Chicago Producer Sues Kanye West, Jay-Z Over Song Sample

Syl Johnson says rappers used vocals from his classic track "Different Strokes" without getting the proper clearance

A legendary Chicago producer filed a federal lawsuit Friday against rappers Kanye West and Jay-Z claiming vocals from a decades-old track was illegally sampled and featured on their album, "Watch the Throne."

Veteran soul singer Syl Johnson, whose real name is Sylvester Thompson, produced, sang, and recorded the 1967 song, "Different Strokes," which has been sampled by other artists including Michael Jackson, Kid Rock, Tupac Shakur and rap group NWA, according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

But Johnson's suit claims Kanye West and Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter, did not obtain permission from Johnson’s Syl-Zel Music Company to use a composition excerpt in the track "The Joy."

According to a blog posting by The Numero Group -- a Chicago company that specializes in preserving and re-issuing old music, film and photography -- the process first started last summer when they were approached to get the sample cleared by Def Jam. The song was originally supposed to be used on the deluxe version Kanye's successful 2010 solo album "My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy."

But the song was never released and no agreement was ever reached for use of the sample, according to Numero.

Shortly after the album was released in August, Johnson said he was disappointed the artist's used the track anyway.

The five-count suit claims copyright infringement, unfair competition, and fraud. It seeks a jury trial, permanently restraining the rappers from performing the song "The Joy" in concert or distributing the recording. The suit also requests an order to impound all recordings of the song, an accounting of the revenues and a judgment for the balance due Johnson.

It also seeks punitive damages, attorney fees and court costs.

A spokesperson for Universal Music Group Corp., which owns Roc-A-Fella Records LLC and Island Def Jam Music Group, was not available for comment.

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