[Editorial] Mac Miller & Lord Finesse: Paying Homage Costs

When ever someone asks me, ‘what do you think of Mac Miller?’ I usually answer by saying first and foremost that I love the way he chooses Hip Hop instrumentals from the 90’s as the basis of his new songs.  I love that during his concerts he sometimes stops and tells the crowd to go listen to A Tribe Called Quest when they get home.  I love how he’s on a song with Pos from De La Soul, and how there’s a whole new crop of 17 year-olds searching for ATCQ bootlegs and rarities the same way that I did when I was 17.

And I think Mac Miller can rap. Really well. The few times I’ve met Mac, he’s always been humble and truly thankful to be in the position that he is.  During our last interview he said that the best part of his success is not the money, the girls, or even seeing the world at a young age.  He said that the things that bring him the most joy are the co-signs from his heroes and random calls from someone like DJ Premier, Pete Rock, or Bun B, veterans who have all thrown some guidance to Mac Miller.

Well, paying homage doesn’t always pay the bills.  And Mac is finding that out the hard way.

Lord Finesse, a Hip Hop legend who came up in NYC with the D.I.T.C. Crew is now suing Mac Miller, Rostrum Records and Datpiff.com for a cool $10 Million for Mac Miller’s use of “Hip 2 Da Game” a song released by Finesse in 1995 and used by Mac Miller for his 2010 release, “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza”.  While the song was on Mac’s 2010 mixtape, K.I.D.S., which was released for free, the lawsuit contends that the video has been seen over 24 million times and the mixtape download more than 500,000. There’s got to be money somewhere, and Lord Finesse deserves a cut.  Courthouse News, who first reported the lawsuit, said that Finesse sent a cease and desist letter that was ignored.

This is a really interesting lawsuit for many reasons.  One, I don’t think there are any rappers out there who haven’t started by rapping over instrumentals.  It’s almost like a rite of passage to rock over familiar songs before you link up with a producer, before you get your skills, really before anything.  It’s also customary in Hip Hop for artists to release freestyles over the hottest singles of the time.  Google “New God Flow” and I’m sure you’ll see a shitload of remixes and remakes.  Or how about “I Don’t Like”, remember that remix?  Many times those freestyles are forgotten.  In some instances they grow large and stand on their own.  If Mac Miller wasn’t Mac Miller, dropping #1 albums, making music with Cam’ron, starring in Mountain Dew commercials and selling out shows in Germany, I don’t think we’d see this lawsuit.  But he is Mac Miller, and I’m sure Lord Finesse was sitting back one day and thought, “damn,’ this kid is blowing up and made a lot of money, some of that is off “Hip 2 Da Game”. Something I made.”  How he came up with $10 Million, I’d like to know.  It’s hard to quantify how much that video/song etc has made for Mac Miller or how it works into how he makes money today.

Back in the day, when music was really selling and the money was coming from sales, taking someone’s beat and making your own song was frowned upon more from a creative standpoint than any other.  Those industry freestyles were just bootlegs and b-sides, never going on for-sale products or really generating anything other than buzz.  But there is a new model emerging right now of giving away the music for free, dropping viral videos, and making money from the tours, commercial sponsorships, and other avenues with selling music almost an after thought, making it easy and cheap to sample practically anything.  That’s what this lawsuit points to and is indicative of.

It also goes to the heart of Hip Hop music and the art of sampling.  Lord Finesse himself sampled Oscar Peterson to create “Hip 2 Da Game” back in 1995.  It’s Hip Hop’s borrowing and blending that makes it the best music of our time, as well as a great culture that connects people on a grand scale.  But, truth is, sampling is still sampling, and using another person’s work without permission is still just that. It’s unfortunate that this examination of copyrights, the music industry, and who should be compensated for what is happening between Mac Miller and Lord Finesse though.

For his part, Mac Miller went on twitter this morning to explain his side of the story.  He said that he spoke with Lord Finesse on the phone after making the song and that everything was ok.  Mac also said that he tried to clear up all the issues, and has nothing but respect for Finesse.  “Lord Finesse, thank you for what u did for hip hop. Thank you for bringing my favorite rapper into the game,” Mac wrote after a string of tweets about the situation.

There have been a range of reactions, some calling the lawsuit ridiculous, claiming it to be an act of hating and calling Finesse out as an older artist out of touch. Others agree with him.  They see an artist blow up and make money by releasing a free mixtapes built around other people’s instrumentals.

I can see both sides, but the problem is not with singularly with Mac Miller. You could put pick any name out of a hat and find that any emcee worth talking about has a ridiculously large freestyle or song to a “borrowed” instrumental. That’s the game, and that’s the system, and these lawsuits happen all the time. This time around it was Mac Miller being sued by Lord Finesse.  If you go after Mac Miller, you got to go after everyone, and take down every mixtape, video, song etc.  And that’s something that would kill the creativity, a part of Hip Hop that makes it fresh and brings in the new talent.  It also keeps a certain tie to the past, and is partly what makes a song classic. I hope there’s a resolution down the line, or a lot of Hip Hop artists could find themselves in hot water, and listeners without the chance to see other emcees rocking to classics cuts.  That would be boring.

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