Sampling in the new way of making music (since artists obviously run out of creative ideas) and record labels sign untalented artists with pretty faces and okay voices. As long as they can shake their booty (I mean 2014 was the year of the rear, right?) and sing some cheesy, repetitive, and non-clever lyrics, like brap brap brap, money comes in and that’s all people care about nowadays.
Songwriters and producers don’t seem to want to innovate musically, like The Beatles did with their Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and sometimes, it takes a team of approximately ten people to write a shitty anthem like “Run The World.” Sorry Queen Bey.
Don’t get me wrong. Sampling isn’t bad. As Mark Ronson, the producer behind “Uptown Funk,” stated it in his TED talk, “we live in a post-sampling era, […] when we add something really original then we have a chance to be a part of the evolution of the music we love. […] I can hear something I love in a piece of media and I can co-opt it and insert myself in that narrative or alter it even.” Plus, as long as artists credit whom they’re sampling from and ask for permission, everything should be fine…
Except if cultural appropriation gets in the way. This is why we have to talk about Jay-Z and his 2000 hit “Big Pimpin’,” which was produced by Timbaland.
Now, before we debate on cultural appropriation, here is what’s up with Jay-Z. When you listen to “Big Pimpin’,” you hear a beat that is clearly not American hip-hop. It’s some Egyptian music. More specifically, the hook is a sample from a song called “Khosara Khosara,” (1957) sang by Abdel Halim Hafez, an Egyptian artist and one of the most popular singers of all time in the Middle East.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, “the original composition was created by Baligh Hamdy [the songwriter], and the copyright interests passed down to his four children upon his death in 1993. One of those children, Osama Ahmed Fahmy, is the plaintiff in this case against Shawn Carter (Jay-Z), EMI Publishing, MTV Networks, Paramount Pictures, UMG Recordings, Warner Music and many others.” They continue, explaining that “in 1995, the Hamdy children licensed the right to mechanically reproduce “Khosara, Khosara” for sound recordings. Jay-Z and his team believe they acquired proper license to use the music.”
However, in the rapper’s album Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter, where “Big Pimpin'” is featured, neither Abdel Halim Hafez, nor Baligh Hamdy received credits for the song. Moreover, Egyptian copyright laws are different from those in the United States. In fact, in Egypt, not only “economic” rights are taken into consideration, like in the United States, but also “moral” rights are taken into account. So Jay-Z and Timbaland couldn’t write their own disgusting (even Jay-Z can’t believe he sang that) lyrics over “Khosara Khosara”’s melody. Now, Egyptians, especially Abdel Halim Hafez’s family and big fans are offended and pissed off.
Also, another detail: the licence that gives the right to use “Khosara Khosara” for other song productions expired in 2007.
Although paying for an artist’s copyright is crucial, that is not the only problem. Whether Jay-Z payed (or not) to sample “Khosara Khosara,” he didn’t credit Hafez, neither Hamdy, as mentioned before. This is why, when the Rolling Stone Magazine ranked “Big Pimpin’” as the 467th best song of all time, there is a problem because the magazine praises Timbaland for the production of the song and not Hamdy. Yes, RSM seem to mention Hafez, but they say that Timbo “based” himself on an Egyptian beat. Excuse-me Rolling Stone, Timbaland didn’t only “base” himself on, or got inspired by Hafez, but he took the beat from him. This is when cultural appropriation comes in.
“Cultural appropriation almost always involves members of the dominant culture (or those who identify with it) “borrowing” from the cultures of minority groups. African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and indigenous peoples generally tend to emerge as the groups targeted for cultural appropriation.” – About News
The last couple of weeks, there were endless debates concerning black culture appropriation. We had Azaelia Banks dissing Iggy Azalea for that matter, and Katy Perry being criticized for her This Is How We Do video. You get the deal: white people (dominant group) are appropriating from a minority group. This reinforces stereotypes: white artists are praised for their creativity, while artists from minority groups are seen as having a lack of it. Dominant groups can also misinterpret a culture. Therefore, the fans are unaware of the roots of certain music, a piece of clothing, or an artwork. They won’t even bother to search about it. I mean, here’s an example: Rihanna’s fans, when commenting on her “FourFiveSeconds” video, didn’t have the slightest clue of who Paul McCartney is, and thought that he was an artist discovered by Kanye West. Umm, it’s actually thanks to The Beatles’ member that Kanye West has a chance to make music today. Just sayin’.
In our case, Egyptian music is being appropriated. And to Jay-Z’s lawyer who claims that this sampling “gives a new style, a new flavour,” maybe you’re right. But that “it will make it more famous, more acceptable for young people?” Oh now you’re wrong. It will make “Big Pimpin’” more famous, not “Khosara Khosara.” Young people, especially from Western countries, won’t even bother to check out who is behind the beat, or from which country this music comes from. It will never be acceptable for, neither accepted by them because first, the original song is in Arabic, so not everyone will understand the lyrics (and who’s going to bother translating them?), and second, Abdel Halim Hafez is dead. He died in 1977. He’s not the one becoming more famous. When you google “Khosara Khosara,” you find numerous articles about Jay-Z‘s “Big Pimpin’.” Thanks to him, Jay-Z has become famous since his track topped #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 2000. Mr. Carter will become more famous thanks to the lawsuit. Very few people will try to get to know the Egyptian culture. Very few will try to look past the stereotypes.
The ugly truth is that Jay-Z will get away with it. He always has, as it’s not his first time sampling, or being sued. We will have to wait until October 2015 to know how this lawsuit is going to end.
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