Music as a Muse: “Copyright Criminals”

copyright criminals

Sampling.  A common practice nowadays.  The term refers to the creation of a montage of sorts out of audio by cutting a sample of a recording and introducing and reworking it into a different, more dominant musical piece, oftentimes as a motif within the new piece.  This takes place in many genres, particularly in hip-hop, rap, R&B and even pop music.

“Copyright Criminals” is a film that examines this practice and its artistic and commercial value.  Directed and produced by Benjamin Franzen, this 2010 documentary further delves into the subject, documenting debates concerning artistic expression, copyright law, and the money that all of this entails.

The film sports an all-star cast of a-list names offering their take on the subject, including Aesop Rock, George Clinton, Chuck D, and Clyde Stubblefield the ex-drummer for James Brown.

The film shares interviews with many of the first artists who began to use sampling in their work, and documents the legal questions that are involved, namely how in its beginnings, artists would sample other artists’ work without their consent.  It documents the progression from a sporadic whim to a ubiquitous custom, demonstrating how the music created with samples began to generate an unignorably substantial income.  It was then that the original artists began to seek reparation in court.  They sued for copyright infringement and the remuneration of royalties, and the debate thickened as the artists retorted with claims of fair use.

The film highlights how in the modern paradigm, artists have to be much more cautious about what material or not they choose to include, because ultimately they are going to have to pay the original artist for the sample clearance.  This preocupation has transformed the way in which sampling artists operate because with tighter restrictions, be them from the wallet or not, mean the artists cannot practice the art in the same, unobstructed manner as was typical in the past.

One particularly notable case in the film is the interview with Clyde Stubblefield, the ex drummer for James Brown.  As the production unfolds, we find that although he is not a household name, he is actually the most sampled artist of all time.  One particular clip where he was given a break became the birth of the funk drum sound, one that can be heard in the music of L.L. Cool J., Public Enemy, Madonna, Prince and Sinead O’Connor and became the standard beat for thousands of other songs.

Interestingly enough, given the profoundness of his contribution to modern music in comparison to the obscurity of his name and the fact that he has never seen a dime worth of royalties, he is happy that other artists are using his creation.

Copyright Criminals received its funding from the Ford Foundation, the University of Iowa, and the John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation, and after premiering at the Toronto Film Festival, it was broadcast at the national level on PBS.  (

All About the “Monáe!”—Janelle Monáe Artist Spotlight

Name: Janelle Monáe


Alter Ego: Cindi Mayweather

Labels:  Wondaland Arts Society, Bad Boy Records

Artistic Influences: Prince, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, OutKast, Erykah Badu, Funkadelic, George Clinton, Michael Jackson

Associated Acts: OutKast, Big Boi, Erykah Badu, Andre 3000, Miguel, fun.

Previous Works:  The Audition EP (2003)
Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) EP (2007)
The ArchAndroid (2010)

Latest Release:  Electric Lady (2013)

The Electric Lady Deluxe Album Cover

Initially, I discovered Janelle in 2006 when she was featured alongside OutKast on the “Idlewild” soundtrack.  The track is entitled “Call The Law.” I loved her delivery on the song, where she sang about being fed up with love and that the law may be called after she’s finished with it all.  The theme of the song coincided with the storyline of the film.  I was left wondering who this woman with the soulful, heartfelt delivery was.  During the same time period, my question was answered when she made a cameo in the “Morris Brown” video from the “Idlewild” soundtrack as well.Morris Brown Vid

Janelle moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 2001 where she met Big Boi of OutKast. She released her first EP while there in 2003, entitled “The Audition.”  While residing there, Janelle and two friends founded the Wondaland Arts Society, a record label and artists’ collective to promote innovative music and art. Big Boi was so impressed with her talent and style that he played a pivotal role in linking Janelle with Sean “Diddy” Combs.

According to Bad Boy Records’ A&R Daniel ‘Skid’ Mitchell in an interview with HitQuarters the label boss loved Janelle straight away: “[He] loved her look, loved that you couldn’t see her body, loved the way she was dancing, and just loved the vibe. He felt like she has something that was different – something new and fresh.”  Monáe signed to Bad Boy in 2006.

Android Theme:  “Cindi is an android and I love speaking about the android because they are the new “other”. People are afraid of the other and I believe we’re going to live in a world with androids because of technology and the way it advances.”

Fashion Sense:  Avant-Garde—just like her music. Janelle’s look is very distinctive and androgynous.  “Dressed in her trademark starched shirt and tuxedo, hair immaculately coiffed, Monáe’s face is an opaque mask of perfection: all silken smooth skin, button nose and glassy brown eyes.” (The Daily Telegram).

This also coincides with the android themes that are displayed throughout her EPs and albums and with her alter ego, Cindi Mayweather. She has described her tuxedos as being a uniform for her career and she has stated that she wears them when she is working. In 2012, her distinct style and flawless beauty attributed to her being selected as one of the newest spokeswomen for CoverGirl cosmetics.

Covergirl JM

Check out one of Janelle’s breakthrough songs “Tightrope” below (which was nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance at the 2011 Grammy Awards!)
“As we like to say at Wondaland, the booty don’t lie.  The booty always obeys the LAW OF THE JAM. You can’t hate on something that makes your booty move, that makes you jam and have a good time.”–Janelle Monáe

Watch the music video for the track entitled “Q.U.E.E.N.” It features the legendary, imitable Erykah Badu..“The booty don’t lie!!” for this song! I guarantee your hips will sway to this!

Janelle is the next big star! She embodies the whole package: innovation, uniqueness, talent, and inimitability! Buy her album “Electric Lady” on iTunes or from her website..For more info check out her website

Female Producer of the Week


Lisa Chamblee Hampton- CEO, Black Fox Entertainment, executive producer, Making Music Herstory 

Why she’s awesome:

Worked with several Grammy nominated artists- Prince on his 3121 album and also with Justin Timberlake on his Future Sex/Love Sounds album. Founded her own production and engineering firm, Black Fox Entertainment, in 2004. She has also done recordings for artists like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Eric Benet, and Ledisi.

What she is doing to put female producers in the spotlight:

She founded a project to feature all female artists, producers, writers, and engineers called “Making Music Herstory” and also moderated a panel at NAMM 2011 (one of the world’s largest music product trade shows) called Women Behind the Console: Inside the Process.

Why this project is important:

This project features and makes known female producers who could potentially be role models for women who want to pursue the profession. The fact that it was discussed at NAMM along with the panel gave the project great publicity. The project, if marketed in the right way, could reach and inspire many.