Obligatory Post About Sampling — Frank Ocean’s “American Wedding”
As this is a rap-centric music blog, it wasn’t going to be long before we had to tackle the issue of sampling.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term “sampling”, it’s when an artist uses another artist’s copyrighted recording for their own song. This can be done with or without permission (I’ve done it without permission numerous times and not been busted… *knocks on wood*). Essentially when an artist samples another artist they need to get permission and most likely will owe them a base fee/royalties based on the commercial success of the recording.
Sampling is the foundation and backbone of rap music (though it isn’t limited to the genre) and certainly remains a controversial and litigious issue. The latest controversy stems from R&B and Odd Future crooner Frank Ocean and his song “American Wedding”:
Sound familiar? Some readers may have spit out their coffee/water in outrage! Why? Well it’s basically just Frank Ocean singing over the instrumental of “Hotel California” by the Eagles:
As you can tell, Ocean’s version takes the complete master recording of “Hotel California” by The Eagles and even borrows their melodies for much of his singing. Though the song was not released on any album and no profit was gained, The Eagles were none too happy about it. Their publicist released this statement shortly after the song leaked:
“Frank Ocean did not merely ‘sample’ a portion of the Eagles’ Hotel California; he took the whole master track, plus the song’s existing melody, and replaced the lyrics with his own. This is not creative, let alone ‘intimidating.’ It’s illegal. For the record, Don Henley has not threatened or instituted any legal action against Frank Ocean, although the Eagles are now considering whether they should. Any further questions regarding this matter should be directed to Warner Music Group as it is the entity that currently owns the master recording and made the contact with Frank Ocean’s representatives concerning his infringement of the master recording.”
Mr. Ocean responded with his own side via his Tumblr, feeling incredulous over the entire ordeal and specifically called out The Eagles leading man Don Henley:
“Don Henley is apparently intimidated by my rendition of ‘Hotel California’. He threatened to sue if I perform it again. I think it’s fuckin’ awesome.”
He went on to say…
“I guess if I play it at coachella it’ll cost me a couple hundred racks. If I don’t show up to court, it’ll be a judgement against me & will probably show up on my credit report. Oh well. I try to buy my shit cash anyway. They also asked that I release a statement expressing my admiration for Mr. Henley, along with my assistance pulling it off the web as much as possible. Shit’s weird. Ain’t this guy rich as fuck? Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.”
And this is exactly why we have a controversy over sampling. Did Frank Ocean break the law? Yep. If I was Don Henley/The Eagles would I be angry? As an artist myself, I would say probably yeah. Did Frank Ocean have a point about not making a dime from the song and seeing it as paying homage? Definitely. Does that matter when it comes to the law? Nope. Is the request for a statement expressing admiration of Don Henley a weird request? Yep. Where does this leave us? Who knows at this point.
So we have yet another controversy about sampling. What’s your take on this? If Frank Ocean isn’t making a penny off using their recording, should it matter? He’s obviously gaining promotion from the use but putting a dollar amount on how much is hard to quantify.
And what about the artistic angle? Do you think he’s paying homage or had his own motives? Do you see this as stealing or simply building upon the past?
As usual with sampling: lots of questions and very few answers.
What do you think?