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Wife of late Wu-Tang Clan rapper ODB accuses the iconic group’s production company of taking advantage of him in explosive lawsuit

February 12, 2022, 11:00 AM UTC

Rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard had an important request for his wife before he died in 2004.

The late Russell Jones, also referred to as ODB, believed that he wasn’t getting his fair share of royalties from his work with Wu-Tang Clan, the influential hip-hop group he co-founded in 1992 with other rap luminaries including Method Man, GZA, and his cousin Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, who performs under the stage name RZA.

“‘Get to the bottom of it, fight for my royalties and don’t let them get away with it.’” Icelene Jones, ODB’s widow, recalls her husband saying. “He knew he was going to pass away.”

As administrator of  ODB’s estate, Jones believes that the group’s recording and production company, Wu-Tang Productions, has taken advantage of the late rapper. Earlier this week, she filed a complaint in the New York Supreme Court against the company, alleging that it had shortchanged ODB’s estate on royalty payments from at least 2011 through July 2021. 

“So that’s one of the things that he wanted us to do,” Jones said. “Everything that me and my children are doing, we’re fighting for things that my husband could not.” 

Icelene Jones and Ol' Dirty Bastard, circa 1990.
Icelene Jones and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, circa 1990.
Courtesy of The Estate of Ol’ Dirty Bastard

Messiah Jacobs, the manager of the ODB’s estate, said that Jones “was forced to do litigation only because she couldn’t get the information requested or get the payments requested” from Wu-Tang Productions. 

Because of the withheld financial information, the estate says it doesn’t know exactly how much it’s owed. Occasionally, Wu-Tang Productions would send the estate a royalty check, like one from July 2021 for $130,000. But the estate said it doesn’t know whether that’s the amount of money it’s legally owed.

In its lawsuit, ODB’s estate said that it seeks at least $1 million in damages from Wu-Tang Productions, but Jacobs said that figure is just a placeholder that will likely change once the estate can “get into the numbers.”

The Wu-Tang Clan members have recorded 100 studio albums — nine as a group and the rest as solo artists—and sold nearly 40 million records worldwide. The group’s third album, The W, was #1 on the Billboard 200 in the U.K. and Ireland, and #5 in the U.S. In 2015, Wu-Tang Clan released a single copy of its final album, Once Upon A Time in Shaolin, that broke records as the most expensive piece of music ever sold at $2 million. And in 2018, its debut album from 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was certified as triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.    

Wu-Tang Clan didn’t break up as much as its members mostly switching to pursue solo careers. Wu-Tang rapper Lamont Jody Hawkins, also known as U-God, cited infighting between group members and money disputes as factors.  

The lawsuit is the latest dispute against Wu-Tang Productions by former members of the group. In 2009, for instance, Dennis “Ghostface Killah” Coles, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, won a judgment against the company for over $150,000 in unpaid royalties.

ODB died at age 35 in 2004 of an accidental drug overdose, leaving behind three children and naming his wife as his estate’s sole administrator. 

In regard to the lawsuit’s timing, Jones says that it had been “a long time coming,” and that she has an obligation to herself and her children to act. 

Complicating matters is that Wu Tang Clan Productions is owned and operated by Diggs, ODB’s cousin. But Jones said that even when there is a family relationship, you can still say “no more.” 

“To me, we’ve been pushed to the limit, and we tried so hard to work with what we had,” Jones told Fortune. “I’m pushed to the corner like a rat and I have to come out fighting. I have to. I can’t keep my mouth shut. I’m looking at my children and myself and the other children of the estate and I can’t keep not doing anything.” 

In comments to news site Page Six, Diggs called the lawsuit “unfortunate” and alleged that ODB’s share of the royalties is “dismal,” or small. 

However, Jacobs, the estate’s manager, disputed Diggs’ claims, calling them “speculation,” adding that it’s unclear whether ODB’s share of the group’s royalties is negligible. The lawsuit claims the group’s 1992 recording contract says that ODB is entitled to 50% of royalties from Wu-Tang’s catalog along with Dennis “Ghostface Killah” Coles, Corey “Raekwon” Woods, and Gary Earl “GZA” Grice and no less than 50% of net royalties from the use of his likeness or image, according to the court documents.

“It’s also unclear how one of the most successful bands in hip hop, and in history, would not have recouped on their albums,” Jacobs told Fortune.  

[This headline was updated after publication to clarify that the lawsuit is against the Wu-Tang production company, not the group itself as a legal entity.]

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