September 14, 2017 Latest News, Musicology, Opinion No Comments

“Chance The Rapper” sued by the songwriter of Lonnie Smith’s “Bridge Through Time” — a jazz record also sampled by Jay-Z and others.

Chance The Rapper is reportedly being sued for copyright infringement over his track, “Windows” which was on Chance’s 2012 mixtape 10 Day. The mixtape wasn’t directly sold at retail, so one might say, “The 10 Day Mixtape was given away for free. It didn’t make any money. So you’re suing nothing!” Of course the plaintiff, jazz musician Abdul Wali Muhammad (formerly known as Eric P. Saunders), happens to also be a lawyer and so his complaint says Chance “has received profits from the marketing, promotion and sale of merchandise, performances, tickets to concerts and other performances…”

And since the mixtape kinda launched Chance’s career, he has a point, expensive though it might be to prove. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“Bridge Through Time” is jazz musician Lonnie Liston’s well known track. Muhammad though was evidently its composer. (Liston isn’t even a party to this.) The track appears late on Liston’s 1980 album, Love Is The Answer. This track, mind you, is one of those songs that has been sampled numerous times in hip hop music. It’s in Jay-Z’s “Understand Me,” for one. I don’t know if this is the first time someone has been sued over it.

Those pesky two different copyrights.

The complaint says, “Chance has never requested permission from Muhammad to allow Chance to use any portion of Muhammad’s copyrighted song, Bridge Through Time.

Understand that this is the songwriter and not the record company who’s suing Chance. Copyright, remember, comes in two flavors — the one that protects a recorded performance of the song (usually owned by a record company) and the other one that protects the song itself regardless of whose record it’s on, usually owned by the song’s author. The record company Columbia (Sony) owns the rights to the recording and may or may not have granted permission for the use of the sample. Muhammad claims he wrote and has registered copyright for the song itself, a separate copyright from the one that protects the Lonnie Smith’s recording of the song. And Muhammad’s claim of authorship and copyright appears to be true, although I don’t see him credited on any of Lonnie Smith’s albums.

As to whether the sample is on Chance’s record? You won’t have to dig for it.

And then to make matters slightly more complex, the actual sample is probably from this, Apollo Brown’s version. Brown is apparently a producer on Chance’s 10 Day mixtape.

So… did Apollo get permission to use the sample from either Muhammad or Columbia? Does it matter? Nah. Probably not.

An aside for any musicians, engineers, producers out there: weirder still is that Chance’s version is just a mess in my sub what with two conflicting basslines stacked atop one another. Mixtape indeed. Is that cooler than I think? Maybe it’s super cool? Maybe I gotta learn to hear different notes above and beneath 100 at the same time? I’d rather not.

To wrap up I always like to crystal ball this stuff — and my crystal ball’s track record is stellar if I do say — but obviously Musicologize didn’t have to do much deconstruction or forensic musicology mumbo jumbo here. This is perhaps just the price of success rearing its head for Chance and his once humble, now not so humble mixtape. My crystal ball says unless Chance The Rapper can find a receipt for that license, Muhammed is looking very likely to get paid here.

Written by Brian McBrearty