Def Jam’s lawyers are about to get busier. According to a post on “archival record label” and publisher the Numero Uno Group’s blog, acclaimed R&B/soul singer Syl Johnson is considering a lawsuit against the Throne (Jay-Z and Kanye West) for an uncleared sample of one of his songs on their album Watch the Throne. A sample of Johnson’s 1967 song “Different Strokes,” which appears on the track “The Joy,” was allegedly never properly cleared.
“Two decades and several lawsuits later, Syl Johnson is a veteran of copyright infringement cases, and has done very well for himself clearing samples from his fertile catalog (we’re glad to say we’ve helped him with a few) for use in numerous tracks,” reads part of the post. “He’s been amply paid, as he is quick to boast in his concerts, by acts like Wu-Tang Clan, Kid Rock, and Michael Jackson. Other performers … have not been so respectful.”
The post, titled “Syl Johnson vs Kanye West/Jay-Z,” goes on to say that the Numero Uno Group reached out to Def Jam’s business department about clearing “The Joy” after Syl Johnson had gotten wind of the song. Last year, the Pete Rock-produced tune (Kanye West is credited as producer along with Mike Dean and Mike Bhaskar) was part of the G.O.O.D. Fridays series of leaks. Although originally intended to be included on West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy , the sample was unable to be cleared in time to make the album (though an agreement was apparently reached for its use). Negotiations stalled due to the fact that the song was not actually being sold. However, “The Joy” recently reappeared as a bonus cut on the deluxe edition of Watch the Throne.
The Numero Uno Group points out that in the credits for Watch the Throne, they are erroneously identified as the publishers of Syl Johnson’s “Different Strokes.” “Wondering why we weren’t consulted on this new use, and baffled why we appear in the credits, for which we never asked, we contacted the sample clearance house,” continued the post. “Even they cannot get a response from their own clients. Island Def Jam seems to think that Syl doesn’t have any fight left in him. We’re betting otherwise.”
Since the song appears on an album that is being sold — Watch the Throne has already gone gold, selling more than 600,000 units to date — Johnson is expected to be properly compensated for the use of his song, whether via a lawsuit or some sort of settlement. Messages to Def Jam representatives for comment were not returned as this story went to press.