Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Kanye West’s ‘Vultures 1’ Still Uses Part of an Uncleared Black Sabbath Song — Plus Many More

Even after Ozzy Osbourne denied Kanye West‘s sampling request on his new album with Ty Dolla $ign, Vultures 1, elements of the Black Sabbath hit “Iron Man” still appear on the album.  

The version of Vultures 1 that West released does not use that sample of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band performing “Iron Man” at the 1983 Us Festival. Instead, it uses a sample of West’s own track, “Hell of a Life,” released in 2010 with Universal Music Group (UMG), which also includes an interpolation of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” guitar riff. This use would likely also require approval from the members of that band — Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward — all of whom have writing and publishing credits on “Hell of a Life.” 

Because “Hell of a Life” includes several samples, there are actually more songwriters on that track than on “Iron Man” alone. They also include swamp rocker Tony White Joe and Sylvester Stewart, better known as Sly Stone. The Stewart song comes from a sample of “She’s My Baby” by The Mojo Men, a band which Stewart played with and wrote for early on in his career. Randall Wixen, founder of Wixen Music Publishing, which represents “She’s My Baby” and controls a 35% stake in the “Hell of a Life” songwriting and publishing, confirms the “Carnival” use was not cleared by his company either.  

“It’s ironic that Kanye replaced the unlicensed sample of the Ozzy Osbourne track ‘Iron Man’ with a sample of ‘Hell of a Life,’ which also samples a song by Osbourne and Tony Iommi,” says Wixen. “So, he’s just substituted one unauthorized Ozzy sample for another and now brought our song into the picture. In a perfect world, all samples would be approved and cleared prior to release. It is basic respect for the songwriter.” 

It’s not the only unlicensed use of a song or recording on the record, either. A spokesperson for Primary Wave, which has a partnership with James Brown‘s estate, tells Billboard that a use of The Godfather of Soul’s oft-sampled “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” was not cleared for use on the Vultures 1 track “Fuk Sumn.”  

It is not unusual for albums to be released with unsettled songwriter splits, often to writers and publishers’ consternation. It’s less common that an album is released without clearing samples or interpolations, though Rell Lafargue, president and COO of Reservoir Media, says it still happens. But the level of West’s popularity — and notoriety — makes album an extreme example.  

West’s team is working with the sample clearance company Alien Music Services to license these works and, according to multiple sources, they have so far secured a patchwork of licenses needed. Some works are cleared, others are not and some only partially. For example, Lafargue says Reservoir is currently negotiating the use of a sample of Brand Nubian‘s “Slow Down,” for the album track “Keys to My Life,” but the deal is not done yet. Multiple sources also say they were only approached with licensing requests after Vultures 1 was released last Saturday. Now the album is a serious contender to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart next week.  

“On the level of Kanye in 2024 to put out an entire album with samples that haven’t even been requested to be cleared, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen that today,” says Lafargue, who helped release De La Soul’s recording catalog to streaming services last year after it was famously tied up in sample clearance issues. “That’s the exception for sure.” 

This has already led to problems for the album. On Wednesday, the song “Good (Don’t Die)” was pulled from Spotify following a copyright infringement claim filed days earlier on behalf of Donna Summer‘s estate, and other streaming services soon followed suit. The estate claimed on a social media post that West’s team had asked for permission to use Summer’s iconic hit “I Feel Love” and had been denied, but the album was released with an interpolation on it anyway.  

Separately, on Thursday, the platform used to distribute Vultures 1 to streaming services, FUGA, told Billboard it was removing the album from its systems. However, there was no suggestion that was related to sample or interpolation clearance issues. The album is now being distributed by Label Engine, a service owned by Create Music Group.  

Che’ Pope from Yeezy Music says that licensing discussions are “in process” for the album and “everything’s in great shape, except for Ozzy Osbourne and Donna Summer.” He says that the Summer use should never have been released, and that the team is working on the “Carnival” issue now. With “Carnival,” Pope says West just needed a “guitar turnaround” on the track (the use appears around 1:43) and they can “figure out a way to play something else there,” unlike with “Good (Don’t Die)” where the interpolation was more material to the song. “There’s a few of us who play guitar,” Pope adds.  

West plans to release Vultures as a trilogy project, and Pope says the licensing issues leading up to this album’s release were a matter of which songs were going to make the cut. “We didn’t know what was actually on the album until it got closer to release date,” he says. “So the thing is we had all the samples from what could potentially be all on any of the three volumes.”   

It’s rare that streaming services will pull a major artist’s song over an unlicensed sample or interpolation. More typically, a deal is worked out between the artist’s and creators’ teams to put a license in place, and since the track is already out the artist loses leverage in those negotiations and will often give up a larger share of the rights. This was famously the case with The Verve‘s hit “Bittersweet Symphony,” which was based on a sample from a 1965 version of The Rolling Stones‘ song “The Last Time.” Since the band did not clear the song with The Rolling Stones’ former manager, Allen Klein, who owned the copyrights to their pre-1970 songs, frontman Richard Ashcroft was forced to relinquish all publishing to Klein’s company ABKCO Music and the songwriting credits were changed to The Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.  

While West built a name for himself as an all-time great hip-hop producer with exquisite use of samples and interpolations, with this release that’s been complicated by his recent history of antisemitism, starting in 2022 and after which he was widely condemned and lost numerous business deals. Speaking with Billboard on Feb. 9, Ozzy Osbourne’s wife and manager Sharon Osbourne noted that Ozzy often allows other artists to sample his work, “but the simple thing is, we don’t want to be associated with a hater.”

Sharon Osbourne, who is daughter of the U.K. music manager Don Arden and was raised Jewish, continued, “To spread hate the way he does, it shouldn’t be allowed. All the excuses — he’s bipolar or whatever — doesn’t change that. It’s like, f— you, basically.”

In all, Vultures 1 has at least two dozen samples and interpolations across 16 tracks, according to the website and reviewed by Billboard. Those include several uses of West’s own older music, like with “Hell of a Life” on “Carnival” and his 2012 track “Cold” on “Vultures” — all of which would presumably require licenses with UMG, under which he released those earlier recordings. There are also uses of samples from the film Dogma and a TikTok video of a cheer group and an interview with Mike Tyson from a podcast with Hollywood Unlocked’s Jason Lee, who was formerly West’s head of media and partnerships. And, of course, there is a lot of other creators’ music.  

Pope says the licensing process on this album has not been “different from any album” prior, but adds that as West’s first proper release as an independent artist after he no longer benefits from easier clearances within the UMG system. (Aside from West’s own tracks, the UMG record samples include “Back That Azz Up (Back That Thang Up)” by Juvenile, “Bring the Noise” by Public Enemy and “Jubilation” by Pierre Henry and Spooky Tooth, among others.) There are also the image issues. “The landscape, his reality is different,” says Pope. “He’s got an uphill battle in certain areas. Clearing samples is never easy, but this one is more challenging just because of how the landscape on everything is.” 

Most record labels and publishers contacted for this story declined to comment, with many saying they do not speak on individual licensing deals and that their policy is to follow their artists’ and songwriters’ wishes in these cases. Not every artist and songwriter involved, however, may know that their work is featured on Vultures 1.  

Indie R&B artist Dijon posted to Instagram Stories on Feb. 9, a day before the album’s release, suggesting that he was unaware his song “Good Luck” was being sampled on the track “Stars”. (Now Pope says Dijon “should be good,” though, and the artist’s reps declined to comment.) Wixen and Primary Wave only learned of their creators’ uses on the album until Billboard contacted the companies, and considering the complexity of licensing a sample that contains a sample, it’s easy to imagine that some rights holders still don’t know their work is being used.  

Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, for example, according to the Songview database, have songwriting credits on Brand Nubian’s “Slow Down” because it samples their 1988 hit “What I Am.” Universal Music Publishing Group, which reps the band’s publishing on the song did not respond to request for comment.

The song “Fuk Sumn” also samples late Three 6 Mafia member Koopsta Knicca‘s underground single “Smoking on a J,” which itself samples the Days of Our Lives theme song and Isaac Hayes‘ “Walk From Regio’s” off the 1971 Shaft soundtrack, according to and Billboard‘s own review.  

West’s own “So Appalled” from 2010 is sampled on the track “Problematic,” but that also includes Manfred Mann on the songwriting credits due to a sample of “You Are – I Am,” according to Songview.  

All said, a project like Vultures 1 could require upwards of 50 clearances, says Danny Zook, CEO of Alien Music Services. “We are working diligently to clear all the samples on this project,” he says. 

By Michael

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