You may have heard Beyonce released a new album yesterday called “Renaissance.” It’s already number 1.
I told you last week that “Renaissance” was full of samples and covers, aka “interpolations.” Meaning Beyonce’s producers threw a lot of pieces of old songs into a musical Cuisinart and came up with new “songs” that stitch together oldies.
One of those oldies is singer songwriter Kelis’s 2003 hit, “Milkshake,” credited to Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo as the Neptunes. The only problem is that no one asked Kelis, who is no wallflower. She’s smart and articulate and mad. She calls what Beyonce’s done “thievery” and accuses Pharrell of never writing a song. (You may also recall Pharrell’s involvement in the Robin Thicke theft of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” for his “Blurred Lines.”)
Kelis says she’s not mad at Beyonce per se but annoyed that no one called to say Bey had covered her hit in this melange. She is furious at Pharrell.
But all of this speaks to the really bizarre world of hip hop. Since this form of recording began 30 plus years ago, there’s not much in catalogs that’s original. Almost all the hip hop songs are re-purposing of old material. Case in point: back when Sean Puff Daddy Combs came to prominence it was because of his single, “I’ll Be Missing You.” But that was an interpolation/cover of Sting’s “Every Breath You Take.” Sting would up getting all the royalties. “I’ll Be Missing You” doesn’t actually exist. Puffy made money only from the sale of records. When the song is played now on the radio, only Sting benefits.
There are hundreds and hundreds of cases like that, a lot involving Jay Z and Kanye West who do not write music but sample or “interpolate.” Jay Z’s biggest hit, “Hard Knock Life,” sends royalties to its composers, the men who wrote the musical “Annie,” for example.
Kelis doesn’t have a legal case against anyone here. But she has a point. This happens whenever a new hip hop album comes out. Songwriters turn on their radios or whatever and hear their old songs reborn without their knowledge and sometimes permission.
As for Beyonce, I can’t see how “Renaissance” would win Album of the Year. If only Beyonce, whose voice is amazing, would record an album of original songs. Her talented sister could write them. Then she would get the the awards she’s always wanted.
Below, listen to “Milkshake” and “Energy”