Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Somebody Beat The Biz: 2 Lawsuits Change Hip-Hop FOREVER

"Alone again...naturally." Remember that single from Biz Markie? It's on his 1991 album I Need A Haircut...No? You really shouldn't. It was never released as a single and the man on the left made sure that it would be removed from future pressings of the album forever. Is he a villain or just a pissed off artist who had every right to say that he didn't want to be associated with that noise they called "Rap Music"?

Biz was riding high off the huge success of the "Just A Friend" single and I'm pretty sure that Cold Chillin' Records wanted to capitalize off of that with his next album. The formula of Biz and comical hard luck stories would equal gold for them again but lightning didn't strike twice. When "Haircut" was released Hip-Hop fans were ready and I remember rushing home after school to listen to what the Diabolical had done this time. It was the usual silly, light-hearted Biz fare like Toliet Stool Raps, What Comes Around Goes Around, etc. but I really liked that song "Alone Again". Was it the clever wordplay and thumping beat? No, it was the fact that he was rhyming over a song that my mom used to sing when it came on FM93 WPAT, the easy listening station. Unfortunately Gilbert O'Sullivan, the man who recorded "Alone Again (Naturally)" didn't like it as much as I did.

After O'Sullivan got wind of the song, all hell broke loose and before Biz could say "A one-two..", the case of Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc was filed and Hip-Hop would never be the same again. The Irish singer felt that even though only three words from his song were used along with a part of the beat, it was an outright theft of intellectual property and that it was willfully done after he denied usage. The New York State Supreme Court felt this way too as the ruling stated: "it is clear that the defendants knew that they were violating the plaintiff's rights as well as the rights of others. Their only aim was to sell thousands upon thousands of records. This callous disregard for the law and for the rights of others requires not only the preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiff but also sterner measures." The case was then referred to the US Attorneys office for criminal prosecution due to the intentional copyright infringement. This would cause a huge shift in Hip-Hop as sample heavy producers like the Bomb Squad had their production budgets crippled by clearance costs.

O'Sullivan's case was actually the second strike against Hip-Hop as just two years earlier The Turtles sued De La Soul for sampling the opening of their hit song "You Showed Me" for their interlude "Transmitting Live from Mars" from the 3 Feet High & Rising LP. Although the Turtles won the case, it wasn't nearly as ugly as the O'Sullivan one. They sued and got what they wanted and let De La keep the song. Never removing from future pressings or re-releases. They even explained: "We don't hate sampling; we like sampling. If we don't get credit, we sue, and all that stuff (a share of the royalties, plus punitive damages) comes back to us."

In my humble opinion, I think both outcomes differ greatly because of the way the samples were used. While neither act at the time obtained the proper clearance, De La used a snippet of the Turtles hit song and were very creative with it. "Alone" on the other hand was just a straight jack minus the bridge and the "Impeach" break just slapped on behind it. I'm glad the Turtles outcome was positive for both parties but I'm not entirely mad at O'Sullivan. The ruling forced producers and beat makers to become more exploratory and wiser with their sampling choices. It fostered the creativity of guys like Primo and Pete Rock. And also encouraged more ingenuity from musicians like Dr. Dre and later on Timbaland.

Alone Again (Naturally)-Gilbert O'Sullivan

Alone Again-Biz Markie
You Showed Me-The Turtles
Transmitting Live From Mars-De La Soul