Dru Hill, the Baltimore-based R&B; quartet whose self-titled debut has already sold more than a million copies, is no stranger to having hits. Being hit is another issue entirely, however, and the group is asking to be released from its contract with Island Records over fears of physical violence at the hands of Island Black Music President Hiriam Hicks.
According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Dru Hill was subjected to incidents of "coercion and intimidation" by agents of Island Records. Moreover, the complaint alleges that on May 18, Hicks made "a violent, unprovoked and life-threatening physical attack" Keith Ingram, one of the group's managers.
In the complaint, the group asks for immediate release from its contract with Island, as well as $9 million in damages and $46 million in punitive damages.
Officials at Island Records declined to speak to The Sun about the case. "We don't comment on pending litigation," said John Vlautin, a spokesman for Island Records.
A statement issued by the label on July 25, however, ridiculed Dru Hill's complaint, dismissing the allegations as "outrageous, attention-seeking and completely untrue." The label described the court case as "nothing more than a bad faith attempt to extract money from Island Records."
After being signed by the Washington-based management group University Music Entertainment (U.M.E.) in 1993, Dru Hill was signed to Island Records in April of '96. Its first album, "Dru Hill," was released in November of that year and has since produced three Top-10 singles: "Tell Me," "In My Bed" and "Never Make a Promise."
According to the Billboard magazine feature R&B; Monitor, "In My Bed" is the most-played song on R&B; radio so far this year.
It's standard practice in the recording industry for a group to renegotiate the terms of its recording contract once it has become successful, the idea being that an act deserves a higher royalty rate when it becomes profitable. According to officials at U.M.E., Dru Hill had already reached an agreement in principle with Island Records at the time of the Atlanta altercation; a separate agreement between U.M.E. and Island was still under negotiation.
In its complaint, Dru Hill claims that the assault took place during a "Platinum Party" held by Island to celebrate the sale of the 1 millionth copy of "Dru Hill." During the party, the group's complaint alleges, Hicks, Island Records' Black Music president, accused Dru Hill of disrespecting him. Ingram, one of the group's managers, objected. Then Ingram was, at Hicks' command, assaulted by one of the executive's bodyguards and then by Hicks himself, the complaint says.
Hicks is also alleged to have beaten Ingram with a pool cue and to have told the group as it departed, "It ain't over."
Ingram and the group filed a complaint with Atlanta police, and on July 15, a hearing was convened before Craig Schwall in the Magistrate Court of Fulton County, Ga., to obtain an arrest warrant for Hicks. But after hearing testimony from Ingram, Schwall cut short the hearing and denied the application "with prejudice," citing "credibility problems" with Ingram's testimony.
In its statement, Island Records cited the ruling, claiming that it showed Ingram's complaint to be "completely without merit."
However, A. Scott Bolden, a lawyer representing U.M.E., points out that Schwall's ruling should not be taken as a dismissal of the case. "What he said is, he refused or declined to issue an arrest warrant. Under Georgia law, that's all it was," he said. "There was not any ruling dispositive on whether [the alleged assault] occurred or did not occur. More importantly, the district attorney's office and the magistrate's office that initially brought the case [is] still investigating."
Herman Sloan, chief assistant solicitor general for Fulton County, confirmed that its investigation is continuing but gave no indication of its progress. "Other than to say that we are currently investigating the matter, I don't think I can say more than that," he said.
Pub Date: 8/08/97