In hip hop, emcees have been rapping over other people’s beats for years. Most of the time, it is done as a “freestyle” where the emcee heard the original song, liked the beat and wanted to do his thing with it. There is a fine line between freestyling over someone else’s beat and rapping over a producer’s instrumental while releasing the project as “produced by _________ (insert your favorite producer here).” This has actually been happening a lot lately with hip hop’s new digital age and it really must come to an end. Equally frowned upon is taking an acapella of your favorite rapper and adding it to your track so you can promote that you have a feature with ______________ (insert favorite emcee here). But we’ll save that for another article.
There have been a number of producers this past year who have released instrumental albums: Oddisee, Blu, and Damu The Fudgemunk, among others. An instrumental album is simply that — an album that was produced without the involvement of an emcee. It’s a finished product, unlike a beat tape that a producer shops around hoping to get emcees to hop on the tracks. For an emcee to hop on those instrumentals and shop his record around as “produced by Oddisee, Blu, or Damu”, that’s just criminal. It’s like taking a piece of art (in it’s finished state) and adding your own dialogue (see what I did above?). Now if the emcee gets permission before hand, that’s between them.
From the quote above by 9th Wonder (via Twitter), it’s obvious producers are tired of this practice by emcees who take their beats and credit the song as “produced by _________.” It’s misleading… there is no relationship between the producer and emcee and he probably could care less if you credit him.
Probably the best way to avoid any controversy (and a letter similar to the one above) is to contact the producer before hand. It’s so easy these days with e-mail and Twitter. Hit them up and ask permission first. It IS their work that you’re wanting to use anyway. Not asking permission is also an infringement on copywrite laws. Who knows, your favorite producer may hit you back and tell you to give it a shot! This actually happened in the mid-90s when Sadat X of Brand Nubian heard an interlude on Pete Rock & CL Smooth‘s The Main Ingredient and wanted to use it for a song on his debut album. Instead of just taking the beat and looping it, he contacted Pete Rock and got him involved and paid, as well. The result is the Pete Rock-produced “Escape From New York.”
We need to take a stance now and appreciate instrumental hip hop for what is it — a finished product.