Not So Hip 2 Da Game: 90s Rapper Sues Upstart Mac Miller For Doing What Rappers Do

from the sampling-is-how-hip-hop-works dept

Okay, this one is just crazy. You hopefully already know about Mac Miller. We wrote about him last year, as he was the first truly independent artist to release an album that topped the charts in over a decade. Historically, the charts are absolutely dominated by major label acts, because the major labels pay millions of dollars to “break” a record. Of course, part of how Miller became so famous is the same way tons of new hip-hop stars are rising up: by releasing free mixtapes. Even as some folks insist that giving away music means no new rap stars, you can make a pretty big list of new rap stars who came on the scene by releasing music for free — and Mac Miller did it better than just about anyone. In fact, a few months ago, I was talking to a big time record label guy (very closely associated with the RIAA), who told me that Mac Miller debuting at number one was one of the three biggest stories of 2011, and showed that the industry was really about to embrace new models.

And, of course, it’s quite common for those mixtapes to involve some sort of infringement, but generally no one has a problem with this (unless you’re clueless legacy entertainment industry players), especially since these mixtapes are all given away for free, and generally do help promote those other works. It’s really become the “new radio” in hip hop.

But there’s always someone who lets jealousy get in the way. That appears to be the case with Robert Hall, better known as the rapper Loud Finesse, who had a hit in 1995 called “Hip 2 Da Game.” You may remember it:

It turns out that one of the songs Mac Miller released for his mixtape was called Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza, which has him rapping over the same music track:

The lyrics are entirely different, but the music is obviously the same.

Note, again, that this song was given away for free in a YouTube video and mixtape. It was never sold. It’s not on Miller’s album. But, jealousy rears its ugly head and Lord Finesse has now sued Miller and his label, Rostrum, and the popular mixtape site for $10 million — and the fact that this is all about jealousy is pretty clear from the details of the lawsuit. It points out that Miller got famous, in part, because of his mixtape and thus Finesse seems to think that Miller needs to pay him for getting famous. Once again, he’s being sued for $10 million, because of a song which he never sold.

Of course, if you know anything at all about hip hop, you know that its roots came from rappers building on the works of others, taking rhythms and beats and putting new lyrics over them. What many consider to be the very first popular hip hop song, “Rapper’s Delight,” by the Sugarhill Gang, came about when they rapped over “Good Times” by Chic.

So, you might wonder, does Lord Finesse have a history of building on the works of others? Glad you asked. Why yes, he does. He’s widely sampled other artists. Oh, and the music in Hip 2 Da Game? You guessed it. Sampled. It’s from Oscar Peterson’s excellent jazz song, “Dream of You.” Tragically, there doesn’t seem to be a YouTube version of that up, but if you have Spotify, you can listen to it here:

Hip hop artist/commentator on culture and copyright, Dan Bull, found this whole situation pretty ridiculous and decided to do what he does best: write and perform a song about it. And, better yet, he did so using the same musical backing track from Finesse… er… Peterson.

This is actually interesting at a variety of levels (and equally unfortunate at a number of levels). The mixtape culture and building on the works of others is really pretty core to the hip hop world. There’s a mostly unspoken agreement just within the culture that as long as you’re not selling the tracks, it’s encouraged to take the rhythms from another and build on it. Going against those social norms which have been pretty strongly developed over the past decade plus, is really hitting back against the basic rules that the community has established for itself, outside of what copyright allows.

In fact, the hip hop mixtape/blog world has been fascinating to watch over the past few years, in part because it actually shows how cultural norms can often set the rules for how these things work, without having to fall back on copyright laws at all. Basic social pressure can often keep most people in line. But when one breaks those social norms — whether because of jealousy, or because they think there’s a quick profit to be earned — it can come back to haunt them.

That said, there’s actually an interesting tie-in to another story we wrote about recently, discussing innovation vs. permission as frameworks for how progress should occur. While we were mostly talking about technology/entrepreneurial innovation, it clearly applies to creativity as well. All sorts of music creations came about because of innovation without permission. Soul music, jazz music, hip-hop and rock-and-roll all exist basically because of people deciding to innovate by building on the works of someone else without permission. Trying to shove a permission based system into that creates massive chilling effects and limits the kind of great music that can be created. Copyright is supposed to be about promoting progress, and yet, once again, it’s used to hold it back.

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Comments on “Not So Hip 2 Da Game: 90s Rapper Sues Upstart Mac Miller For Doing What Rappers Do”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Looks like fair use to me.

If the primary purpose and effect is the expression of criticism, it’s kind of difficult to see how it could be forbidden without also being a prohibition on a form of form of free speech and appropriately protected expression. If a side effect is some profit for someone, that does not seem sufficient to me to nullify the need to protect such expression in order to uphold the right to free speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s a little like the judge said about obscenity, I know it when I see it.

Dan Bull may or may not believe in what he says, but he appears to often to be trying to jump in front of bandwagons (sort of like Mike Masnick does).

Somewhere, it crosses the line from concerned citizen to attention whore. Dan may be part of the former, but he appears solidly in the latter as well.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s a very convenient (but quite transparent and ineffective) way of trying to discredit people you don’t like.

Dan has views you disagree with. You apparently can’t handle that – it drives you nuts. So much so that you can’t even admit he actually has those views. You have to try to discredit them – “oh he’s just an attention whore”

Now you’re the hero again! You’re fighting the good fight and the only people who disagree with you are doing it for attention! Feels good, right? Yeah, but nobody’s buying it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I am not passing judgement on the people. Why do you get that feeling? Are you trying to put words in my mouth again?

Dan Bull shows up at the front of every “movement” these days… he’s pretty much attention whoring. It’s my opinion, can you handle that? Or do you feel the need to tell me what my opinion should be too?

You are a laugh a minute.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Oh the irony

So he’s suing someone for 10 million for using the background music of one of ‘his’ songs, and it turns out that ‘his’ music was actually from another artist as well.

I wonder how much he paid Oscar Peterson for the music that he’s now suing over? I’m going to take a wild guess that it was probably either nothing at all, or a gorram lot less than 10 million.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Even as some folks insist that giving away music means no new rap stars”

Wow, talk about trying to draw you own conclusions.

Rap is one of those things that is ENTIRELY built on stealing other people’s work and re-using it without permission. Why in a society that seems to have not problem with stealing other people’s work should there be an issue?

Rappers are like roaches, they will survive any nuclear event.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Even as some folks insist that giving away music means no new rap stars”

Wow, talk about trying to draw you own conclusions.

Are you addressing the “some people”? Because yes – nobody here was asserting that’s true. It’s clearly ridiculous. Rap is, as you say, based on the use of other stuff without permission – perhaps more purely and directly so than any other genre of music.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“Rappers are like roaches, they will survive any nuclear event.”

Well the concept of “stealing other people’s work and re-using it without permission” is how human culture developed for hundreds of thousands of years until the damned lawyers got involved a couple of hundred years ago. So you’re right, this fundamental part of how culture develops will not be going away any time soon. Hopefully the lawyers will though.

dennis says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I could be wrong, but I doubt that neither Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides nor Aristophanes lived in a cave. Plato told a crackling good story about one, though. I know that Shakespeare, whoever he was apart from the most brazen thief of Intellectual Property before uncle Walt, did not live in a cave. The opera composers of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries most likely had splendid urban digs, being for the most part closely associated with aristocratic patrons. Those gangstas ripped off each others’ tunes wholesale. More recently, Disney himself, who absconded with huge massive piles of our common culture to stash in his secret underground freezer, keeps cool at absolute zero — wait, quite possibly in a cave come to think of it — I don’t really know where he’s refrigerated.

Lord Binky says:

Another reason permission systems fail… It’s because business decisions are being based on how people ‘feel’, which is impossible to make into a consistant system much less write rules for how people will ‘feel’ in the future so you are able to predict the result which is important for things like budgets or most business functions…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’d be pissed too if somebody used my work to promote theirs.

Now in this case, Loud Finesse has been doing what this new rapper did: remixing other’s work to promote his own, therefore he’s not in a position to complain.

But in general, I’m fine with people acquiring my work for free, but I draw the line at making money off it.

bob loblaw says:

couple things. sugarhill gang did not rap over good times, they rapped over a band replaying the music from good times. small, but important distinction.

secondly, although i don’t have the info in front of me at the moment, finesse has made a career out of sampling and not clearing those samples. so this is just bullshit.

and for all you armchair lawyers, it does not matter that mac miller did not make a penny off of this. it’s a little thing every content creator has called a ‘moral clause’; look into it, it will destroy all these ‘but he didn’t make any money off of it’ arguments.

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