By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“It starts with that typical music-business horror story of an artist working with the producer who promises them the moon and stars, who sells it to someone else and cuts the original artist out of the sale,” says Lazar. “It was an incredibly depressing song that Karma wrote in her bedroom while pouring her heart out. Hearing Wayne’s lyrics about codeine and Vicodin was the last way she expected to hear it.”
According to Urband and Lazar, Jonsin dangled the possibility of doing an album with Swanepoel in exchange for some of her demos, with “Once” as part of the collection. In a recent interview with the Orlando Weekly, Jonsin admitted that the song wasn’t yet intended to get to Wayne.
“The guy that works with me sent it out to Cash Money,” Jonsin told the Orlando Weekly. “He wasn’t supposed to do that. I was going to get [Karma] to play guitar over it and sing the chorus. [Wayne] loved it and went ahead and did it. It caused a lot of drama.”
Wayne intended this druggy dirge for Carter III but claims the song was stolen from him. Empire declared that it landed in his in-box from a guy on Wayne’s tour bus. While Wayne hasn’t publicly denounced Empire for leaking his album, his L.A.-based attorney, Ron Sweeney, says the case is a textbook example of greedy music publishers attempting to milk money out of a multiplatinum artist.
“Thanks to all the MySpace and YouTube views the song got, [Swanepoel] got a ton of exposure that she wouldn’t have otherwise had,” argues Sweeney. “Of course, her publishers would deserve something if Wayne was making money off the song, but he most certainly isn’t. And the people in the record business wonder why their industry’s in the toilet?” Sweeney says that Wayne received the track from the producer, Jonsin, who had signed an agreement confirming that he owned the rights. Says Sweeney, “It sounds like even the publishers have acknowledged the producer is the culprit.”
But Urband claims that “We’re not at liberty to go after [Jonsin]. Both us and our legal team feel that Wayne is at fault.” Of course, culpability is ultimately a judge’s matter to decide. However, the song’s popularity is clear: When the suit was filed, the song had received 16 million plays on MySpace. By contrast, “Got Money,” currently the most popular song on Wayne’s MySpace page, has had approximately 11 million plays.
Adding to the intrigue are Urband and Lazar’s claims that negotiations with Universal Records to place the track on Tha Carter III had begun, only to break down due to what the publishers called “an insultingly small amount” of money. When the two sides couldn’t agree on terms, the track was consigned to purgatory — until it landed on the Internet.
Dan Weissman, the manager of Washington, D.C.–based rapper Wale, whose Seinfeld-themed Mixtape About Nothing raised the bar for the genre upon its release earlier this year, thinks the case is more about a missed opportunity for Urband & Lazar. The company owned the rights to a song that saw a sudden and meteoric rise, but didn’t properly capitalize on it. Swanepoel’s “Once” was eventually released this May by Urband and Lazar’s label, U&L Records, but the window of opportunity had passed.
“I don’t think the song itself did anything for Wayne’s career other than to add to his vast, uncleared mixtape catalog,” says Weissman. “On Da Draught 3,he used the Prince sample from ‘Diamonds and Pearls,’ and who knows how much it filtered down? But Prince didn’t sue — and he’s the most aggressive copyright enforcer there is. A girl like Karma, who most people hadn’t heard of prior, shouldn’t have freaked out but rather thanked her lucky stars that the most popular rapper in the world wanted to sample her.” Weissman adds that the publishers missed the chance to turn Swanepoel into a 2007 version of Dido, who jump-started her career on the back of Eminem’s “Stan.”
This isn’t the first time Wayne and Cash Money have been accused of running afoul of copyright law. Last year, a lawsuit was filed in the same Louisiana federal court by several music publishing companies alleging that songs from Birdman, Wayne and the Big Tymers featured unauthorized samples. And this past July, Abkco Music, publishers of the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” sued Wayne over his Carter III song “Playing With Fire,” which they allege features “an unauthorized release of an altered version of the song.”