Controversy over ''Justify My Love'' -- Why Madonna's hit song is the center of a fierce copyright battle with Public Enemy
The controversy over Madonna’s ”Justify My Love” video may have cooled, but now there are disputes over the song itself. The credits on the record say the song was cowritten by Madonna and rocker Lenny Kravitz, who also produced the single. But Ingrid Chavez, an actress-singer who was the female lead in the Prince movie Graffiti Bridge, says she wrote most of the lyrics. Kravitz now publicly acknowledges Chavez’s contribution, for which she’s receiving one-quarter of the songwriting royalties. Chavez is satisfied with this arrangement, even though she says the finished Madonna version of the song is practically a heavy-breath-for-heavy-breath copy of Chavez’s original demo tape. ”Lenny told me he was obsessed about getting it the same,” she says. So why didn’t he use Chavez? ”Because Madonna can make more money,” Chavez says.
The second charge against ”Justify My Love” comes from the rap group Public Enemy, which says the song’s beat was sampled from ”Security of the First World,” a song on their million-selling 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. While Public Enemy’s lawyer, Lisa Davis, concedes that the legal situation concerning sampling is ”absolutely not clear-cut,” she says, ”If you just take someone else’s track, remove their vocals, and add your own rap, that’s copyright infringement.” Public Enemy and their label, Def Jam Records, are now contemplating legal action against Kravitz and Madonna. Says Public Enemy coproducer Hank Shocklee, who created the rhythm riff: ”I’m going on a rampage.”
Many in the music industry think Public Enemy’s threats are ludicrous because they believe the group sampled the ”Security” beat from a 1969 James Brown tune called ”Funky Drummer.” Kravitz’s manager, Stephen Smith, says, ”If there is a lawsuit, it should be by James Brown.” Hank Shocklee flatly denies this accusation. ”My beat is original, man,” he says. ”There was no sampling. None whatsoever. Yes, it’s a James Brown style, but it’s definitely not a rip- off.” Shocklee has just recycled the beat in question in a song, ”To My Donna,” by Young Black Teenagers (a group he produces), which sarcastically responds to ”Justify My Love” with sexual teasing.
A Madonna spokeswoman says the singer never heard the Public Enemy song and ”didn’t write the music.” Kravitz’s manager, Smith, says, ”There hasn’t been any copyright infringement. From my recollection there never has been any copyright enforcement on a drumbeat. Otherwise half the songs of rock & roll would infringe on Chuck Berry.” Smith says the claims by Chavez and Public Enemy are ”publicity stunts.” And the beat goes on.