Dem Nuh Ramp

What is it, copywrong week in Jamaica?

Tip o’ the proverbial hat to Ripley for pointing me to an article in the Jamaica Star which reports that EMI have served Vybz Kartel with a SERIOUS cease&desist on behalf of none other than (now former) w&w faves, Ne-Yo and Stargate (aka, Shaffer Smith, Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen) —

The current version of Vybz Kartel and Spice’s Rampin Shop has been ordered to be destroyed and pulled from all radio stations, television stations and the Internet by EMI Music Publishing. Plans are in motion for the song to be re-mixed and re-mastered so it can be played on air again.

When the STAR spoke to Vybz Kartel yesterday he explained that he had received an e-mail from EMI Music Publishing stating that Rampin Shop infringes on the copyright license of Miss Independent by Ne-Yo. Rampin Shop was released towards the end of 2008 and is currently on a remade version of the Miss Independent rhythm, the song while immensely popular in Jamaica has not been officially released to the International market. While Ne-Yo is officially signed to Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), the copyright license for the composition of the Ne-Yo song is licensed by EMI Music Publishing for composers Shaffer Smith, Tor Erik Hermansen and Mikkel S. Eriksen.

Kartel forwarded the e-mail from EMI to the STAR in which it stated, “‘Ramping Shop’ by Vybz Kartel and Spice infringes the copyright in ‘Miss Independent’ (Smith/Hermansen/Eriksen). Clearance of this use of ‘Miss Independent’ has not been sought or obtained and I am informed that clearance will not be forthcoming. Accordingly ‘Ramping Shop’ cannot be released or exploited in any way. Please confirm your acknowledgement and acceptance of this, and that you will arrange that (i) all recordings of the infringing track will be re-called and destroyed and that no further copies will be issued, and (ii) that the audio and/or video will be taken down immediately from all Internet sites.”

Note that the effervescent instrumental underlying “Miss Independent” is referred to here as “the Miss Independent rhythm” which nicely & subtly indicates how Jamaicans tend to think about accompanimental tracks: as always-already ready for a next “voicing.” Indeed, you can find a few other voicings (and even some mashups) floating around under the name Miss Independent riddim. Some, like Beniton’s version, show how spry artists engage with contemporary hits these days, dialoguing with the original while offering new, localized commentary. (You can call that illegal, but it’s not gonna stop.) Actually, I say “these days” because it’s increasingly common everywhere, but we should acknowledge that recording almost-immediate (cover) versions of r&b hits has been the thing to do in Kingston since, oh, the 1950s. (I realize that digital copying complicates things a little, but it needn’t. And, really, what’s the threat to Ne-Yo/Stargate? “Miss Independent” was a big hit; “Rampin Shop” threatens its future revenue stream NOT IN THE LEAST.)

Vybz’s too-hot-to-handle duet with Spice has been getting serious play in Jamaica and the dancehall diaspora — thus making it a target (unless, as some speculate, Kartel got fingered by a “rival camp”); whereas Beniton’s is not — I mean, is Beniton even reachable? JK HERE’S HIS PHONE# LOL). I’m sick enough of that beat at this point, having quite worn it out, that I’m happy for Kartel to re-release “Rampin” with a new backing, though I did like the striking juxtaposition of Stargate’s soft instrumental bedding and Vybz&Spice’s rough-and-tumble pillowtalk. Which raises the question: can Kartel’s version be heard as parody?

Here’s another irony (not that it’s not reconcilable with current copyright or certain notions of musical ownership), it turns out that, while denying the right to others to participate in contemporary remix culture, Stargate shamelessly reused their own music for “Miss Independent.”

Talk about an industry that’s out of touch. Can you believe that EMI would demand something as patently absurd and impossible as destroying all copies? “from all Internet sites”? Haha good luck with that! Next I’m expecting Cary Sherman to say the RIAA has to “do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering.”

Kartel’s song remains pretty darn easy to find on the net, and I suspect it’ll stay that way. (Praise Jah for decentralization & the promiscuity of digital files. Were only up to Google/YouTube, could we kiss the song goodbye?)

If you haven’t heard it yet, however, and don’t know what you’re getting into, be forewarned: in the time-honored tradition of Caribbean bawdy music, “Rampin Shop” is not for the feint of heart — SO ONLY LISTEN IF U LIKE UR SLACKNESS! (i.e., if you appreciate a good dirty joke. or a bad one. this has both!)