I swear, if I hear one more rap artist stealing the line, “Cash Rules Everything Around Me, C.R.E.A.M. Get the money,” I am going to scream.
Now this is in now way disrespectful to the Wu-Tang Clan. “Cream” is a brilliant song and that is probably why it is quoted so much in other songs. But it needs to stop. I can think of a dozen songs recently that have “borrowed” this line. And I bet that there are at least a dozen more that I can’t think of right now.
Artists in hip-hop will often wear their influences on their sleeves. Sometimes this is unintentional but the listener can easily pick up on it if they know the history of hip-hop. The problem is that a lot of listeners have no clue as to the rich history that has come before.
I think some artists borrow lines as a sign of respect. They are paying homage to their favourite artists and those lyrics that really spoke to them. The only problem is that you can’t really put a footnote in a song. I wish you could.
It really frustrates me when a kid will say a brilliant line and then credit it to a lackluster rapper who just borrowed it from someone else. I will try to tell them of the original source of the quote and they will shrug it off, not listen, or show no appreciation. They will swear up and down that the new song is better without ever wanting to listen to the original.
I must admit that I have borrowed lines before in my own songs. In fact, last week, I tried to borrow a line in a new one that I was writing. But it felt artificial. It felt wrong. And it felt lazy.
I collect quotations. If you are a regular reader you know that. And while I think there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s wisdom, I think they need to be credited for it. I think we need to come up with a way to footnote rap lyrics. The problem is that I don’t think this would ever work.
Hip-hop is about using what you have available to make art. It has always been a movement to create from little or nothing. But as a writer, I feel like the original writer should be given some due. I don’t care if people sample me or borrow snippets of my lyrics. I’d be flattered.
But borrowing lyrics is watering down the art. People have lost track of who the original artist was. History is, as such, being lost. So, knowing that footnoting lyrics is never going to work, I think the only other solution is to stop this practice of borrowing lyrics. But that probably won’t work either. Oh well, at least I tried.