The Grammy-nominated soul singer Syl Johnson is currently suing Jay-Z and Kanye West for an alleged illegal sample of his song "Different Strokes" on the Watch The Throne album track "The Joy." (No, not the theme song from the television show starring Gary Coleman.)
If successful, it won't be the first time that Johnson, who came to note with 1970's Is It Because I'm Black? album and whose 2010 anthology, Sly Johnson: The Complete Mythology, has been nominated for historical album and liner notes awards at this year's Grammys, has made a heap of cash off rap chaps. He often makes his money through the traditional rap channels, but he's also a litigious cat, as you'll see below. In any case, ahead of his show this Saturday, Feb 11, at the Echo, here's a run down of some of Johnson's most profitable (and notorious) samples.
Original Song: "Could I Be Falling In Love?"
Where You Probably Heard It: Raekwon's "Heaven And Hell"
Guesstimate of How Much Raekwon Paid: More than the cost of the Guess garms and Karl Kani underwear the chubby MC brags about in the song
In its original guise, Johnson's "Could I Be Falling In Love?" is a tender pondering of his growing feelings toward a certain lady. Channeled into the Wu-Tang Clan's world though, Raekwon and his cohort Ghostface turn it into an ode to the pursuit of "money, clothes, designer hoes" on Rae's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Between the Wu's cash-rules mentality and Johnson's payday, both parties come out winning.
Original Song: "Wind Blow Her Back My Way"
Where You Probably Heard It: Masta Ace's "Alphabet Soup"
Guesstimate of How Much Masta Ace Paid: A few grand
Masta Ace was part of Marley Marl's legendary Juice Crew in the '80s, but his more recent career has been strictly on the indie tip. So with 2001's Disposable Arts album coming out on the lowly JCOR label, it's likely Johnson saw this one as a way to get some quick cash in the bank as opposed to a major pay day. The ever erudite Ace does justice to the sample, as he kicks a clever rap that runs through the letters of the alphabet.
Original Song: "Different Strokes"
Where You Probably Heard It: "Shame On A Nigga"
Guesstimate of How Much the Wu-Tang Clan Paid: The going rate for a lake-shore house in Chicago
RZA has dipped into Johnson's vault on numerous occasions, most notably basing the Clan's early anthem "Shame On A Nigga" around a perky snippet from the gritty funk work-out "Different Strokes." (The same song Jay and Kanye allegedly pilfered from.) Ol' Dirty Bastard's guttural voice, in particular, sounds a snug match for the groove. In any case, Johnson reveled in cashing the Clan's check; as he boasted last year, "I'm sitting in the house now that was built with the Wu-Tang money."
Original Song: "Is It Because I'm Black?"
Where You Probably Heard It: "Lock Down (Interlude)"
Guesstimate of How Much Cypress Hill Paid: Apparently zero dollars and zero cents
A long-running lawsuit that was finally brought to an end last year, Johnson originally sued Muggs and company for a whopping $29 million for alleged unauthorized use of a version of the low-slung "Is It Because I'm Black?" on their 1993 sophomore album Black Sunday. According to court documents, Johnson's claim was ultimately denied. Still, he bragged that Cypress and Sony had spent well over a million bucks in contesting the suit.