Beyoncé’s new album Renaissance, has arrived and as the Beyhive celebrates the long-awaited return of their queen, not everyone is so excited to hear the house and techno-influenced project. In particular, Kelis, the singer best known for her early 2000s run that included tracks like “Caught Out There,” “Milkshake” and “Bossy,” has a bone or two to choose from with Beyonce on one song in particular. : “Energy”, which features short interpolations of his songs “Get Along with You” and “Milkshake”.
Taking to Instagram, Kelis said she felt insulted by the samples, calling them “theft” and saying “the level of disrespect and utter ignorance from all three parties involved is staggering”. Her frustration seems to stem from the fact that she was not contacted prior to publication to approve the samples, writing, “I heard about it the same way everyone else does. Nothing is ever what it seems, some people in this business have no soul or integrity and they have fooled everyone.
In a later video, she clarified, “She can contact, can’t she? Ashnikko, who’s what, 20? She’s a young white girl, she reached out… It’s common decency She clarified that “it’s not about me being crazy about Beyoncé,” and reiterated her arguments from a few years ago when she called out Pharrell and Chad Hugo, The Neptunes, to not not having credited her as songwriter for her first two albums with them.. In her opinion, Pharrell and Chad cheated her out of her publishing rights and the associated royalties that come with them.
Now, whether you agree with Kelis or not, his comments make one thing clear and virtually undeniable: the recording industry as we know it is in desperate need of an overhaul. In fact, it could be argued that reform of the current business model is decades overdue; after all, the Internet nearly killed the major label system over twenty years ago when downloading .mp3s from Napster was the preferred method of music consumption for a relatively small segment of the market. Today, with the advent of streaming, blockchain, and computerized algorithms driving music discovery – and the automatic tracking of every transaction, there’s no excuse not to implement big changes. when it comes to assigning credits and royalties to artists.
To be fair, Beyonce gave credit to the required parties, deleting the samples and getting permission from the rights holders. The administration of the publication is handled by business people; I’m not sure how much Beyonce is personally involved in this end of the creative process (probably very little, considering how many other details she personally oversees, from choreography to costumes). And Kelis signed those contracts — or neglected to sign the separate sheets — that abdicated his publishing share to Star Trak.
But that could be the biggest part of the problem. How many artists have we seen express themselves in recent years on regrettable clauses that they did not understand in contracts signed as teenagers? What does a 17 year old know about mastering rights or publishing rights or how an advance works? And for what it’s worth, we’ve seen how supposed industry veterans like Kanye West, who was in his twenties when he signed with Def Jam after working with the label for years on several hits, clearly don’t understand not how these things work. Who can say, without looking at the contracts in question, that Pharrell himself even knows what he signed Kelis to?
If we want to point fingers, we have to point them at the powers that be, the people who put the system in place and benefit most from it – and who refuse to change it to keep up with the times. With so many new technologies available, wouldn’t it be wise to revisit some of these “industry standard” contracts and revise industry standards to fit modern conditions? Thanks to technology, labels have new avenues to market and promote music and make their investments profitable, shouldn’t it be up to them to share these profits with the people who generate the product? If industry is a home, archaic practices are the termites destroying it from within while the changing times are the weather, slowly stripping the paint and wearing down the roof.
I understand why they wouldn’t want to do a top-down review. It would be expensive, it would take a lot of time, and it would take a lot more work than what they already do to generate record revenues. But just like with a house, if you don’t do the maintenance, all those little problems eventually add up to bigger problems and you find yourself looking for a new place to live. The near collapse of the industry in the early 2000s should have been a warning; if the labels then narrowly escaped their demise, it was by innovating and challenging the status quo. Unfortunately, some seemed to have missed the lesson. The next epochal change in music technology may be imminent, and next time they may not be able to save themselves.