'Harlem Shake' Controversy: Artists Seek Payment for Song Sampling

"Harlem Shake" music video
"Harlem Shake" music video
 

Baauer's "Harlem Shake" has spent the last three weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and racked up millions upon millions of listens via its widely seen YouTube dance craze. But key moments of the song, including voices urging people to "Do the Harlem Shake!" and one saying "Con los terrorists," come from artists unaware of their involvement.

Now, retired reggaeton artist Hector Delgado and Philadelphia rapper Jayson Musson are seeking compensation from Baauer's label, Mad Decent Records.

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According to a report in the New York Times, Musson found out that his "Harlem Shake!" line was being sampled in Baauer's song in late February. The snippet comes from the song "Miller Time," recorded in 2001 by the group Plastic Little. Hear the sample at 3:54:

He has been in friendly talks with Mad Decent to receive compensation for the sample and he even called Baauer to thank him for "doing something useful with our annoying music."

"Mad Decent have been more than cooperative during this," Musson told the Times.

As for Delgado, who gave up music five years ago to become a preacher, his former manager, Javier Gómez, called three weeks ago to inform him of the "Harlem Shake" phenomenon. In contrast with Musson, Delgado is taking a harder stance about the use of his "terrorists" line, which can be heard on the track "Los Terroristas" at the :20 mark:

"It's almost like they came on my land and built a house," Delgado told the Times.

Under the stage names Hector El Father and Hector Bambino, Delgado has sold 294,000 songs and 193,000 albums in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. He's had three albums reach the top four on the Latin Albums chart, including "The Bad Boy," his highest-charting with a No. 2 peak in 2006. On Hot Latin Songs, he's charted 11 hits, including three top 10s (one of which went to No. 1 - "Sola" in 2007).

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Lawyers for Delgado's former label, Machete Music, are in talks with Mad Decent over payment. Gomez insisted that Delgado will "get what he deserves. We can turn around and stop that song. That’s a clear breaking of intellectual property right."

Baauer, real name Harry Bauer Rodrigues, created the song in early 2012 during a "lazy day" in his Brooklyn bedroom. The sequence of events were documented in a recent Billboard cover story:

He gave the track the booty-popping BPM of hip-hop with the buildup/drop arc of dance music, plus Dutch house synth riffs, a rap sample, animal noises and drum'n'bass-inspired sub-bass-an unlikely collection of inspirations, cultural moments and sounds, coming together in one killer basement party. When it was done, he did what any 23-year-old would do: "I put it online, just to show people."

After that, it all happened fairly quickly for Baauer. Scottish DJ Rustie dropped "Harlem" in his April 2012 "Essential Mix" for BBC Radio 1. SoundCloud crawler Diplo heard it and snapped it up for Jeffree's, an imprint under his Mad Decent umbrella built to push out singles and EPs from fledgling artists. As an intern for New York-based label/DJ collective Trouble & Bass, Baauer went to the Ultra Music Festival in Miami that March and met his future managers, Ben Persky and Mason Klein of Mixed Management, who already had buzzy artists like RL Grime in their stable and investment from Complete Control, Tiesto's former management team. He sent them demos, including "Harlem Shake." They signed him two days later.

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Since early February, "Shake" has risen to pop culture prominence thanks to the song's hugely popular meme (in which a person dances to the song alone for 15 seconds before others join in for the clip's second half). Aided by the addition of YouTube streaming data in calculating the Hot 100, "Shake" has spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100. But people are also buying it: the song has sold 816,000 copies through March 3.

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