Copyright law can be a complicated field, or so I’ve heard. Then again, I’m pretty sure a fifth-grader could adjudicate the copyright dispute I just read about. Apparently there’s a former heavyweight boxer named Mitchell Rose who’s filing an $88 million suit against Jay-Z (h/t). Why? Because Rose says he gave Jay a demo tape in 2001, which he claims single-handedly inspired Jay to switch up his vocal delivery: “He took the demo with him and shortly after that he began using the whispering (which he now frequents) in his songs…. He’s using it on the regular, now Lil’ Kim is using it. All I want is justice. Jay-Z knows what I am talking about.” Um, no. Feel free to correct me here if you’re reading this and have a legal degree, but I’m pretty sure that the subtle pattern of intonations and emphases that make up one’s flow aren’t really the kind of thing one can copyright. Besides, what is this Rose character saying here — that he invented whispering?! Clearly, this is just a desperate clown looking for a shakedown from a multimillionaire.
But what really makes this funny is the way it echoes a silly complaint I’ve heard before from Jay’s most dedicated haters. These guys try to argue (NSFW language), with all the nit-picking machismo that rap message-boards foster, that Jay has lifted vocal tics (including that whisper-flow thing he sometimes does) from other, less well-known emcees. I’ve yet to hear a clear-cut, convincing example of this alleged theft — but on a much more fundamental level, this criticism really misses the point. Hip-hop is about transforming and reclaiming art from all kinds of sources, and Jay does that better than just about anyone. His voice as a poet is unique and recognizable, whether he’s whispering, screaming, or ghostwriting his words into somebody else’s mouth. So even if another guy’s hoarse-voiced demo did inspire Jay to try something new (which I really doubt), who on Earth cares? I’d like to see Mitchell Rose try and come up with something one thousandth as powerful as Jay’s hushed “Minority Report” (below) with that whisper of “his.” Don’t you agree?