Maryland Rapper Logic caused a stir when he sent an impassioned tweet berating rights holders for taking more than their fair share of sample publishing. His tweet went instantly viral, propelled by both his eager fans agreeing with his sentiment and skeptics who felt his tone and messaging were a little harsh. The sentiments he expressed — that the “mixtape era” of hip-hop was freer and musically superior as a result, that rights holders shouldn’t have such complete ability to block a sample — have been stated before by other artists and producers, but rarely has anyone used such a public platform as Twitter to do so.
“Just want to take a moment and say, ‘F*ck sample clearance,'” he wrote. “F*ck clearing samples. F*ck people taking all a producer’s money for not doing shi*t and f*ck the companies that say no just cuz. This is hip-hop. I’m tired of replaying sh*t. F*ck the money. This why mixtapes was so good.” Logic is clearly fed up with the process, which can seem impenetrable and frustrating to even seasoned industry veterans. Although his tone and language left a lot of room for interpretation, it’s relatively easy to see that an effort to clear a sample was either stymied by a rights holder or that he feels he would have to give up an unreasonable portion of his own song’s royalties to clear the previous sample.
Logic later cleared the air, writing a lengthier explanation in a separate tweet that broke down his reasoning more rationally. In the second tweet, he wrote:
I think it’s insane that an artist can do everything they can to track down, clear, and pay for a sample and give publishing to the original creator. And if they can’t be found by the best sample people there is… that a producer shouldn’t suffer or lose a placement. And that the money and publishing should be set aside for them if they or anyone in their estate comes forward…
It’s just hard to see young producers who could have life-changing placements torn from them because an artist has been unreachable for 20 years. I just think it would be dope to add stipulations for such situations. I mean, sampling “Can I Kick It?” [By A Tribe Called Quest] and finding out Tribe owns zero publishing and I have to give up 100 percent of my publishing to Lou Reed and not Quest is insanity.
He has a point, but it’s incomplete and apparently a little misinformed. While I don’t know the exact terms of A Tribe Called Quest’s original agreement to use Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” (among a half dozen other samples), I do know that sampling can be a tricky business, but not just because of older artists’ capricious whims. Often times, the writers and composers of songs from the annals of soul and funk classics don’t even own their own rights, which are instead held by publishing companies and labels that wrote shady contracts for the purpose of withholding royalties from those artists. For example, Sam Cooke started SAR Records for the purpose of owning his own music, but after renegotiating his arrangement with business partner and manager Allen Klein, Sam lost control over the company and his records shortly before his death in 1964, according to interviews in the film ReMastered: The Two Killings Of Sam Cooke.
In those cases where artists do control the rights to their music, they do often have stipulations about how and when it can be used. Coolio changed the lyrics of his 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which made a surprising return to prominence recently, at the behest of Stevie Wonder, whose song “Pastime Paradise” he sampled, because Wonder didn’t want him to curse on the song. Likewise, Kanye West censored language on his own breakthrough hit, “Through The Wire,” because Chaka Khan wouldn’t tolerate any swearing either. “Through The Wire” is built atop a sample of her hit “Through The Fire.”