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‘America’s Darling’: Cardi B’s Ex-Manager Defends Mixtape Cover in Trial Testimony

Cardi B Departs Courthouse In Santa Ana, CA

Cardi B is seen departing the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on Oct. 20, 2022 in Santa Ana, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Cardi B’s former manager testified Thursday that he stands by the mixtape cover that features a portion of a tattoo inked on the back of the man who’s suing her, saying he believes it’s protected by the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment allows you to transform and edit and create your own artwork,” Klenord “Shaft” Raphael said.

He also disputed inferences from plaintiff Mike Brophy‘s lawyer that he distributed “Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1” at no cost in 2016 as a marketing tool to eventually make money.

“It wasn’t about the money. … It’s to get Cardi B in every single household, her music in every single household,” Raphael said. “This girl had a voice. She had something to say. And my job was first to make sure the world knew she had this talent.”

Raphael grew emotional as he described Cardi’s meteoric rise to fame, telling the jury of four men and four women in haled testimony, “Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t do it. I had help. Every single rap girl takes 10 years.”

But Cardi?

“She made it in 3 years. Incredible. I didn’t do it. I’m just the manager. I cleared the path, and she’s number 1,” Raphael said, struggling to maintain his composure. He recalled helping secure her $10,000 an episode for 12 episodes of the realty show Love & Hip Hop after fans questioning why she wasn’t in an episode made her the top trending topic on Twitter.

“Unheard of,” Shaft said, adding that Meek Mill‘s lawyer said he’d never seen the pay Cardi secured with no experience.

“From that point on, she was America’s darling,” Raphael said.

Raphael has sat at the back defense table for all testimony the representative of his music company KSR Group LLC, which is a defendant in the lawsuit along with Cardi and her cosmetics company, Washpoppin Co. Cardi, whose legal name is Belcalis Almanzar, testified Wednesday, as did Brophy and his wife, Lindsay.

A father of two who lives in Costa Mesa, California, Brophy is seeking $5 million, accusing Cardi and the companies of misappropriating his likeness. Released in 2016, the cover to “Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1” was created using a photo of Cardi posing with a male model who everyone agrees is not Brophy.

Graphic designer Timm Gooden found on the Internet a photo of a tattoo that turned out to be Brophy’s, and superimposed the upper portion, including a tiger and serpent, onto the model’s back. But as Gooden testified to on Thursday, he didn’t include everything: Brophy’s back has waves, rose petals and the phrase “Born to Lose” on his neck while the man on the mixtape cover doesn’t.

Gooden recalled seeing an unmarked photo of the tattoo on the Internet.
He didn’t believe he needed permission to use it “because the pieces that I chose to use would not end up the exact way, the exact positions that I originally got them from.”

“I thought from my understanding of fair use, I didn’t feel I needed to,” Gooden testified.

Raphael also repeatedly said the man clearly is not Brophy, sparring with Brophy’s lawyer Larry Conlan as Conlan pressed him about his inaction after Conlan’s firm sent a cease and desist letter about the album cover. at one point Conlan pressed him about saying he’s “a rich man…if everybody listen to Cardi,” so Raphael expanded: “I’m a rich man because the value of everybody listening to Cardi B is priceless. That has no decimal value.”

Raphael told Cardi’s lawyer Jonathan Segal that the reason he never removed the tattoo from the mixtape cover, or asked Atlantic Records to do so, is because despite Brophy’s claims, he doesn’t see a problem with the cover.
“It wasn’t Mr. Brophy,” Raphael said. “He’s not Black. He doesn’t have hair.”

In April 2020, “Gangsta Bitch Music, Vol. 1” start being sold on vinyl through Empire Records, which Raphael said Thursday he allowed. Unlike the mixtape at issue, the vinyl version of the album does not include any portion of Brophy’s tattoo.

Raphael said he had no input in the decision. “They put the artwork together. I didn’t tell them to put the artwork on it, I didn’t say nothing. They released it,” he said.

A former vice president at JP Morgan, Raphael testified about transitioning to a career in entertainment after 16 years DJing. He was managing DJ Self while Cardi was dancing, and her fan base was growing so much that she was being approached about sponsorships.”

“Me being from Caribbean background, I said, ‘How is my mother going to feel, going from JP Morgan to managing a dancer?” Raphael said. “And then I took the chance and we did it and I helped. She’s here today. She was a star before she came to me. I just cleared the path.”

Raphael said his 42-year-old sister told him, “Cardi just says the stuff that I wish I could say.”

He explained his vision for the mixtape cover, beginning with the bottle of Corona Cardi is drinking. Despite being gifted expensive bottles of liquor on tour, Cardi insisted on beer.

“I’ve got 10 bottles on the table and this young lady will only order beer,” Raphael said. “We have 10 bottles and she just wanna drink beer. So I say, ‘We gotta have beer in the photo.'”

He also wanted to spotlight her fingernails because “Cardi is known for her fingernails,” and fans flock to her social media pages to see her latest designs. Priority number 1, though, “was her face, her beauty. That was my focus.”

To try to drive home the point that the mixtape cover doesn’t need to change, Segal asked Raphael about why he believed it was a polished product when he approved it for release.

“Cardi look good. She got her nails poppin’. It’s a go,” Raphael testified.

“And what do you think about it now?” Segal asked.

“It’s a go. She still poppin’. She still look good,” Raphael answered.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney is to instruct the jury at 8:30 a.m. Friday, then attorneys will give closing arguments.

Follow reporter Meghann Cuniff on Twitter for updates from the courtroom.

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.