Music

Pete Rock’s Potential ‘Illmatic’ Lawsuit Is Latest In Producer Royalty Cases For Classic Rap Songs

Pete Rock’s plan to sue over unpaid royalties for his contributions to the Nas classic “The World Is Yours,” comes just as fellow rap producers like DJ Shok have won monumental royalty lawsuits for their contributions to older rap songs that are considered staples today.

“The World Is Yours” is one of the most beloved and popular Nas songs of all time. And it wouldn’t be what it is without Pete Rock‘s production.

One would think that as a producer of such a hip-hop staple, Rock has been receiving royalties for the almost 30-years-old song. (Rock also has a writing credit on the track, as well as provided vocals on it.) But according to Rock himself, he hasn’t, claiming that Nas hasn’t kept up with a contract he signed saying that Rock would get a portion of the proceeds from “The World Is Yours.” Now, the famed hip-hop producer is planning to sue the legendary rapper.

Producers suing for unpaid royalties isn’t new, but it is interesting that Rock’s situation comes at a time where a couple of other producers have filed lawsuits for decades-old rap staples, too — with at least one of them having a historic win recently. This was the case with DJ Shok, a former in-house producer for Ruff Ryders (he produced everything from DMX’s “Slippin'” to Eve’s “Heaven Only Knows”) who won his case against the label for unpaid royalties in December last year.

The judgment in the case — which had played out for the last four years — awarded Shok “in excess of $3.2 million in damages and interest, including a rare award of punitive damages,” according to a press release about the lawsuit. This is rare because punitive damages are typically awarded when a defendant’s conduct is considered grossly negligent which, when you think about it (someone knowingly not compensating your work for decades and that affecting your livelihood), makes sense that this was also applied in this case.

“My hope is that the precedent set in this case will inspire others to fight for what is rightfully owed to them,” Shok said in a statement. “Maybe this will be a catalyst to change the current industry practices by serving as a warning to those who withhold payments due to artists and producers.”

Where last year saw Shok’s lawsuit come to a successful end, it marked the beginning of a similar suit producer Sir Jinx filed against longtime collaborator Ice Cube. In May, it was reported that Jinx had sued Cube over unpaid royalties for production work he had provided since the rapper’s debut album, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (he produced Cube classics like “No Vaseline,” “True to the Game,” and more), having realized that he wasn’t being fairly compensated for his work back in 2019. There hasn’t been any updates about the lawsuit since it was initially reported by TMZ (save for an update where a source close to Cube claimed that the rapper has loaned Jinx money over the years that has gone unpaid).

It’ll be interesting to see how both Jinx and Rock’s respective lawsuits play out, and if this may signal a rise in similar cases in the coming years, especially from other older producers who’ve expressed displeasure with their own royalty issues (i.e. DJ Quik, who burned a $188 royalty check from Death Row Records in April last year after insinuating that the label owed him much more money — and credits — for his work with Tupac and The Dogg Pound).

Elijah C. Watson

Elijah Watson serves as Okayplayer's News & Culture Editor. When he's not writing he's listening to Sade and crying or watching My Hero Academia with his partner.

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