Breakbeats – time to judge the beat that’s on the street

September 2015

Recorded music



Producer Dr Luke is facing court over the use of a breakbeat in Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’. If successful, the case could have serious implications for thousands of other artists and producers says The Hollywood Reporter. A breakbeat “is a portion of a percussion track played solo without other instruments. These have long been popular with producers because they can be sampled and looped to create new drum parts and “a staple in hip hop, electronic, funk, jazz and other musical genres”.
Dr Luke is being sued over the alleged use of a popular breakbeat, taken from ‘Zimba Ku’ by Blackheat. New Old Music Group, which is owned by the writer of the 1975 track, Lenny Lee Goldsmith, sued the producer earlier this year claiming similarities between the Zimba Ku break and the drum part in ‘Price Tag’. In a ruling last week, a New York judge refused to dismiss New Old Music’s claim and proposed that the case should be put before a jury.
Similarly to arguments raised in ongoing the “Blurred Lines” litigation, the producer’s lawyers have said that the drum part merely contains elements representative of a particular style. Judge Ronnie Abrams disagreed saying: “While many of the individual elements of ‘Zimba Ku’ may be commonplace, defendants have not shown that, as a matter of law, the combination of those elements in the drum part is so common as to preclude any reasonable inference of copying” adding “A jury may well find that even though it has not been presented with prior art embodying precisely the combination of elements at issue, the similarities between ‘Zimba Ku’ and ‘Price Tag’ nevertheless do not sufficiently raise an inference of copying. At this point in the litigation, however, the court cannot conclude as a matter of law that no reasonable juror could infer, on the current record, that the creators of ‘Price Tag’ copied ‘Zimba Ku'”.
Reports say that recordings by NWA, Eric B & Rakim, DJ Shadow, Chance The Rapper, Biz Markie and many more feature the ‘Zimba Ku’ breakbeat. Tag here,  and have a look at Earl Palmer, Paul Humphrey and James Gadson, three session drummers responsible for many popular hip hop breakbeats in Keepin Time: Talking Drums and Whispering Vinyl here.

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