Hip hop, as a genre, is severely different from other genres in music because it recycles other types of music. Hip Hop was started in the 1970’s by borrowing elements of disco, soul and jazz tracks and recombining them to make a new song.
As time has gone on, the founding element of sampling in hip hop has not gone away. There are still hip hop beats being made from all types of music from around the world. It remains a part of the culture. Legally, hip hop artists and producers are now required to give credit and receive rights from the artists they borrow from. This has been the status quo for awhile in hip hop.
With hip hop being this regenerative style of music, there is one aspect of the genre that is still disputed to this day. That aspect is copying, or ‘biting,’ other rappers lyrics and styles. Is it ok to borrow/take another artist’s style or lyrics? If one rapper does, does the other rapper deserve credit? Or is the fact that the rapper even borrowing their style or lyrics enough homage?
This question is in light this week because just two days ago, TMZ announced that Drake would be paying classic West Coast rapper Rappin’ 4 Tay one hundred thousand dollars for using the opening lines from his song ‘Playaz Club.’ Drake slightly altered some of the rappers lines in his appearance on the famous YG song ‘Who Do You Love?’ The Rappin’ 4-Tay influence in Drakes verse is very apparent. Here is the original opening lines from Rappin’ 4-Tay on his 1994 song 'Playaz Club:'
I got a h** named Reel-to-Reel
She got a buddy named SP12, now you know the deal
We get freaky in the studio late night
That’s why the beats that you hear are coming real tight
Something to roll to, something to stroll to
If you’s a playa in the game this will hold you
Now, here is Drake’s opening lines on his appearance on YG’s, DJ Mustard produced song ‘Who Do You Love?:’
I got a shorty name Texas Syn
She got a buddy named Young JB and now you know the deal
We turnt in the studio late night
That’s why the songs that you hear are comin’ real tight
OVO crew, n***a, thought I told you
If you a player in the game this should hold you
Drake never mentioned or credited the late rapper and Rappin’ 4-Tay took it as disrespect. He took to Twitter last December after hearing the song tweeting:
In This Song Drake Copys My Lyrics & Lines From My PlayazClub Song & Pays No Homage!???
Drake has not said anything publicly about the deal or incident but has agreed to pay one hundred thousand dollars to 4 Tay. According to HipHopDX, 4 Tay’s management has stated that the settlement is much more lucrative than that and the rapper will be receiving royalties for a long time.
Drake is pretty well known for taking and giving light to other rapper’s styles. In his very popular song ‘The Motto,’ Drake gave light to another Bay Area legend Mac Dre. In his song ‘Over’ he mimicked the style of another legendary group Dead Prez and their 2000 song ‘Hip Hop.’ Drake also cites influences from Memphis and Houston. Drake picks and chooses styles to make his music and makes it as his own. Apparently, 4 Tay is the first rapper to actually approach and object Drake’s mimicking ways.
Now, Drake can’t be seen as the only modern rapper copying legendary styles and songs. It happens a lot more than people may realize. On Pusha T’s most recent album, his song “Let Me Love You” was influenced and styled after Ma$e’s flow in his song “Lookin’ At Me.” Pusha admitted,
I went ahead and I took the Ma$e flow because that’s something else people don’t know. And I did this sort of in the same vain as B.I.G. would rhyme as Too $hort.
The point is, that many rappers bite other rapper’s styles and lyrics. It’s been happening since the beginning. Surprisingly, one of the biggest ‘biters’ has been Jay Z. Throughout his whole career and discography there are Notorious B.I.G. lyrics sprinkled into his songs without an honorable mention. In order to catch on, one has to readily know B.I.G. lyrics as well. An example of this, here are lyrics from Biggie’s song ‘Kick In the Door,’
Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns
As I crush so-called Willies, thugs and rapper dons.
And lyrics from Jay Z’s song ‘The Rulers Back,’
Your reign on the top was shorter than leprechauns
Y’all can’t f*** with HOV, what type of X y’all on?
Jay Z always justified himself by saying in his song 'What More Can I say',
I’m not a biter, I’m a writer for myself and others
I say a B.I.G. verse, I’m only Bigging up my brother
In 'I Put On' Jay states that him spiting Biggie lines, is all part of NYC hip hop culture. All in all, the blame or negativity shouldn’t fall on Drake because of this incident because hip hop has been recycling music since its birth, but the question is, is it fair for superstar artists to use lyrics and melodies without mentioning the true artist of the lyrics?
It all depends on perspective. Drake can be seen as already paying homage to the previous artist simply by using the material. Or, the act can be seen as attempting to trick people into thinking it as a Drake lyric.
The fact is, that a song like 'Who Do You Love?' reaches many ears because of its high radio play. Most likely, the people who are listening to the Drake verse on the radio have not heard of the song 'Playaz Club.' It would take someone from the Bay Area or a true Hip Hop head to actually catch on to the correlation between Drake and Rappin’ 4 Tay. For this reason, 4 Tay deserves some recognition even if it is simple as stating his name in the verse like what Drake did for Mac Dre in ‘The Motto.’
In today’s world artist’s work is very transparent because of social media and the internet. Artist’s who enjoy copying styles or lyrics should be prepared to admit to it and give credit to whoever is the original artist. Or, end up like Drake and have to pay the big bucks to make the peace.