Instead of watching the throne so aggressively, maybe Kanye West and Jay-Z should have checked to see if all the samples on their new album cleared. Blues singer Syl Johnson and the archival record label Numero Group are considering suing the Throne and Island Def Jam because the Watch the Throne bonus track "The Joy" uses an uncleared sample of Johnson's "Different Strokes." The two sides initially agreed upon a price to use the sample last year, but according to Numero Group, Island Def Jam never got around to signing the papers.
"The Joy," featuring Jay-Z and a sampled Curtis Mayfield, first appeared in 2010 as one of the better installments in Kanye's G.O.O.D. Friday series of free downloads that preceded the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. At that time, Numero Group and Island Def Jam worked out a deal to legally use the sample -- in this case, Johnson's oft-sampled grunt -- as part of a MBDTF deluxe edition, which ended up not happening. Since West wasn't actually making money from "The Joy" and its Johnson sample -- it was a free download, after all -- Island Def Jam never finalized the paperwork to compensate Johnson. Numero Group held off on asking for money even after "The Joy" made the rounds online because as they write in a blog post (via Consequence of Sound), "Eventually Kanye was going to want to clear some other part of our catalog, and we'd get Syl his money with leverage."
But then Kanye and Jay-Z decided to include "The Joy" as a Watch the Throne bonus track without telling Numero Group, which meant they were finally monetizing the song. On top of that, they incorrectly listed Numero Group as the publisher for "Different Strokes" in the album credits. Syl Johnson was "nearly in tears" after the discovery that his sample was used after all. "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. Even they cannot get a response from their own clients," Numero Group wrote. "Island Def Jam seems to think that Syl doesn't have any fight left in him. We're betting otherwise."
There's been lots of upheaval over at Island Def Jam over the past few months, so we're assuming somewhere in the turnover Johnson's paperwork probably fell through the cracks. No word from West, Jay-Z, or Island Def Jam yet, but expect this story to end with Johnson being compensated to the tune of whatever Numero Group agreed upon last year. The Wu-Tang Clan (Kanye loves re-using Wu's samples), Public Enemy, the Geto Boys, and other rappers used "Different Strokes" and paid up accordingly, so the Throne will probably do the same once word of their oversight comes out.
(Side note: It's worth reading the comment section of Numero Group's post for an interesting discussion over when an uncleared sample is lawsuit-worthy and when the artist should just let their sample just season a song for no charge.)
Here's "Different Strokes":
And "The Joy":