Egyptian heir takes on Jay Z in Big Pimpin' trial

The heir of an Egyptian composer will take on rapper Jay Z (pictured) in court over a flute sample in hip-hop classic Big Pimpin'.
The heir of an Egyptian composer will take on rapper Jay Z (pictured) in court over a flute sample in hip-hop classic Big Pimpin'. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES, (AFP) - The heir of an Egyptian composer will take on Jay Z in court, saying the rapper had no right to use a flute sample in hip-hop classic Big Pimpin'. Court documents this week set Oct 13 for a jury trial in Los Angeles against the rap mogul, the latest twist in a long-running copyright saga over the 1999 song which extols the pimpin' life of casual sex.

The track opens with a Middle Eastern-sounding flute as Jay Z declares, "It's big pimpin', baby," and the sample duels with the beat throughout the song.

The flute sample turned out to be composed in 1957 by Baligh Hamdy for the Egyptian movie Khosara, Khosara. Big Pimpin' producer Timbaland has said he found the Egyptian song without any identification on a CD and that he believed it was in the public domain.

Jay Z's side quickly tried to defuse the controversy when, in 2001, it paid US$100,000 (S$139,982) to the label EMI Arabia, which said it had rights over "Khosara, Khosara." The label shared the payout with descendants of Hamdy, who died in 1993.

But the composer's nephew and heir Osama Ahmed Fahmy filed a lawsuit in US court in 2007 saying that the deal was irrelevant under Egyptian law.

Khosara, Khosara is "culturally significant" in Egypt and local law at the time gave no "blanket license to make derivative works that alter or add to the copyright," the lawsuit said.

"At the very least, regardless of the scope of the copyright license, the author is required to consent on a case-by-case basis to any alteration of his work," it said.

Fahmy is seeking a greater payout from Jay Z and Timbaland, with his lawyers saying they will bring experts to assess the economic impact of Big Pimpin' from the sample.

Jay Z's lawyers scoffed at the argument.

"The notion that people buy concert tickets to hear one song, never mind an instrumental sample contained in one song that may or may not be performed at any given concert, is beyond speculative - it is farcical," said a court motion by the defense.

Jay Z - whose real name is Shawn Carter - and his wife, pop superstar Beyonce, are estimated to have a net worth of some US$1 billion.

Outside of his music career, Jay Z has been an entrepreneur who formerly held stakes in the Barclays Center arena and Nets basketball team in his native Brooklyn and leads the streaming service Tidal.

Beyonce is facing a similar lawsuit from the Hungarian Roma singer Mitsou over an a cappella snippet that starts her song Drunk In Love.