March 1, 2022 Musicology No Comments

This is a repost from a few years ago, but the case was just refiled, March 3, 2022, so I’m putting it back among the current posts. There could be some new information. We’ll try to stay on top of it, but this is where we left it in 2019. It was an interesting situation.

Drake’s getting sued over an allegedly unlicensed sample in two of his biggest tracks, In My Feelings and Nice For What. This isn’t really that much about analyzing music, but after just a few emails asking, “What do you think about the Drake samples thing?” and “Are we really gonna start suing over drums now?!” I’d say Drake probably hasn’t a lot to worry about.

This is though much more interesting than it at first appears.

On the heels of the Dark Horse verdict, the talk around this case is predictably a lot of, “This has become ridiculous. It’s just a beat!”

A quick aside… a “beat” is not just drums anymore. Nowadays the thing we call a “beat” includes all kinds of non-percussion elements. A beat can be the main foundation of a song all by itself. So yes, from here on out, you can definitely get sued over a beat.

Here though, we pretty much have a drum machine loop. Listen for yourself. I’ve included the two Drake tracks follow by the track that was supposedly sampled, plaintiff Sam Skully’s “Vockah Redo Roll Call.” You needn’t listen to the whole tracks, just find the beat and move on.

And here is Sam Skully’s “Roll Call.”

The beats are similar, but not the same, right?

There’s a “The Making Of In My Feelings” Video

Sam Skully may have learned that his “Roll Call” beat is in these tracks from this next video, wherein the producer on Drake’s record, BlaqNmilD, shows us the song’s components which include the “In My Feelings” main kick and sidestick loop, the Magnolia Shorty shouts, and THEN a loop he calls “that beat.”

“That beat” is at 1:51 of this video.

And there’s the thing. I agree with Sam Skully that “that beat” is derived from Roll Call. (Skully is suing BlaqNmilD as well by the way.) So Skully’s got a point. But now let’s make this more confusing. “Roll Call” has the “Triggaman beat” in it.

(The what now?)

The “Triggaman Beat”

“Triggaman” is the drum machine beat that the ShowBoys created decades ago for their briefly popular track “Drag Rap.” It was a minor hit in its day, but its importance developed years later when “Drag Rap” got sampled to hell and back and became the signature sound of a style called New Orleans Bounce. As New Orleans Bounce’s biggest artist Big Freedia wrote in her book God Save the Queen Diva!, “If it has the Triggerman beat, it’s Bounce!” (Oh, and Big Freedia‘s getting sued too.)

Here is the “Triggaman Beat” in its original setting, “Drag Rap,” a send up of the TV show Dragnet. “The rhymes you are about to hear are true!”

Drag Rap, Showboys, Triggaman Beat shows “Drag Rap” appearing in 160 records, including “In My Feelings” and “Nice For What.” And Drake evidently obtained clearance to use Triggaman.

But “Drag Rap” doesn’t appear to be the record they sampled! They sampled “Roll Call.”

Let’s untangle this. Again, BlaknMilD appears not to have directly sampled “Drag Rap” but instead used his “That Beat,” which I agree with Skully was derived from “Roll Call“. So Skully, whose real name is Samuel Nicholas, is suing everybody involved. But meanwhile his “Roll Call” beat appears to have been derived from Triggaman! Did Skully clear Triggaman to make Roll Call? Let’s assume not. Did either Skully or the Showboys ever sue any of the other artists who used these beats to make new tracks? Let’s again assume not.

Lawyers, start your engines. It’s going to be interesting sorting this out, and Brian L. Frye was kind enough to help me hypothesize a bit. He’s an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky College of Law. Without knowing who may have cleared what with whom, Frye says (and I hope I present this accurately) that if Roll Call infringes on Triggaman, then Skully would have no standing to bring an action under the copyright act. If “Roll Call” was a licensed use, or is a “fair use,” or is otherwise non-infringing, then Skully can perhaps make his case, but even then, only for the elements that are unique to “Roll Call.”

Does “Roll Call” infringe on “Triggaman?” That obviously depends, but in my opinion “Roll Call” is largely “Triggaman” with some minor additional sounds, mostly swirling noise. So if he’s able to sue at all, it’s over some pitched noise that you can barely hear in the finished Drake tracks.

Written by Brian McBrearty