Rap superstar Jay Z and music producer Timbaland spent two days in a stately federal courtroom in Los Angeles last week, defending their creation of the 1999 hit “Big Pimpin’” in a copyright infringement case filed by the heir of an Egyptian composer. At issue are several notes of flute music created by composer Baligh Hamdi for the 1957 love ballad “Khosara Khosara,” which both artists contend they have the proper rights to use.
Jay Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, and Timbaland, whose real name is Timothy Mosley, both testified. And an eight-person jury has been hearing details about contracts, copyright laws in the United States and Egypt and a host of other issues they’ll have to entangle once they begin deliberations this week.
Here’s a look back at some interesting moments in the trial:
Origins of “Big Pimpin’”
Carter told jurors he was about to leave a collaboration session with Mosley in 1999 when the producer played him a beat that included the flute notes from “Khosara Khosara.”
The rapper was hooked. “It didn’t sound like anything else on the radio,” he said.
Within hours, they had recorded much of the raunchy ode to a promiscuous lifestyle, and the song went on to become his first major hit.
Carter liked it so much, he ponied up $1 million to shoot the music video – an unheard of sum for him to spend on a video, he said.
He said he still enjoys the song and still performs it. “I like the song. It’s pretty good.”
Rapper, mogul, witness (and more)
Carter struck a humble tone throughout much of his testimony, but when asked by his attorney to list his many professions, he rattled off at least eight types of businesses, including rapping, a clothing line, a media label, sports agency and restaurants and nightclubs.
His attorney, Andrew Bart, reminded him of one more. “You run a music streaming service.”
“I forgot about that,” Carter replied when reminded of his streaming music service Tidal. “Thank you.”
Timbaland in action
Musical instruments are a key feature of music copyright trials, with witnesses employing keyboards and other instruments to play music as it’s depicted on sheet music.
Mosley gave his own demonstration, using an Ensoniq ASR-10 keyboard he said he’s used throughout his career to show jurors how he starts out creating beats for a new song.
The producer who’s worked with artists as varied as Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Madonna and a host of hip hop acts, started by demonstrating “beatboxing.” His zeal to display the technique of “making music with my mouth” elicited laughter in the courtroom.
Although there isn’t a dispute that some notes from “Khosara Khosara” appear in “Big Pimpin,’” both sides have presented experts on how important the notes are in the rap song.
Plaintiff’s expert Scott Marcus said Hamdi’s notes were a significant part of “Big Pimpin’,” although U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder struck his testimony that they were the “main theme” of the rap song.
Defense expert Lawrence Ferrara however called the notes “trite, minimal, fragmentary” to “Big Pimpin’” and that most of the Hamdi notes are essential musical building blocks that can’t be copyrighted.
Other experts have spoken about copyright and contract laws as they pertain to Egypt and the United States.
Snyder has noted the importance of expert testimony in the case, saying it will inform her rulings about how the case will be framed for jurors.
More than a ‘Papercut’
Band Linkin Park has also been dragged into the case because they recorded a mashup of their song “Papercut” set to music from “Big Pimpin’”
The combination wasn’t the biggest hit from the 2004 album “Collision Course,” which featured mashups of Linkin Park and Jay Z songs, but did force the band’s bassist David Farrell into court on Friday.
Farrell was designated by the rest of the band to represent them and describe how the mashup was created. He said they didn’t know there were any issues with the music on “Big Pimpin’” at the time, and if they did, “We wouldn’t have included the song.”