At the age of 14, Kandi Burruss joined the R&B group Xscape, which went on to record three platinum-selling albums. To the public, it seemed as if the group was on top of the world with hits such as “Just Kickin It” and “Who Can I Run To?” Little did they know, their accountant had stolen $100,000 from them on their first tour. Shortly after, when Burruss signed her first publishing deal for songwriting, their management tried to bake in a stipulation that she had to use her first $100,000 to pay back the group’s debt from the accountant.
This six-figure sticker shock taught her at an early age the importance of having good legal representation and to not forget about the business part of the music business.
“When you dispute a record, you hold up all of the money for everyone on the whole project, even on a record that sold millions,” said Burruss. “Always talk about your splits on the publishing the day you write the song.”
Burruss shared stories of hard lessons learned from her early career in a recent virtual visit to Georgia State Law.
Students taking the Legal Life of Kandi Burruss course—taught by professor Mo Ivory in the Entertainment, Sports & Media Law Initiative—spent the semester learning from Burruss’ actual contracts.
“This semester has been a fascinating educational experience for myself and my students,” said Ivory. “On the first and last day of class, Kandi joined to welcome everyone, and then to spend two hours closing the loop on certain events in her career, providing guidance on what clients need from their attorneys and answering all the questions the students had. Kandi’s amazingly successful career was a joy to study and we are grateful for her decision to share it with us.”
Ivory says she chose Burruss because of her multi-faceted career and Atlanta roots. Burruss is a singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and star of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” She has penned hits for myriad artists, including Alicia Keys, P!nk, Destiny’s Child and TLC. In addition to her music career, Burruss owns a baby line, a clothing boutique, a cosmetics line and a southern-style restaurant, Old Lady Gang. Most recently, she won “The Masked Singer” on Fox, and guest starred on Showtime’s “The Chi.” Burruss lives in Atlanta with her husband and four children.
Throughout the semester, students role-played contract negotiations and heard from key players in Burruss’ career, including her mother, husband, attorneys, agent, her manager and more. They also discussed new developments in intellectual property law and the impact of COVID-19 on the entertainment industry, such as performance contracts, compensation on virtual events and digital licensing.
Third-year law student Shreeps Zala, who is also the president of the Sports & Entertainment Law Society, plans to pursue a career in music and film publishing. He says he enjoyed the hands-on nature of the coursework and digging into Burruss’ contracts.
“I learned how much of a team effort it was to square away every contract and aspect of Kandi’s legal life,” said Zala. “Every week, Professor Ivory interviewed a new guest and I’d imagine we could go on for months before she ever ran out of people to interview. There were so many people instrumental in Kandi’s success and that is an important message to take from the class.”
Christy Turner, a second-year law student said that she’s unsure what area of law she wants to pursue. She’s currently taking classes toward earning the Certificate in Public Interest Law and Policy, but she says that she would highly recommend the Legal Life of Kandi Burruss course for anyone who wants to be a good attorney.
“Learning the details of management agreements and reality TV show agreements also gave us a real-world view of the type of contracts we would review as entertainment lawyers,” said Turner. “This class experience, along with Professor Ivory's own incredible experiences as an entertainment lawyer, radio show host and more, serves as another reminder of how blessed I am to be at the College of Law.”
The Entertainment, Sports & Media Law Initiative started in 2018 to prepare students to work in Georgia’s explosive entertainment industry. One of the initiative’s unique offerings is the “Legal Life of…” series, which started with the Legal Life of Ludacris last fall. Visit law.gsu.edu/esml for more information.
Written by Kelundra Smith