Should Beyoncé have told Kelis she was sampling her song?

In the past 48 hours, Beyhive’s only louder-than-buzz noise has come from R&B singer Kelis, who is outraged that Beyonce sampled her 2003 song “Milkshake” without letting her know. The sample appears in the song “Energy” from Beyonce’s just released “Renaissance” album; the officially credited writers and producers of “Milkshake” are the Neptunes, aka Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who are credited with most of Kelis’ early recordings.

In a lengthy series of Instagram posts, Kelis writes, “This isn’t collaboration, this is stealing. My mind is blown too because the level of disrespect and utter ignorance from all 3 parties involved is staggering…I heard about it the same as everyone else. Nothing is ever what it seems, some people in this business have no soul or integrity and they have fooled everyone.

There’s a lot to unpack here, professionally, personally, and on a macro level.

From a legal perspective, two veteran music lawyers tell Variety that it’s possible but unlikely that Beyonce’s team would be contractually obligated to tell Kelis about the sample, even though she is the performer of “Milkshake”: She is neither the credited author of the sample. work (which is Williams and Hugo) nor the copyright holder (Virgin Records, which is owned by Universal Music Group). Kelis seems to acknowledge this in an Instagram video from Friday, where she says Beyonce should have been “decent human” to tell him she was using the song, though she added that the situation was “really not about Beyonce.” The problem seems more personal: the two had “We met, we know each other, we have mutual friends. It’s not hard. She can contact me, right? »

However, the problems with the Neptunes go back more than 23 years. Kelis and the duo were in the early stages of their careers when their first songs together were released in December 1999: while Williams and Hugo were in their mid-twenties and a rising songwriter-producer team with songs from Ol’ Dirty Bastard, MC Lyte, SWV, Clipse and others, Kelis was only 20 years old. The three were close friends at the time. Kelis previously stated that she felt she had not been properly credited or compensated for her work with the duo.

“I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t,” she told the Guardian in 2020. She says she was “cheated and lied to blatantly” by “the Neptunes and their management and their lawyers and all that. She said she didn’t notice initially that she wasn’t being paid properly for her work on her first two albums, both produced by the Neptunes, because she made money from touring “and just the fact that I wasn’t poor made me feel enough,” she says.

“Their argument is, ‘Well, you signed it,'” she continued. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to check it. “”

Although she said she hadn’t seen Hugo recently, she had seen Pharrell a few years before the Guardian interview at an industry event. “And he did this thing to me that he’s known for, nodding from the stage [to someone in the audience], so it seems like there’s a mutual respect, when in reality I’m like, OK, I’m not going to yell back, “You stole all my posts!” So you end up nodding and everyone thinks everything is fine. Like, whatever.

Williams – who spoke at length about himself on the wrong side of a publishing deal during his Songwriters Hall of Fame induction speech last month – has refused to discuss the situation with Kelis in the past and a representative for him did not respond to Varietyrequest for comment. Hugo sideways commented on the matter during an interview with Vulture earlier this year, saying, “I heard about his feelings about it. I mean, I can’t handle this. I usually hire business people to help me with this stuff. We made some cool records back then with Kelis.

The macro question – who should be credited and paid for a song, and how much – goes back to the early days of copyright, if not to creativity itself. Variety explored this issue at length last year in an article entitled “Inside the Dirty Business of Hit Songwriting”, which shows that the practice of artists or businessmen taking credits or royalties for songs they don’t haven’t written dates back to the 1950s and, as the 2020 film “My Rainey’s Black Bottom” shows, much longer than that. While some cases would be cut and dried – Elvis Presley’s manager and countless others have demanded a large percentage of a song’s revenue, arguing the money wouldn’t roll in without them – others are among the most grays of the gray areas. More than 40 years after the song’s release, Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher has earned songwriting credits and retroactive royalties for the 1967 hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” and countless others. cases have been argued both in court and out of court. Williams found himself on the losing side of a songwriter lawsuit in the high-profile ‘Blurred Lines’ case in 2015, when a jury ordered him, Robin Thicke and the song’s publisher, nearly $5 million to Marvin Gaye’s family for violating the late singer’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up,” a decision that was upheld in 2018, though Williams maintains he disagrees with that.

Kelis has a dozen songwriting credits, including her 2006 hit “Bossy,” which was certified double platinum in the United States. is hyperbolic at best: with and without Hugo, Williams is one of the most successful songwriters and producers of the past 30 years, with songs like his own “Happy”, “I’m a Slave 4 U” by Britney Spears, “Beyonce’s ‘Work It Out’, Snoop Dogg’s ‘Drop It While It’s Hot’ and dozens more.

Who is right ? Who’s wrong ? Only the people in the room know, and obviously the memories differ. The upshot of this, all of the above, and countless others is this: make sure the credits and splits are clear before the song is released, because “human decency” won’t hold up in court.

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