Hip-hop's perennial debate topic "old school versus new school" got literal recently when legendary D.I.T.C. crew producer/rapper Lord Finesse swung a $10 million law suit at Mac Miller, his record label and the mixtape website DatPiff for Miller's use of Finesse's beat for his 1995 song "Hip 2 tha Game." Although hip-hop artists hopping on other people's beats is as old as the genre itself, from "Rapper's Delight" to, well, infinity -- especially on mixtapes -- Finesse contends that Miller's version of the tune, titled "Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza," launched the kid's career (it did), and that it transcends the normal boundaries of borrowing in hip-hop.
Finesse's complaint isn't that the young Pittsburgh MC rapped over the beat, but that he produced a video for it too, according to a quick exchange the pair had via Twitter. A step too far because it used the beat without proper credit or because it went viral? After all, Miller fails to acknowledge the beat as a Finesse production in the video, which is disrespectful to the guy he claims as such a huge influence. It also formally breaks the line between appropriating and stealing according to U.S. copyright law.
The issue might be technological as much as generational. Shooting a music video is way easier than it used to be -- you could shoot most of that video on a cellphone -- so Finesse's standard of how far Miller actually went with the track seems a little outdated. The video probably wasn't much more than a fun afternoon for the youngster and a couple friends.
The difference between the "Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza" and the millions of other YouTube videos that feature eighteen-year-old kids rapping over popular beats that don't belong to them is that this one blew up and launched the kid's career. Whether the difference was Finesse's beat or not is up for discussion, and the answer might be passed down from a courtroom rather than a street corner.
While it was the internet that started this whole ethical brouhaha, then maybe it should be YouTube that provides judgment as well: When you type "Mac Miller kool aid" into the search bar, the second autofill response is the "instrumental for the Mac Miller song," not Lord Finesse's.
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