“I’m innocent your honor!” might be an exclamation we might hear real soon from the rapper Yung Gravy, which has risen to fame in 2022 with his Billboard Hot 100-charting hit 'Betty (Get Money)'. Why, you ask? The song features the very recognizable chorus and melody from an 80s hit: ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ By Rick Astley.
But you might think “Well! It could be an innocent sample or interpolation!”... WRONG!
Yung Gravy got the rights to use the sample, but (citing his own words) “to make it easier legally”, he decided to remake the sample afresh, instruments and voice included. The sample is nearly identical to the original if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the producer’s Popnick doing his best Rick Astley impersonation. In fact, having the license to use whatever musical composition, does not authorize the stealing of the artist's voice in the original recording.
That’s why Astley has decided to sue Gravy and his team, seeking millions of dollars in damages and profits from the song. His complaint says the song violates his right to publicity - or the right to control the commercial exploitation of a person's identity and prevent its unauthorized commercial appropriation by others - by featuring Popnick's impersonation.
Yung Gravy decided to go down an apparent easy road by declaring an interpolation, while the lawsuit is trying to prove that the British singer should deserve more credit with a sample since they have decided to completely mimic Astley’s voice and song.
Need to refresh your memory on the difference between sample and interpolation? Got ya!
A sample is when an original recording is incorporated into a new song from an artist that hasn’t created said sample.
On the other hand, an interpolation is when an artist incorporates a musical melody or lyric from another artist into their song, without using the original recording.
Regardless, both must be declared in the right way, and it musn’t be taken for granted that an artist could give you the right to use their music as a sample or interpolation.
This Astley V. Gravy lawsuit opens the discussion around the rise in the use of interpolation from contemporary artists, including old and unforgettable songs in their projects, without making any strong effort on “changing” or at least “elaborating” such interpolations, making the most grumpy couch critics say “are these new artists running out of ideas?!”, even if sampling and interpolations have existed since literally forever.
Here are in fact a few example that you might recognize!
Olivia Rodrigo’s single, ‘Deja-Vu’, credits include as co-writers a few name you might recognize: Do Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff and St.Vincent ring a bell to you?
In fact, 'Cruel Summer' by Taylor Swift influenced deeply the bridge of the song, and isn’t the only the only Swift-Antonoff interpolation and writing credit included in Rodrigo’s sophomore album.
Want an old example? The Beach Boys might have a few. The most distinctive, is when back in 1963 they had to give Chuck Berry publishing royalties, interpolation and writing credit on 'Surfin' USA', which was lifted directly from 'Sweet Little Sixteen', as Brian Wilson has confirmed.
And here’s a quite simple sample (got it??): Jack Harlow's 'First Class' features the original recording of Fergie's 'Glamorous'.
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