I heard the news yesterday that hip-hop pioneer, Lord Finesse, has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Pittsburgh’s Mac Miller for his use of Finesse’s “Hip 2 Da Game” beat in the 2010 breakout track, “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza.” The emcee/producer is arguing that the track, and thus the use of the beat, helped launch Mac Miller towards record-label prospects and a whole lot of money, coming out on his ‘K.I.D.S’ mixtape, which has seen over a million views since its online release. So far I would have to agree with Finesse – “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza” was the first Mac Miller track a lot of people heard and everyone’s willing to admit it’s the crisp, old-school beat that makes it so listenable.
I remember at the time the comments section on Youtube was flooded with people wanting to know where the beat came from and at this point the sensible thing for Miller to do would have been to list Finesse in the video information, let the producer receive his due credit, and hopefully let the whole thing die. He didn’t, but everyone knew it was Finesse’s “Hip 2 Da Game” anyway, so as far as the world was concerned it wasn’t even a problem. In fact there weren’t any problems for anyone, until Mac Miller landed a record deal and rode the wave of internet support to the Billboard Number 1 spot, with the release of his debut album, ‘Blue Slide Park,’ in November 2011. So now Miller was rich, everyone loved his song about Kool Aid or whatever, and Lord Finesse was left uncredited and unpaid in the corner.
Not only is Mac Miller on the hit-list, but Finesse has gone for DatPiff.com and Rostrum Records for playing the song, after the three parties “refused to respond to a cease and desist letter that was issued earlier this month.” Again, I’ve got Finesse’s back on this one – Mac Miller and his record company must be well aware of the role the song played in his career, so when the original producer asks you to stop, you stop. But where I don’t support Finesse is the subsequent legal action against the three parties. The lawsuit cites a New York Times article which had hailed the ability of the internet buzz to translate into record sales, with certain quotes that seemed so positive at the time, now taking on a more sinister, litigation-flavoured edge – “A new generation of rappers is actively trying to build a new business model in which releasing oodles of free material online builds a fan base that paves the way for revenue streams.”
Now Miller was rich, everyone loved his song about Kool Aid or whatever, and Lord Finesse was left uncredited and unpaid in the corner.
Which brings me to my actual point – this is what rappers have to do nowadays. No-one buys albums anymore; no-one really pays attention to anyone for particularly long because they’re always after the next big thing; and no upstart rapper can afford to pay for beats from every legendary producer they wish they’d gone to school with. They can say “Make your own beats – that’s what we did,” to which I would answer “Yeah, and your beats are incredible, so let a talented rapper use them (profit-free) and make a step up in their career.” For producers to start suing every artist who uses their beat essentially ruins the mixtape scene in hip-hop, a scene that’s become pretty important, since Mac Miller’s ‘Blue Slide Park’ was the first independent release to reach Number 1 since Tha Dogg Pound’s ‘Dogg Food’ in 1995, and it was off the strength of his mixtape success.
I recently wrote a piece mentioning Pro Era’s star-player, Joey Bada$$, whose much-hyped ‘1999’ mixtape sees beats borrowed from all over the place, including a certain Lord Finesse instrumental on the track “Funky Ho’s.” A week ago Bada$$ featured on a track with none other than Mac Miller, providing some evidence that his own mixtape is propelling him on to bigger and better things. Do we assume Finesse is lurking in the wings, waiting for Joey to land a record deal before he comes out and slaps another lawsuit on the table?
I’m not trying to be cynical, but these old school producers need to remember the industry is completely different to how it was 15 years ago. A mixtape is a labour of love, and if you aren’t lucky enough to be best friends with the DJ Premiers or Easy Mo Bees of your day, then it’s a case of beg, stealing and borrowing to put together something you are proud to share with the world. Using an established beat on a free release is more a love letter than an underhanded attempt to steal money or credit from a producer.
I completely agree that Mac Miller should take every opportunity to credit Lord Finesse for his use of “Hip 2 Da Game,” but what about the younger generation of listeners who went back the other way – who heard “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza,” really liked the beat and went out and bought Finesse’s 1996 album, ‘The Awakening.” If Mac Miller had actually released the song this entire argument would be different – he would owe royalties to the producer – but this was just a video floating around the internet, getting a few million people excited and offering one guy a chance for success. I don’t really see how someone considered a giant in hip-hop history can resent a smaller figure for using a little of what they left behind to help kick-start their own career.
Oh, and you can save the “Hip-hop is dead” clichés for someone who gives a shit.
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