A Tribe Called Quest’s been making headlines lately as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of their pivotal debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
The album’s most notable track, “Can I Kick It” (which the band performed recently on Kimmel), was mostly responsible for launching the trio’s career into hip-hop stardom. Though “Can I Kick” it continues to be band’s most notable and well-played tracks to this day, as it turns out the band makes literally nothing from royalties.
ATCQ used a number of samples in “Can I Kick It”, as is commonly done in hip hop. As Rolling Stone points out, drums and keys from Dr. Lonnie Smith are borrowed, along with slide guitar from Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. But the most notable sample used was the iconic bass slide, taken from Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”.
As it turns out, their record label (Jive) may have not cleared the copyrights properly, which led to Lou Reed coming back to run a hard bargain with the band:
“I remember with Jive, there was a problem with the sample being cleared,” band member Phife Dawg explains. “I don’t think they cleared the sample, and instead of Lou Reed saying, ‘You can’t use it,’ he said, ‘Y’all can use it, but I get all the money from that.'” Fast-forward 25 years, and “to this day, we haven’t seen a dime from that song,” Phife states. Lou Reed gets 100% of the royalties.
Though it is an understandable request, and certainly not unethical as it is not ideal for ATCQ. As Phife points out, “I’m grateful that it kicked in the door, but to be honest, that was the label’s fault. They didn’t clear the sample. And rightfully so. It’s his art; it’s his work. He could have easily said no. There could have easily been no ‘Can I Kick It?’ So you take the good with the bad. And the good is, we didn’t get sued. We just didn’t get nothing from it.”
What do you think, should Lou Reed be entitled to 100% royalties? Let us know in the comments below.