A Maryland-based independent hip-hop producer is has filed a lawsuit accusing several prominent rappers of ripping off a track he distributed in the underground hip-hop scene two decades ago.
David W. Smith alleges elements of his 2003 track WHACHACOM4? were pinched by Terror Squad’s 2004 hit Lean Back, and again by 50 Cent’s 2005 hit Candy Shop.
Both songs were among the biggest hit hip-hop tracks of that era, with Lean Back reaching the No.1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 for three straight weeks in the summer of 2004, and Candy Shop peaking at No.1 on the same chart a year later.
In a complaint filed in the US District Court for the District of Maryland on April 27, Smith says that 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson), as well as rappers Fat Joe and Remy Ma of Terror Squad, plus Scott Storch, who produced both tracks, “made millions of dollars from their exploitation” of WHACHACOM4?.
The complaint states that Smith co-wrote WHACHACOM4? in 2002 with rapper Molik S, Hippolyte (aka Molik), and that, in 2003, he distributed copies of the track to disc-jockey pools “to play in nightclubs and other events such as weddings and festivals, and on the radio throughout the Eastern Seaboard.”
“One such record pool, the renowned Spinners Unlimited Record Pool (S.U.R.E.) in New York City, reported [WHACHACOM4?] as number 2 on its ‘Top Upward Sizzlers (Prime Movers)’ chart of August 5, 2003, and one of five on its ‘New & Hot S.U.R.E. Shots’ chart,” the complaint claims.
According to the complaint, which you can read in full here, Smith registered a copyright for the track on April 22, 2022. The lawsuit doesn’t elaborate on why the copyright for the track was filed nearly 20 years after Smith distributed it.
The complaint includes details about the alleged similarities between Smith’s track and Candy Shop and Lean Back, including comparisons of musical notations for the track and images of waveforms, which the complaint argues, show “substantial similarities” between the tracks.
It also suggests a connection between Smith’s track and the two hit songs through producer Scott Storch, who the complaint claims did business with S.U.R.E.
Both Smith’s label Blacksmith and Storch “received weekly communications as to the performance of releases on their respective label” through S.U.R.E., the complaint alleges.
As defendants, the lawsuit names Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent), Joseph Cartagena (aka Fat Joe), Reminisce Smith Mackie (aka Remy Ma), along with producer Scott Storch.
It also names Warner Chappell Music and Warner-Tamerlane, Remy Ma’s company Remynisce Music and Terror Squad Productions as co-owners of the copyright on Lean Back.
It further names Universal-owned labels Aftermath and Interscope, TVT Music, 50 Cent Music LLC as well as Shady Records – the label co-founded by Eminem, who discovered 50 Cent in 2002 – as co-owners of the copyright on Candy Shop.
As compensation, the complaint seeks percentage of the revenue made from the tracks – “such amount as the court finds to be just and proper” – plus damages and court and legal fees.
The lawsuit comes amid a wave of recently-filed copyright suits against high-profile musicians, including one against rapper Drake over his track Calling My Name, brought by Ghanaian rapper Obrafour.
Up-and-coming hip-hop artist GloRilla was sued last month by New Orleans rapper Ivory Paynes over her 2022 collab with Cardi B, Tomorrow 2.
Also last month, Lizzo’s track About Damn Time was the subject of a copyright suit by the estate of Malcolm McLaren, the manager who brought the Sex Pistols to fame in the 1970s.
Smith’s lawsuit was filed the same week as pop star Ed Sheeran took the stand in New York to defend himself against allegations that his hit Thinking Out Loud copied Marvin Gaye’s 1973 song Let’s Get It On.Music Business Worldwide