On Monday Courthouse News Service revealed that DITC producer/rapper Lord Finesse is suing annoying frat rapper Mac Miller, Miller’s label Rostrum Records, and mixtape hub DatPiff, over the unauthorized use of his “Hip 2 Da Game,” which serves as the instrumental for Miller’s breakout track “Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza.” The 2010 song was given away as a free download on the mixtape Kickin’ Incredible Dope Shit and never sold, so there are no direct profits from Miller’s beat-jacking. “Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza” video however, the track pretty much made Miller’s reputation — before being removed, it had racked up more than 20 million views, in two years — and the lawsuit claims that Finesse’s instrumental helped to “launch [Miller’s] music career,” which it most certainly did.
What at first seems like another example of someone just not getting how Internet rap culture works does get a bit more complicated. Undoubtedly, ad money was generated by the “Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza” video. That doesn’t seem to be the lawsuit’s primary focus — it’s alleging that Miller’s career was significantly boosted by rapping over a Finesse instrumental and therefore, money is owed — but this case functions as a real-world follow-up to fellow ’90s whiner David Lowery’s missive on “free culture” and the way that seemingly everyone but the artist is making money off music.
Here’s the other way to look at this: A producer who made his name sampling the music of others and didn’t always credit them or pay up is now suing a young rapper for using one his instrumentals without crediting him or paying up. Finesse came up in an era when it was still possible to sample and “get away with it,” and rap’s weird jump to the Internet has created something of a resurgence of sample-based hip-hop. It isn’t a coincidence that this rap renaissance coincides with a distribution model (free, on blogs) that confounds draconian copyright laws related to sampling, so it’s a bummer that he doesn’t realize that or doesn’t care. As Miller himself pointed out on Twitter, Finesse never properly cited Oscar Peterson, whose “Dream of You” is sampled on the 1995 track. There was also a 1-800-CALL-AT&T commercial, which featured “Hip 2 Da Game.” It would be interesting to know if Finesse profited off of those ads, because then Oscar Peterson’s estate got screwed twice over. At the heart of this lawsuit is something noble, but Finesse isn’t the one to be leading this campaign.
Still, Mac Miller is an unsympathetic figure and his response to the suit via Twitter that points out how Finesse never credited Oscar Peterson is a diversion and a lazy ethical stance. And Miller was certainly savvy when he picked “Hip 2 Da Game,” to rap over. He was curating, capturing some cloud rap zeitgeist by choosing an especially chill beat that sounded of-the-moment even though it was 15 years old. This isn’t 50 Cent or Lil Wayne going off over hits that most of the audience surely knows, this is a young rapper playing on the ignorance of his very young fans.
Somewhere in “Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza,” the song or video, dude could’ve crammed in a shout-out or nod to the producer. That’s just kind of how hip-hop works, you know? The implicit rule isn’t “pay homage so you don’t get your ass sued,” but it is “pay homage out of respect for the tradition you’re building on, and maybe even caking off, as well.” If Miller’s Twitter trolling was an attempt to call Finesse out as someone not sticking to rap’s post-modern, nobody-owns -nothing spirit, then he’s just as guilty of punking out on rap’s code.