The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts attempted to book rapper Ja Rule for a high-profile Artscape performance, but balked after his management added handwritten amendments to a draft contract, according to emails between the city’s events office and the rapper’s management reviewed by The Baltimore Banner.

BOPA offered $75,000 to host the New York City rapper, known for his smash hits “Always On Time” and “Mesmerize” — as well as co-founding the infamous 2017 Fyre Festival that stranded guests in the Bahamas with no food, shelter or concert — the Friday night of the Artscape, but rescinded the proposal earlier this month.

And after the arts organization withdrew the offer, Ja Rule’s management team insisted they had a signed deal to perform.

Booking representatives for Ja Rule, whose real name is Jeffrey Atkins, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In a statement, BOPA spokeswoman Barbara Hauck said planners entertained several musical options for Artscape, including Ja Rule, but decided to go in a different direction. The Friday night headliner will be announced soon, she added.

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Artscape is scheduled to run from Sept. 22 through Sept. 24, which will mark the return of the free arts festival after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. BOPA, a quasi-city agency that receives partial funding from the city but is operated by a board of directors independent from City Hall, and its management have been a running concern for both Mayor Scott and the City Council after scrapping events the past few years.

The arts agency submitted a booking inquiry to the rapper’s management earlier this summer, according to the emails. After bookers at Universal Attractions Agency confirmed the rapper was available and interested, BOPA staffers sent an unsigned, boilerplate contract agreement to the rapper’s team for review.

The boilerplate draft, dated May 22, stipulated a $75,000 payment for a 60 minute performance. It also included an exclusivity clause that would have prevented Ja Rule from performing within 90 miles of Baltimore for about three months before and one month after Artscape. Such agreements are common requirements in music festival contracts. It was not signed by any city representatives.

After a few weeks without word from the Universal Attractions Agency, BOPA assistant director Chris Brooks followed up directly with the bookers, asking for an update on July 5. A week later, UAA staffers sent back the May 22 draft, signed with artist and technical riders, which asked for BOPA to pay for one presidential suite and six single rooms at a five-star hotel. The riders included two handwritten amendments: the addition of 10 guest tickets and a change in sound mixer equipment.

A few hours after receiving the draft, Brooks wrote back to UAA that BOPA was withdrawing its offer.

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“Thank you for working collaboratively with us, we will consider JaRule [sic] for future events,” he wrote.

Booker Jon Moskowitz replied that the show was confirmed, asking BOPA to “please advise.”

Brian Wentz, BOPA’s chief financial officer, answered: “While several edited versions of a potential contract were exchanged, the Baltimore Festival of the Arts never signed a contract with Innovative Creative Entertainment, Inc., therefore, there is no confirmed booking for Artscape 2023.”

“Brian, you sent a firm offer and had your legal edit the contract and rider and made the Artist sign first,” Moskowitz replied, adding: “I am quite shocked how with no explanation you are cancelling a show, then i heard you are trying to book another act.”

At no point did BOPA or Mayor Brandon Scott’s office put forth a signed formal agreement for this artist, Hauck said.

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Ja Rule has about a dozen other tour dates scheduled this year. He was cleared of legal wrongdoing tied to Fyre Festival. Billy McFarland, the event’s other founder, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding investors and festival goers of more than $26 million.

Emily Sullivan covers Baltimore City Hall. She joined the Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won multiple awards for her radio stories on city politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

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