Paying the sampling bill
Some rappers, like Biz Markie, do release albums with unauthorized samples in hopes that a legal or financial settlement will be reached later. But while it’s impossible to gauge the percentage of samples that are legally cleared, more and more rappers are opting for prerelease clearance.
Most recording contracts require artists to tell their labels if any material on their albums is not ”original,” and that clause now applies to sampling. With a list of samples in hand, the labels’ lawyers then try to obtain legal permission, both from the label that released the original recording and from the writer and publisher of the sampled song. Those parties are offered either a flat fee (which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars) or a small royalty (anywhere from half a cent to 2 to 3 cents per album). Flat fees, say lawyers, are the norm. The 2 Live Crew, for instance, had to fork over roughly $100,000 to sample dialogue from the 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket in their single ”Me So Horny.”
According to Daniel Hoffman, senior vice president of Tommy Boy, a leading hip-hop label, De La Soul’s second album, De La Soul Is Dead, featured more than 50 samples and cost over $100,000 in clearance and legal fees. ”It’s a legal and administrative hassle, and it costs us a lot of money,” Hoffman says. ”But most of this material is handled sensitively and carefully.”