt with this dispute decades ago. 

Universal’s letter also says that the mediation process will be more expensive than simply filing a motion for dismissal, and it doesn’t want to incur those costs given Thomas’s unreasonable demands. Plus Pizarro himself has not yet been involved in the legal back and forth, and it’s not even clear that he has been served legal papers. Given Thomas says Pizarro is “the real wrongdoer”, it's hard to see how the case can be settled without his involvement. 

To that end, Universal asks the court to “vacate the standstill order” that paused Thomas’s litigation, so it can file its motion for dismissal.

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