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Kelis’ Fans Call Pharrell Williams A ‘Thief’ Who Tricked Her Out of Royalties Amid His Legal Battle With Chad Hugo Over Ownership Rights of ‘The Neptunes’

Kelis may not be as problematic as music lovers once painted her out to be. At least, not now that a recently filed lawsuit alleging Pharrell Williams tried to dupe his producing and songwriting partner Chad Hugo out of profiting from the copyrights of their group name, The Neptunes, has been publicized.

Williams is accused of fraudulently filing multiple applications under PW IP Holdings LLC, his company, in 2022 that list him as the sole owner of The Neptunes. He is seeking to use the name for streaming music, music videos, live performances, and other content. Billboard was the first to report that the duo were in the midst of a legal battle on April 1.

An application has already been approved for musical sound recordings, while one for clothing and merchandise is pending. PW IP Holdings LLC also owns trademarks for the Louis Vuitton creative director’s band NERD, Goodtime Hotel, and various other business ventures.

Kelis fans drag Pharrell Williams following news about legal battle over The Neptunes name.
Kelis fans drag Pharrell Williams following news about legal battle over The Neptunes name. (Photos by Jo Hale Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images; Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for UOMA Beauty)

Hugo’s legal team argues that the longtime friends have always shared 50/50 ownership and profit splits. In the complaint, Attorney Kenneth D. Freundlich wrote that “throughout their over thirty year history, [Hugo] and Williams agreed to, and in fact, have divided all assets,” and that “by ignoring and excluding [Hugo] from the any and all applications filed by applicant for the mark ‘The Neptunes,’ applicant has committed fraud in securing the trademarks and acted in bad faith.”

The two men have known each other since their childhood years growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They formally formed The Neptunes in the early 1990s.

Their production credits include Kelis’ first two albums, “Kaleidoscope” (1999) and “Wanderland (2001), The Clipse’s “Grindin’,” N.O.R.E.’s “SuperThug,” Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” “Jay-Z’s “I Just Wanna Love You (Give It 2 Me),” Usher’s “U Don’t Have To Call,” and a slew of other chart-toppers from Justin Timberlake, Brittney Spears, Nelly, Ludacris, and Omarion, to name a few.

Hugo’s team further alleges that “Skateboard P” “knowingly and intentionally” neglected to list his partner as a co-owner on the applications and did not pursue Hugo’s input regarding his plans.

“Nothing, either written or oral, provided Williams or [PW IP Holdings] with the unilateral authority to register the trademarks,” wrote Freundlich.

Moreover, they stated that the megaproducer’s team admitted that The Neptunes is co-owned by the men and assured Hugo that he would be included in the trademarks. Though that has yet to happen.

The “Happy” artist’s legal team addressed the claims in a statement to Billboard that read: “Pharrell is surprised by this. We have reached out on multiple occasions to share in the ownership and administration of the trademark and will continue to make that offer. The goal here was to make sure a third party doesn’t get a hold of the trademark and to guarantee Chad and Pharrell share in ownership and administration.”

The rift has renewed interest in Kelis’ claims of the duo having bad practices, especially her former friend Williams. In 2020, as she was set to mark the 20-year anniversary of her debut album, she told The Guardian that the men roped her into a bad business deal, where she was signed to The Neptunes as an artist.

“Kelis tried to tell y’all. Now Chad is going through the same thing,” tweeted someone on X. Another person commented, “Now I’m wondering if the Kelis s—t was all Pharrell and if Chad was left to share heat for it.” A third perspective regarding the matter read, “tldr; pharrell a thief. he not only stole from kelis. he tryina steal from chad hugo too.”

The “I Hate You So Much Right Now” singer alleged, “I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t do.” Instead, she said The Neptunes and their management and lawyers “blatantly lied” and “tricked” her.

“Their argument is, ‘Well, you signed it,’” Kelis told the British outlet. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it.’”

She admitted that at first, she did not notice her lack of publishing payouts because she was profiting from touring. Kelis’ gripe with Williams was thrust into the spotlight again in 2022 when she discovered an interpolation from “Milkshake” was used on the Beyoncé track “Energy.”

“Pharrell knows better. This is a direct hit at me. He does this stuff all the time, he’s very petty,” she said in a video pointedly calling out the entertainer.

Kelis added that the right thing for Williams to do would have been to ask permission to sample the song.

The interpolation was later removed by Beyoncé’s team amid the drama. Williams has never issued a public statement regarding Kelis.

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