The extremely shy and usually elusive Irish born singer/songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan made a rare public speaking appearance over the weekend and addressed his landmark court case against Biz Markie that forever changed the direction of hip-hop music. Fielding questions Sunday afternoon at the Branchage Film Festival in Jersey, UK, following a screening of the Aidan McCarthy directed bio-doc Out On His Own: Gilbert O'Sullivan, the artist, who scored a series of hits in the UK (and to a slightly lesser degree in the US) in the early 70's including "Nothing Rhymed," "Alone Again (Naturally)," "Clair," and "Get Down," gave his side of the story of the notorious 1991 court case that he won but also gained the ire of countless hip-hop artists and fans alike.
Gilbert O'Sullivan "Alone Again (Naturally)"
The landmark case, settled in a New York court, was the first sampling lawsuit to go to court and became historic because it forever altered the course of recording hip-hop music. Up until then hip-hop artists were accustomed to freely borrowing snippets of previous recordings, and pretty much sampled whatever they wanted to. If challenged they tended to settle out of court, or in many instances the rap artist would ask permission (sometimes offering money) right before using a particular sample. This was actually the case with Biz Markie and Gilbert O'Sullivan, but things did not go as hoped for by the Biz and his O'Sullivan sampled song, "Alone Again (Naturally)."
"Biz Markie and they [Cold Chillin Records] approached us and said, this was in 1990, that we would like to sample your song and use it on a track. So we said okay, and if we like it we'll see where we go from there. They sent it over and what they had done was sampled the intro and then he rapped over it," said O'Sullivan, whose real first name is Ray, onstage at the Jersey Opera House alongside director McCarthy and Q&A moderator Rod Byrans from the Branchage Festival. The self-admittedly idiosyncratic O'Sullivan, who refuses to watch the film about himself, continued, "But then we discovered that he [Biz] was a comic, a comic rapper, and the one thing I am very guarded about is protecting songs and in particular I'll go to my grave in defending the song to make sure it is never used in the comic scenario which is offensive to those people who bought it for the right reasons. And so therefore we refused. But being the kind of people that they were, they decided to use it anyway [without permission] so we had to go to court."
In the end they beat the Biz, won a large sum of money from Cold Chillin' Warner, and the song had to be pulled from the already pressed up album I Need A Haircut. But O'Sullivan said that he only did it because he felt pressured into doing so and really didn't relish the experience or the consequences. "I'd rather not have gone through it," he said.
Biz Markie "Alone Again"
Gilbert O'Sullivan on sampling case @ Branchage Film Festival (Sept 26, 2010)