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Syl Johnson Sues Kanye West and Jay-Z for Sampling His Vocals

By Samantha Abernethy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 15, 2011 7:00PM

Photo by Rachael Barbash

Back in August, we wrote that Numero Group had accused Kanye West and Jay-Z's label of doing soul crooner Syl Johnson dirty by sampling his vocals without clearing it with the sampling house. Now Johnson has officially filed a lawsuit against West and Z claiming unspecified damages for copyright infringement, unfair competition and fraud.

The song in question is "The Joy," the last track from Kanye and Jay-Z's collaborative album Watch The Throne, which contains Syl Johnson's vocals from "Different Strokes." The legal battle has been going on for about a year, ever since "The Joy" was released as part of Kanye's Good Friday series. Last fall Syl Johnson even said he "heard that shit in Walgreens the other day." Numero spoke with Def Jam's sampling clearing house and came to a verbal agreement, but no documents were signed. Watch The Throne came out earlier this year, and Numero Group was surprised to hear Syl's voice on it, without a legal agreement.

Then, in a blog post (which appears to have since been taken down, but we quoted here on Chicagoist) Numero Group wrote that Johnson called them up to ask why Numero was credited in the liner notes, not Johnson. "Wondering why we weren’t consulted on this new use, and baffled why we appear in the credits, for which we never asked, we contacted the sample clearance house. Even they cannot get a response from their own clients. Island Def Jam seems to think that Syl doesn’t have any fight left in him. We’re betting otherwise."

"Different Strokes" has been sampled by plenty of rappers, as Johnson himself points out in this video of him performing in Brisbane. Listen to the song below, and you might hear why.