It's not your average day when you can mention Jay Z and the late, great Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez in the same sentence. But both are in the news right now because of a song Hafez performed in an Egyptian film from the 1960s.
That song is called "Khosara, Khosara," or "What a shame, what a shame" in English.
Rap fans will immediately recognize the tune as the sample Jay Z used for his 1999 hit, "Big Pimpin'."
Jay Z and his producer on the song, Timbaland, thought they were in the clear: They got permission to use the sample from EMI Arabia, which had previously obtained the rights to the song from another Egyptian label. But the heir of "Khosara, Khosara"'s original composer says EMI didn't have the right to sublicense the song, and now he's suing Jay Z and Timbaland in federal court.
The plaintiff says the two violated the "moral rights" of the composition. In other words, the song should not have been altered from its original form, nor should it be attached to a provocative song. That definitely rules out a rap track whose video features women in thongs shaking it on a yacht off the coast of Trinidad.
The battle has already been going for eight years, but it’s finally going to trial.
“It’s a really interesting case, because Jay Z went through all the proper channels that he should have,” says LA-based producer Ricky Reed. “As far as I can see — being on the American music, creator, producer side — he did nothing wrong."
Reed is no stranger to sampling: He took a beat from Israeli band Balkan Beat Box,and turned it into a hit song by Jason Derulo, “Talk Dirty.”
Reed says real issue is the difference between American and Egyptian copyright law. “Obviously, we’re in an era where music is a global thing," he says. "It can be made anywhere, listened to anywhere by anyone at any time, so these things become really fluid legally.”
The extent of that fluidity will be determined in court. But whatever the outcome, Reed says the beat in “Khosara, Khosara” remains incredible.
“As a producer, you hear the opening of the song and you think, ‘Oh, this is instant,'" he says. "I would love to, like, get inside the guts of it and play around with it and just have fun.”