Rapper Mac Miller performs during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival… (Dave Martin/Associated…)
The Pittsburgh MC Mac Miller is one of the most polarizing figures in rap music, selling reams of records to his college-age peers but loathed by many serious genre fans. Now he can add a new name to his enemies' list -- the Bronx MC Lord Finesse, who Miller sampled on a 2010 mixtape track, "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza."
Miller has openly cited Finesse as a major influence, and he heavily sampled the MC-producer's 1995 track "Hip 2 Da Game" for a track off Miller's free 2010 mixtape "K.I.D.S." Finesse is now seeking $10 million in damages from Miller, the label Rostrum Records and mixtape host site DatPiff, accusing them of copyright infringement, unjust enrichment, unfair competition, deceptive trade practices and other allegations.
Finesse's suit states that "This is a case about a teenage rapper -- Mac Miller -- copying the music from a song written, produced and performed by Lord Finesse, a hip hop legend, changing the title and then distributing it under his own name in order to launch his music career," according to the Courthouse News Service, which broke the story.
Hip-Hop production, which relies heavily on sampling from other artists' tracks, has long operated in murky terrain with regard to legal clearances and rights to use samples. Many early landmark albums of the genre, such as the Beastie Boys' "Paul's Boutique," would be essentially impossible to make today, given increased awareness about sampling and the more litigious climate surrounding both artists and labels. However, extensive sampling on free mixtapes (as opposed to official label-released albums) remains a common practice in today's hip-hop scene, with artists often delivering their own raps over beats popularized by other artists.
While the track did help make Miller's career, it appeared on a free online mixtape and Miller didn't appear to profit directly from its sales (though he could have made advertising revenue from its online streams). Before the track was removed from YouTube, it had more than 20 million views, according to MTV.
To further complicate things, there's also a question as to whether Lord Finesse cleared his own sample of jazz musician Oscar Peterson's 1971 track "Dream of You" for his single. The two have been trading barbs and confusion over Twitter recently.
Regardless of how the suit shakes down, Miller's trip down "Blue Slide Park" just got a little more perilous.
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