Kanye West and Jay-Z face official lawsuit over 'Watch the Throne' sample


Image Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

The legal rumblings that began in August have now become a full-blown lawsuit: 75-year-old bluesman Syl Johnson is taking Jay-Z and Kanye West to court in Illinois over the uncleared usage — essentially, of a pronounced vocal “ungh!” — from his 1967 song “Different Strokes” on Watch the Throne‘s “The Joy.”

“The Joy” was originally intended to be included as a bonus track on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, then left off when sample clearances were not obtained in time; when the song subsequently appeared on WTT, Johnson’s reissue label Numero Group said that the distressed singer was “nearly in tears.” “[Throne label] Island Def Jam seems to think that Syl doesn’t have any fight left in him,” they wrote on their website. “We’re betting otherwise.”

Johnson, a relatively obscure but beloved figure in soul and blues — EW gave his 2010 box set Complete Mythology an A — has been sampled countless times in hip-hop; “Different Strokes” alone has been used more than two dozen times by giants of the genre such as Erik B. and Rakim (1987’s “I Know You Got Soul”), Public Enemy (1987’s “Miuzi Weighs a Ton” and 1989’s “Fight the Power”), De La Soul (1988’s “The Magic Number” and the Beastie Boys (1988’s “Desperado”).

In August, according to hiphopdx.com, Johnson told NBC, “”Well, they didn’t pay me. They used my style, my sound, my likeness, without my permission … I think Kanye West, kind of, he blew it. He knows me, he knows my daughter, Syleena Johnson” — who sang the hook on West’s 2004 hit “All Falls Down” — “And hey, for a few, you know, a small amount – do it [up] front like Kid Rock, Wu-Tang Clan and all the people behind me.

“I hate to sue people. I’ve sued quite a few people. But, it ain’t my thing to sue them. But, this is the law. This is a country of laws.”

Producer Pete Rock, who helmed “The Joy,” has taken to Twitter to clear his own name in the matter, saying the sample was added after he completed production on the track: “Just to clear the air about WTT, i never sampled that syl johnson record,if u sample syl u gotta show him sum respect and clear the sample.”

As Rolling Stone reports, Johnson lost a previous $29 million lawsuit against Cypress Hill in 2008 due to a lesser-known law stating that sound recordings made before February 15, 1972 are not subject to copyright protection under the Copyright Act. The singer subsequently sued his legal team for malpractice after the ruling was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year.

There is no word yet on when or if Johnson’s case will go to court, or be settled outside of it.

More on EW.com:
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Comments (18 total) Add your comment
  • Yo Yo YO

    Good. I hope he wins. These rappers have been stealing/sampling music for years and rarely get called on it.
    Be original for once.

    • MesoSoup

      Nothing is original anymore, every artist steals from older artists.

      • outside agitator

        that’s not true. artists are always influenced by what came before but to steal someone’s actual recording and use it in their own…that’s primarily the domain of rappers who have zero musical and lyrical talent of their own.

      • Greg

        Nothing is original anymore? That’s B.S. I’m not surprised by this happening. None of these guys know how to write their own music. It has become this desperate of need of theirs to steal whatever is good and use it. Theft is theft.

  • Kendis

    Not again…smh. The creative mind is lacking. First Beyonce, now her hubby Jay Z.

    • Yo Yo YO

      True dat. Beyonce’s been ripping others for years.

      • yo yo

        shut your ass up

  • sam

    ok, so this guy has filed lawsuits several times before, when he lost he went and sued his legal team for losing, and now not only is he sueing over some “ungh’s” but he’s also being very public about it. Then he says, “I hate to sue people’. Lmao

  • Phil

    Its kinda hilarious to thinkt aht Kanye woulda used a sample he didn’t pay for or clear, since he uses alot of samples in his production work. Even moreso that he tried to rip off the parent of someone he’s worked with before. If someone ripped off his now deceased mother, i’m sure he’d be livid about it and talkin all sorts of crap in the press. Just my 2 cents.

  • Dane

    Ok did anyone pay attention to the story. He is going to sue them for a song that was made back in 1967 right? But his previous case against Cypress Hill lost because of the Copyright law that as of 2\15/1972 any song before that date can’t be sue for copyrights i.e. samples. He basically just lost his case again.

  • J.K

    Do black people still listen to these two? I never see them at the concerts.

  • NonEntity

    How do you make tons of money, yet not have the ability to hire people to make you a decent loop or mimic the sounds you want? Do they think the record won’t sell without pasting someone else’s work onto it? They are famous right? Exercise some creativity and give some jobs to studio musicians. Or are they too cheap for that?

  • pj

    Kanye is about the most creative mind in the biz right now. And read the entire article, and others for that matter, the sample was cleared for ‘the joy’ on MBDTF and then the song was not used. Does he have to pay twice for the same sample, in the same song but on a differnt album???? give the guy some credit, no one else makes the music he’s making! not a fan of his by the way, its just objectively good music put together, albeit with samples.

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