Yesterday’s news that Jay Z was being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame was pretty shocking. Jay Z– Sean Carter– is a great entrepreneur, influencer, inspirer, producer. But songwriter? No. Rapper? Yes. Poet, true. But composer of original songs that can in any way be covered by other people? Nope.
All of Jay Z’s “Songs” are sampled from other material. He doesn’t have one copyright that he wrote himself. That’s because he doesn’t write music. He finds existing music and puts his words to it.
His “Hard Knock Life” is from the musical “Annie.” His “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys– comes from the R&B classic “Love on a Two Way Street.”
The whole underpinning for Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”–which Jay Z assembled– comes from a Chi Lites song by he late great Eugene Record. “Crazy in Love” wouldn’t exist without Gene’s horn section and melody from “Are You My Woman?”
All the actual songwriters being inducted in June should take umbrage. Max Martin, Kenny Babyface Edmonds, the guys from Chicago, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis– they have massive catalogs. I haven’t checked, but it’s possible Jay Z has sampled all of them. Berry Gordy is getting in as the Motown mastermind– how many Motown songs has Jay Z sampled?
And this doesn’t mean that I don’t know how important Jay Z is in pop culture. Trust me, I do. He is a great impresario. He makes things happen. He’s a role model. But songwriter? Go ahead, “sing” one of his songs, right now.
But this is what’s happened to the SHOF. Once a great group, they’ve fallen prey to music publishers who push to have their artists in. There has been a lot of politicking over the years for Madonna and for Led Zeppelin, each of whom are derided as songwriters, too. But they’ll get in eventually.
And oh yes the sampling thing: believe me, the music publishers who support the SHOF are all for it. Sampling– if paid for– revives old copyrights. Songs no one has thought of in 30 or 40 years suddenly earn money when they are repurposed for sampling. Take Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” The whole thing is based on Timmy Thomas’s 1973 hit “Why Can’t We Live Together.” That sample is money in the bank for the publisher. But “Hotline Bling” is not an original song. It’s an adapted cover.
Hey– maybe they’ll call all the people up on stage who really wrote those songs. That will be funny.
If the SHOF wants “young blood” — and R&B composers– there are so many they could choose from who actually write music and original songs. And PS Luther Vandross is still NOT in the SHOF.