Ah the good ‘ol not clearing samples best has reared its head again, with soul legend Syl Johnson considering suing hip hop superstars Jay-Z and Kanye West over their use of a sample of one of his songs on their new collaborative album, Watch The Throne.
According to his label, Numero Uno, Johnson’s song ‘Different Strokes’ was sampled on the song ‘The Joy’ which was originally planned for release on a deluxe edition of West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but reappeared on Watch The Throne where it was credited to them – although they didn’t publish the song.
In a twitter post, they said ‘Hey @Kanyewest & JayZ, thanks for illegally sampling Syl Johnson on ‘The Joy’ and then crediting us (?). Have your lawyers call our lawyer.’
No doubt a bun fight is now going down between them and Island/Def Jam who released Watch The Throne, because the Twitter post has been removed, as well as long statement on their website explaining the kerfuffle behind the clearance of the sample. Fortunately due to the magic powers of Google cache, we’ve been able to dig up the now removed post, which you can read below.
Johnson’s return to the headlines is somewhat fortuitous, because he’s commencing an Australian tour next week backed by the Bamboos, kicking off in Sydney next weekend.
Numero Uno’s removed statement read:
Last summer we took a call from Syl wondering if we knew anything about his vocal appearing in Kanye West’s “The Joy,” which had been making the rounds on the internet via Kanye’s “Good Fridays” series. We approached the sampling house clearing the record (whom we’ve worked with on several projects) about getting it cleared. They weren’t sure what was happening with the track, but it was rumored to be included on a deluxe version of his upcoming album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
About three weeks before MBDTF was to be released, we got a frantic email requesting the immediate clearance of the track. After a little negotiating, we came to a price and a verbal agreement (one that is completely standard.) Paperwork to confirm all of this was to arrive for counter signature.
Weeks passed. Then months. No deluxe version appeared in the market place, and our emails and phone calls to Def Jam’s business affairs department went unanswered. We spent the better part of five months trying to get paid, and finally handed it to our lawyer who recommended not pursuing legal action as the song wasn’t actually being sold.
Syl could have filed a more complex suit involving the use of his voice to promote the #1 album, but decided against it. Eventually Kanye was going to want to clear some other part of our catalog, and we’d get Syl his money with leverage. With only a non-binding email to solidify the terms, we began the arduous process of having the song removed from money making channels like You Tube, for which Syl was seeing nothing. We thought the song was dead and moved on. It happens all the time.
Late last night, we received a phone call from Syl—who was nearly in tears—asking if we knew why The Numero Group appeared in the credits to a new Kanye West/Jay Z album called Watch The Throne. We had no idea.
The credits mis-identify Numero as the publisher of the sampled song (“Different Strokes”), which of course we are not, and any routine search of the BMI database would show otherwise. Wondering why we weren’t consulted on this new use, and baffled why we appear in the credits, for which we never asked, we contacted the sample clearance house.
Even they cannot get a response from their own clients. Island Def Jam seems to think that Syl doesn’t have any fight left in him. We’re betting otherwise.
Syl Johnson w/ The Bamboos
SEPTEMBER 3RD, THE BASEMENT, SYDNEY
SEPTEMBER 4TH, BRISBANE FESTIVAL, BRISBANE
SEPTEMBER 5TH, BRISBANE FESTIVAL, BRISBANE
SEPTEMBER 10TH, THE HIFI, MELBOURNE