Did Frank Ocean Rip Off The Eagles’ “Hotel California”?
While the controversial idea of “sampling” is nothing new in music (like every Will Smith song for example), there is a line between “sampling” a song and outright ripping it off. New R&B star Frank Ocean, known for his recent work with Jay-Z and Kanye West on “Watch the Throne”, is being accused of illegally using the 1977 Eagle’s hit “Hotel California” for his own song “American Wedding”.
Originally released by Ocean without a record label, Def Jam records is working on a full commercial release of the album, sparking legal concerns over Ocean’s “sampling”. Ocean quickly posted his side of the story on his Tumblr page,
“Don henley(‘s label–Rhino) is apparently intimidated by my rendtition of Hotel California.. He (They) threatened to sue if I perform it again. I think that’s f***in awesome. I guess if I play it at coachella it’ll cost me a couple hundred racks. If I don’t show up to court, it’ll be a judgement against me & will probably show up on my credit report. Oh well. I try to buy my s**t cash anyway. They also asked that I release a statement expressing my admiration for Mr. Henley, along with my assistance pulling it off the web as much as possible. S**t’s weird. Ain’t this guy rich as f**k? Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.”
For many, the difference between “homage” and “rip-off” is pretty clear. As pointed out by The Eagles themselves to the LA Times, Ocean didn’t just use a portion of the song for his own, but used the entire master track and just put his own lyrics over it,
“Frank Ocean did not merely “sample” a portion of the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” he took the whole master track, plus the song’s existing melody, and replaced the lyrics with his own. This is not creative, let alone ‘intimidating.’ It’s illegal. For the record, Don Henley has not threatened or instituted any legal action against Frank Ocean, although the Eagles are now considering whether they should.”
Though I can understand the desire to pay homage to those that came before that you respect, I really don’t like the idea of “sampling”. As Ocean has shown, it doesn’t take much to go from showing respect to outright thievery. If a singer is going to be successful, he/she needs to be able to make their own music, not just build off what others did. But what do you think about this? The two songs in question are posted below. Is Ocean just paying respect, or committing robbery of a classic?