Disco Pop, Milkshakes, & Future Considerations in Music Sampling

Gabrielle Stanfield

There was no shortage of great music to enjoy this summer as Bad Bunny, Drake, and many other artists graced our speakers and TikTok feeds with hit after hit.  Joining this mix, just in time for August, Queen Bey dropped her highly anticipated seventh studio album, Renaissance. Described as a “disco-influenced pop record,” this musical masterpiece inspired us to dance, sing, and release our stress.[1] Further, Beyonce is praised for the creativity and diversity that went into this project, specifically the stylistic influence of house music, and the recognition afforded to the Black queer spaces in which this genre first gained popularity.[2]

Beyonce’s impressive use of sampling and interpolation is one of the distinctive aspects of this project. In fact, fans, listeners, and critics took note of the large number of writers credited on some of the tracks. For example, Alien Superstar, lists no less than 24 writers.[3] Yet, while the number of credited writers may seem excessive, Beyonce’s approach falls in line, from a legal perspective, with established conclusions in the law on music sampling and interpolation dating back to the early 90s.

Modern regulations around the sampling and interpolation of musical works can be attributed to the case, Grand Upright Music Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc., 780 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1991). Here, the court found rapper Biz Markie liable for copyright infringement where he did not properly obtain clearance from copyright holder, Raymond O’Sullivan, before adopting elements of O’Sullivan’s song into his own work.[4] This decision presented somewhat of a departure from the existing status quo of turning a blind eye to the practice of sampling without prior clearance within the rap industry. Courts have largely continued to follow this approach, requiring artists to obtain express permission or a license in order to sample any sound or recording of a prior artist in new musical works.[5] Interestingly, some argue that this move has uniquely hindered the creativity and free expression of Hip Hop artists given the inherent improvisational and adaptive nature of the genre.[6]  However, issues raised by Renaissance reveal complexities on both sides, in particular for the artists of the original works.

Even in seemingly following the correct legal procedure, Beyonce was not exempt from criticism for sampling practices on this project. For example, the lead single on the album, Break My Soul contains identifiable traces from the popular Robin Stone hit Show Me Love. However, Stone will not gain any royalties from the ten million plus streams which this song has received to date. Furthermore, her approval for the use of this song was not even a consideration given her involvement only in performing the song, as opposed to producing or writing.[7]

Similarly, musical-artist, Kelis took to social media to protest the interpolation of her hit song Milkshake in Renaissance track number five, Energy.[8] The situation was further exacerbated by the existing drama between Kelis and music mogul producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo in which Kelis has accused them of orchestrating an unfair contract which allowed them to take full credit and royalties from the song.[9]  However, from a legal perspective, music law professionals agree that Kelis failed to raise a sufficient legal issue against Beyonce as the song credits did appropriately name Williams and Hugo as writers and noted Kelis’ role as a performer.[10] That being said, given the public nature of Kelis’ complaint, Beyonce still opted to remove the contested elements from the song — eliminating the Milkshake interpolation all together.[11]

Going forward, the issues raised by Renaissance present important considerations for artists on both sides of the debate. For those looking to incorporate samples and interpolations into their work, an ethical approach may involve a new way of acknowledging and crediting the performers of existing songs such as Kelis and Stone in this case. At the very least, though she was not legally obligated, perhaps Beyonce could have provided more of a heads up to both artists before the release of the track list. An additional takeaway from an industry perspective is likely that emerging artists must act with greater care in negotiating ownership over their musical copyrighted material. Finally, from a legal standpoint, as accusations around musical copyright infringement become more mainstream through publicity on social media, it may be pertinent to consider a new approach to the clearance process which both honors the owner of the original content and facilitates ongoing creativity.


[1]Maura Johnston, How House Music Became the Sound of the Summer, TIME (July 18, 2022, 12:10 PM), https://time.com/6197553/beyonce-drake-house-music-summer-2022/?utm_medium =email&utm_source=sfmc &utm_campaign=newsletter+more-to-the-story+default+ac&utm_content=+++20220819+++body&et_rid=2 07445858&lctg=207445858 [https://perma.cc/9XNV-W6YB] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220923021329/https://time.com/6197553/beyonce-drake-house-music-summer-2022/?utm_medium%20=email&et_rid=2%2007445858&lctg=207445858].


[3]Madeline Roth, How Does Beyonce’s ‘Alien Superstar’ Have 24 Writers? Here’s How, Diane Warren, Daily Beast (Aug. 3, 2022, 12:04 AM), https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-does-beyonces-alien-superstar-have-24-writers-heres-how-diane-warren [https://perma.cc/H3JB-42X6] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921145708/https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-does-beyonces-alien-superstar-have-24-writers-heres-how-diane-warren].

[4]Dasha Chestukhin and Joelle A. Milov, “All Samples Cleared!” Remembering Biz Markie’s Contributions to Copyright Law, Cowan Liebowitz & Latman P.C. (Aug. 17 2021), https://www.cll.com/CopyrightDevelopmentsBlog/all-samples-cleared-remembering-biz-markies-contributions?utm_source=Mondaq&utm_medium=syndication&utm_campaign =LinkedIn-integration [https://perma.cc/9TK3-ACD3] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921163327/https://www.cll.com/CopyrightDevelopmentsBlog/all-samples-cleared-remembering-biz-markies-contributions?utm_campaign%20=LinkedIn-integration].


[6]Erik Nielson, Did the Decline of Sampling Cause the Decline of Political Hip Hop, Atlantic (Sept. 18, 2013), https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/09/did-the-decline-of-sampling-cause-the-decline-of-political-hip-hop/279791/ [https://perma.cc/H7E9-HLFE] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921164552/https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/09/did-the-decline-of-sampling-cause-the-decline-of-political-hip-hop/279791/].

[7]Rhian Jones, ‘Common Decency’: Beyonce’s Renaissance Sparks Debate About the Politics of Music Sampling, Guardian (Aug. 5, 2022, 9:09 AM), https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/aug/05/common-decency-beyonces-renaissance-sparks-debate-about-the-politics-of-music-sampling [https://perma.cc/R2TB-GV87] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921150431/https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/aug/05/common-decency-beyonces-renaissance-sparks-debate-about-the-politics-of-music-sampling].

[8]Neil Shah, After Beyonce’s Music Change, Industry Wonders Where to Draw the Line, Wall St. J. (Aug. 4, 2022, 2:30 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/beyonce-kelis-music-controversy-11659636111 [https://perma.cc/85WG-BP5E] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921150741/https://www.wsj.com/articles/beyonce-kelis-music-controversy-11659636111].

[9]Kelcee Griffis and Riddhi Setty, Beyonce’s ‘Renaissance’ Blowback from Kelis Cautions Young Artists, Bloomberg Law (Aug. 8, 2022, 5:05 AM), https://news.bloomberglaw.com/ip-law/beyonce-renaissance-blowback-from-kelis-cautions-young-artists [https://perma.cc/42NB-UBJE] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921204415/https://news.bloomberglaw.com/ip-law/beyonce-renaissance-blowback-from-kelis-cautions-young-artists].

[10]Neil Shah, After Beyonce’s Music Change, Industry Wonders Where to Draw the Line, Wall St. J. (Aug. 4, 2022, 2:30 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/beyonce-kelis-music-controversy-11659636111 [https://perma.cc/85WG-BP5E] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921150741/https://www.wsj.com/articles/beyonce-kelis-music-controversy-11659636111] ; Jen Aswad, Should Beyonce Have Told Kelis She Was Sampling Her Song, Variety (July 29, 2022, 8:30 AM), https://variety.com/2022 /music /news/beyonce-kelis-sampling-pharrell-1235329246/ [https://perma.cc/FJ9Y-6AJ4] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921204750/https://variety.com/2022/music/news/beyonce-kelis-sampling-pharrell-1235329246/].

[11]Neil Shah, After Beyonce’s Music Change, Industry Wonders Where to Draw the Line, Wall St. J. (Aug. 4, 2022, 2:30 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/beyonce-kelis-music-controversy-11659636111 [https://perma.cc/85WG-BP5E] [https://web.archive.org/web/20220921150741/https://www.wsj.com/articles/beyonce-kelis-music-controversy-11659636111].