Hip-hop was built on sampling. Beat breaks from old-school records like the Honeydrippers’ soul classic “Impeach the President” and the Incredible Bongo Band’s 1973 version of “Apache” have become the basis for a number of notable rap records.
As essential as sampling is to hip-hop culture, it is also a vital part of the music business, and utilizing an unauthorized sample can be costly to an artist. Tyga had to learn the hard way when he failed to clear a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for the title track of his Careless World: The Rise of the Last King LP.
Because Tyga and his label failed to clear the sample with MLK’s estate, the physical copies of his album were removed from stores when it was released last week, on February 21.
“I felt like a lot of my fans and some of the younger generation know of Martin Luther King, but they don’t really understand his struggle or what he did and the message he was trying to give to younger people like myself,” Tyga explained on Wednesday’s (February 29) “RapFix Live.” “Me knowing that is why I used the phrase on that song, and I really wanted that part on the song. It was, like, 10 seconds. If I thought it was gonna jeopardize my first-week sales, I wouldn’t have used it. I used it because I wanted the message to get out.”
Clearing samples isn’t a simple process, and there are quite a few legalities to consider. Some material is considered fair-use, but the guidelines that define what is and is not considered fair use aren’t always cut-and-dried. “I thought it would be like more public use, since it was on YouTube. I eventually knew you had to get it cleared with someone, but that’s not really my job to do,” Tyga said. “My job is to be the artist and really put all my effort into the music. That’s why you got lawyers and a label that’s supposed to do that, and I guess it just got overlooked.”
The mishap has definitely cost Tyga a significant percentage of his first-week sales. He estimates that about 200,000 physical copies of his album were pulled from stores, and his entire sales tally came strictly from digital outlets. When it was all said and done, Carless World moved 61,000 digital copies and would have sold even more, if not for the sample snafu. “To hear that, to get that phone call, it’s like, you know, don’t bring me all the way to the finish line and drop the baton,” he said, disappointed. “I’ve been working so hard for this, and you guys couldn’t clear a little sample?”
It is unclear where the blame lies, be it with Tyga’s camp, his Cash Money label or CM’s distributor Universal Republic. Whatever the case, the “Rack City” rapper is bummed that he had to compromise his artistic vision.
“It was the fact that I wanted this Martin Luther King phrase on this part of the song and I couldn’t get it,” he said. “It’s all good. We gonna keep rolling with the punches, and it’s a great album.”
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