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Kelis says Milkshake sample in new Beyonce song is “theft”

By | Published on Friday 29 July 2022


Kelis has accused Beyonce of sampling her music without permission on the song ‘Energy’, which appears on the new Beyonce album ‘Renaissance’, which is out today. Although, this isn’t really a conventional uncleared sample dispute, and instead relates to a long-running beef between Kelis and her former collaborators, production outfit The Neptunes.

The new Beyonce song interpolates part of Kelis’s 2003 track ‘Milkshake’, which she recorded with The Neptunes – aka Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo – for her third album ’Tasty’. It is one of five tracks the duo produced for that album, four of which – including ‘Milkshake’ – list Williams and Hugo as the sole songwriters. As a result they are both credited on ‘Energy’ – seemingly suggesting the interpolation itself has been properly cleared – but Kelis is not.

Responding to one fan on Instagram who had praised the “collab” on the new Beyonce record, Kelis stated, via the account of her beauty brand Bounty And Full: “It’s not a collab, it’s theft”.

In another comment, she added: “My mind is blown too because the level of disrespect and utter ignorance of all three parties involved is astounding. I heard about this the same way everyone else did. Nothing is ever as it seems, some of the people in this business have no soul or integrity and they have everyone fooled”.

This is not the first time that Kelis has complained about how the rights in and royalties from the music she made with The Neptunes over 20 years ago were carved up – with her previously claiming that she earned no income at all from her first album, which was solely produced by the duo and largely credited to them as songwriters.

She did receive joint credits on many of the tracks on her second album, ‘Wanderland’, and some of the songs on ‘Tasty’, alongside the two producers and others. Her first three albums were also released via The Neptunes’ Star Trak label.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2020, she said: “I was told we were going to split the whole thing 33/33/33, which we didn’t do. [I was] blatantly lied to and tricked [by] the Neptunes and their management and their lawyers and all that stuff”.

She added that she didn’t initially realise that she wasn’t receiving any income from her recordings, because touring was earning her a living, but when she did and complained, she said: “Their argument is: ‘Well, you signed [an agreement]’. I’m like: ‘Yeah, I signed what I was told, and I was too young and too stupid to double-check it’”.

The fact that the long-running beef between Kelis and The Neptunes is no secret – and Williams and Hugo have their credits on the Beyonce track – means there probably isn’t a straightforward copyright claim regarding use of ‘Milkshake’ in ‘Energy’.

However, Kelis says, the use of her song – and the fact she was not made aware of it – raises moral issues and it highlights wider concerns about how artists are treated. And, while her dispute is really with Williams and Hugo, she feels Beyonce is also partly to blame.

Moving the conversation over to her main Instagram account last night, Kelis posted two videos further explaining her grievances. And she began by saying that – given Beyonce has met her in the past and they have mutual friends – “it’s not that hard, she can get in contact, right?”

“I know what I own and what I don’t own”, she continues. “I also know the lies that were told, I also know the things that were stolen – publishing was stolen, people were swindled out of rights. It happens all the time, especially back [in the late 90s]”.

“So it’s not about me being mad about Beyonce”, she insists. “She is one issue because it was stupid and disrespectful – she could have at least reached out. But the real issue is that … this is a direct hit on me, Pharrell does this all the time … and the reality is that it’s frustrating, I have the right to be frustrated”.

In a second video, she called out Pharrell for speaking out about artists being able to renegotiate deals and getting proper credit for their work in an interview last year, “when in reality, when I was signed to him, we had the same manager and he has writing credits on my records – all my singles, coincidentally – and he never wrote a lyric a day in his life”.

In the caption for that second video, she also writes: “I just heard the record everyone is saying has my sample. But it’s beyond this song at this point. This was a trigger for me. ‘Milkshake’ alone is one of the most licensed records of our generation. I am a creator, I’m an innovator, I have done more then left my mark on an era of music and style that will go down in history”.

“But there are bullies and secrets and gangsters in this industry that smile and get away with it until someone says enough is enough”, she went on. “So I’m saying it today. I’m coming for what’s mine and I want reparations”.

Whether this means we can expect legal action over this remains to be seen. Neither The Neptunes nor Beyonce have commented on all of this.