July 1, 2022 Musicology No Comments

Marshall Jefferson is suing Ye because Jefferson’s iconic 1986 track, “Move Your Body,” was allegedly sampled without permission on Kanye’s Donda 2’s “Flowers” and to make things potentially more complicated, Kanye’s song and therefore “Flowers” samples are distributed on a hardware device that allows remixing the stems. (The maker of the player, Alex Klein, is named as a defendant too.)

Does “Move Your Body” really appear in “Flowers?” It’s not entirely clear to me, but that’s how it’s looking. I’ll explain.

The first obstacle is that I don’t have Ye’s “StemPlayer.” Kanye released “Donda 2” exclusively on a $200 hardware device called a “StemPlayer” that works like a handheld four-track mixer and live fx trigger. So beyond just listening to Kanye’s new album, it allows the end-user to do some remixing of the stems. (“Stems” are sub-mixes of the song components; for example, four separate tracks: vocals, drums, bass, and all other accompaniment, which when combined are the whole production.) Those remixes may wind up on SoundCloud and YouTube, giving us examples of Flowers, but any given remix may or may not include all the stems that Flowers shipped with on the Stem Player.

But after listening to many many versions of “Flowers,” I think we now know what this is all about.

Here’s a version posted to YouTube. Is it the default performance from the StemPlayer? I don’t know, comments are welcome. But at any rate, this version begins with some vocal clips and they’re very familiar sounding.

And this is Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body,” cued up to the relevant vocals around 1:25.

It took me a while to find this, and this is an updated post. In my initial “hot take” I remarked that Jefferson has some very formidable legal counsel, and really that’s why I had to imagine I just hadn’t found the alleged sample yet.

And indeed I had not. Now we have this YouTube post and no reason to believe that’s not the sample on the record, but we don’t really know for sure.

Some considerations…

First, Kanye does get sued for this sort of thing. But I’m loathe to consider that evidence of anything. I take these things as they come.

The filed complaint refers to discussions between the plaintiffs and Kanye, or some representative of his, during which the sample was acknowledged. Interesting, but not an end argument.

I hear what you heard — a fairly manipulated bit of audio that sure sounds like the isolated vocals from “Move Your Body.” I also know however that Kanye has done some fantastic sample recreations in the past when clearance was in question. What’s that?

A “sample recreation” is when you meticulously produce a piece of audio that sounds like you sampled it from a record, but you recorded it yourself. Copyrights to recordings of songs, and copyrights to the songs themselves are separate matters. In the case of “recreated samples” you’re still using some aspect of another composition and you need to clear the rights for that, but you’re not using the original recording, so you may get around negotiating with the record company that owns the rights to the recording.

I’m not ready to call this one yet. I haven’t given it its due. But I can hear the gun smoking same as you.

Written by Brian McBrearty