Nathan S. 's avatar

Here’s Those “Harlem Shake” Samples Baauer Is Inevitably Being Sued For

Posted by Nathan S. on 03/11/13 | Filed under Top Stories, Opinion
Whenever a song unexpectedly becomes a huge hit you can expect the sample lawsuits to be close behind, and sure enough now that Baauer's "Harlem Shake" is racking up those YouTube dollars, according to the New York Times, he's keeping his lawyers busy (or more accurately his label Mad Decent's lawyers).

Considering the song's been repetitively drilled into our collectively skulls I highly doubt you need a reminder, but just in case here's the actual, original, non-meme song that's essentially become a sidenote in its own success:

First up is the "let me do the Harlem Shake" line, which comes from a Philly hip-hop group named Plastic Little that not even the most obscure rap heads had ever heard of. Only sweet baby jesus, and Baauer, knows how he came across their 2001 track "Miller Time", but he did:

For his part, Jayson Musson (aka the dude in Plastic Little whose voice Baauer sampled) is being reasonably cool about the whole thing. He's negotiating with Mad Decent for compensation, while at the same time thanking them for “doing something useful with our annoying music”. In other words, "thanks for the completely unexpected check that came out of fucking nowhere."

By contrast, things are a little more rocky with Hector Delgado (aka Hector El Father), a now retired reggaeton artist whose "con los terroristas" line was kind of his thing. Think DJ Khaled's "We the best!!!", only less annoying and in Spanish. According to Baauer even he doesn't know exactly where he got the Delgado sample from, "I don’t even know where," but the original source is most likely "Maldades":

In contract to the dude from Plastic Little, Delgado seems to be taking the hardball approach on negotiations, saying, "It's almost like they came on my land and built a house."

Hmmmm.....I'd say it's more like they came onto Delgado's island, stole a tree, planted that tree on an island, built a resort on that island and then made a shit ton of money from that resort. He definitely deserves a tree-sized piece of the money, but not island-sized. (Side note: As TechDirt pointed out, Delgado recorded that song under a publishing deal with Universal, so there's a good chance the label will take all, or a good chunk of, any money he might get for the sample clearance, which is maybe why he's pushing for as much as possible.)

Beyond the general coolness that comes from tracking down a sample, there are some bigger lessons to be learned here. One, if you're an artist there's a one-in-a-billion chance a random DJ will sample you, that track will blow up, and the music Gods will drop a check in your lap, but....

Second, if you're a random (aka not famous) producer or DJ, just go ahead and sample other random people and don't worry about clearing samples. You'll only get sued if your song makes enough money to be worth a lawsuit, which is a good problem. And ironically, even if you wanted to clear a sample, you probably couldn't. No one is going to waste their time negotiating a sample clearance deal with you unless you do have significant money. (I know that sounds like a sample clearance paradox, but welcome to the strange reality that is the music industry).

No word yet on whether the lion whose roar was sampled will be suing, but I can assure you his lawyers are looking into it. As Biggie so aptly said...

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See Also:  General Awesomeness: People In Harlem React To The “Harlem Shake” Meme (Video)

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