November 14, 2019 Musicology No Comments

About a year ago, October, 2018, hip hop artist M.O.S. complained that the Migos hit single, “Walk It, Talk It,” is a rip-off of his 2007 track “Walk It Like I Talk It.”

I’m a bit surprised. I kinda think this went away a bit too easily. U.S. District Judge Analisa Nadine’s ruling is that the phrase “Walk it like I talk it,” is too common to enjoy protection, and if you’re looking at the words alone that might sound sensible, but it wasn’t in a vacuum. The phrase itself is common, but that can’t mean that the chorus isn’t protectable. Is Migos’s chorus unprotectable too? Can I go make a “walk it like I talk it” track that repeats the phrase throughout the chorus? Nah. I think Migos would come for me.

The ruling substantiates its position by listing a bunch of prior art that in my opinion, don’t matter much. Wiz Khalifa’s “Be Easy?” Young Jeezy’s “3 a.m.?” Paul Wall’s “March ‘n’ Step?” These aren’t similar uses; they’re barely relevant; the phrase appeared in these songs; that’s all.

Before I get a lot further, here are the two tracks:

According to Billboard the decision reads, “Having carefully listened to the two songs, the Court concludes that the similarity between the two works concerns only ‘unprotectable elements’ of Plaintiff’s Work.” And it continues, “The only similarity between the two works at issue, the lyrics’ Walk It Like I Talk It’, is not original to the author and is, therefore, not protected by the copyright laws.”

I only listened to these once, and I haven’t read the whole decision, so I’m miles from saying this is a good or bad verdict.

But the thing that’s bugging me is, well, the lyric itself is not the only similarity. Particularly compared to that list of supposedly relevant prior hip hop uses, Migo’s hit shares more with the M.O.S. track than just the phrase itself. Just off the top of my head: the placement of the phrase in the overall track is similar. While not melodic, the contour of the phrase is similar. The rhythm is similar. The blurted repetitions of the word “walk” are similar. And although I’ll be taking a closer look, offhand, the accompanying chord progression and beats’ bass lines are even curiously similar.

The decision is possibly even probably well-considered, I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Perhaps, as I’ve read, there were issues with registrations which weakened the plaintiff’s case. But I’ve also read that the plaintiff is considering appeal options. So while this appears to me to have gone away a bit too easily, it might not be the last we hear of it.

Written by Brian McBrearty