Music

Drake and Sexyy Red’s Use of ‘BBL Drizzy’ Sets a New Precedent for AI Sample Clearances

On May 24, Sexyy Red and Drake teamed up on the track “U My Everything.” And in a surprise — Drake’s beef with Kendrick Lamar had seemingly ended — the track samples “BBL Drizzy” (originally created using AI by King Willonius, then remixed by Metro Boomin) during the Toronto rapper’s verse. 

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It’s another unexpected twist for what many are calling the first-ever AI-generated hit, “BBL Drizzy.” Though Metro Boomin’s remix went viral, his version never appeared on streaming services. “U My Everything” does, making it  the first time an AI-generated sample has appeared on an official release — and posing new legal questions in the process. Most importantly: Does an artist need to clear a song with an AI-generated sample?

“This sample is very, very novel,” says Donald Woodard, a partner at the Atlanta-based music law firm Carter Woodard. “There’s nothing like it.” Woodard became the legal representative for Willonius, the comedian and AI enthusiast who generated the original “BBL Drizzy,” after the track went viral and has been helping Willonius navigate the complicated, fast-moving business of viral music. Woodard says music publishers have already expressed interest in signing Willonius for his track, but so far, the comedian/creator is still only exploring the possibility.

Willonius told Billboard that it was “very important” to him to hire the right lawyer as his opportunities mounted. “I wanted a lawyer that understood the landscape and understood how historic this moment is,” he says. “I’ve talked to lawyers who didn’t really understand AI, but I mean, all of us are figuring it out right now.”

Working off recent guidance from the U.S. Copyright Office, Woodard says that the master recording of “BBL Drizzy” is considered “public domain,” meaning anyone can use it royalty-free and it is not protected by copyright, since Willonius created the master using AI music generator Udio. But because Willonius did write the lyrics to “BBL Drizzy,” copyright law says he should be credited and paid for the “U My Everything” sample on the publishing side. “We are focused on the human portion that we can control,” says Woodard. “You only need to clear the human side of it, which is the publishing.”

In hip-hop, it is customary to split the publishing ownership and royalties 50/50: One half is expected to go to the producer, the other is for the lyricists (who are also often the artists, too). “U My Everything” was produced by Tay Keith, Luh Ron, and Jake Fridkis, so it is likely that those three producers split that half of publishing in some fashion. The other half is what Willonius could be eligible for, along with other lyricists Drake and Sexyy Red. Woodard says the splits were solidified “post-release” on Tuesday, May 28, but declined to specify what percentage split Willonius will take home of the publishing. “I will say though,” Woodard says, cracking a smile. “He’s happy.”

Upon the release of “U My Everything,” Willonius was not listed as a songwriter on Spotify or Genius, both of which list detailed credits but can contain errors. It turns out the reason for the omission was simple: the deal wasn’t done yet. “We hammered out this deal in the 24th hour,” jokes Woodard, who adds that he was unaware that “U My Everything” sampled “BBL Drizzy” until the day of its release. “That’s just how it goes sometimes.”

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It is relatively common for sample clearance negotiations to drag on long after the release of songs. Some rare cases, like Travis Scott’s epic “Sicko Mode,” which credits about 30 writers due to a myriad of samples, can take years. Willonius tells Billboard when he got the news about the “U My Everything” release, he was “about to enter a meditation retreat” in Chicago and let his lawyer “handle the business.”

This sample clearance process poses another question: should Metro Boomin be credited, too? According to Metro’s lawyer, Uwonda Carter, who is also a partner at Carter Woodard, the simple answer is no. She adds that Metro is not pursuing any ownership or royalties for “U My Everything.”

“Somehow people attach Metro to the original version of ‘BBL Drizzy,’ but he didn’t create it,” Carter says. “As long as [Drake and Sexyy Red] are only using the original version [of “BBL Drizzy”], that’s the only thing that needs to be cleared,” she continues, adding that Metro is not the type of creative “who encroaches upon work that someone else does.”

When Metro’s remix dropped on May 5, Carter says she spoke with the producer, his manager and his label, Republic Records, to discuss how they could officially release the song and capitalize on its grassroots success, but then they ultimately decided against doing a proper release. “Interestingly, the label’s position was if [Metro’s] going to exploit this song, put it up on DSPs, it’s going to need to be cleared, but nobody knew what that clearance would look like because it was obviously AI.”

She adds, “Metro decided that he wasn’t going to exploit the record because trying to clear it was going to be the Wild, Wild West.” In the end, however, the release of “U My Everything” still threw Carter Woodard into that copyright wilderness, forcing them to find a solution for their other client, Willonius.

In the future, the two lawyers predict that AI could make their producer clients’ jobs a lot easier, now that there is a precedent for getting AI-generated masters royalty-free. “It’ll be cheaper,” says Carter. “Yes, cleaner and cheaper,” says Woodard.

Carter does acknowledge that while AI sampling could help some producers with licensing woes, it could hurt others, particularly the “relatively new” phenomenon of “loop producers.” “I don’t want to minimize what they do,” she says, “but I think they have the most to be concerned about [with AI].” Carter notes that using a producer’s loops can cost 5% to 10% from the producer’s side of publishing or more. “I think that, at least in the near future, producers will start using AI sampling and AI-generated records so they could potentially bypass the loop producers.”

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Songwriter-turned-publishing executive Evan Bogart previously told Billboard he feels AI could never replace “nostalgic” samples (like “First Class” by Jack Harlow’s use of “Glamorous” by Fergie or “Big Energy” by Latto’s “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey), where the old song imbues the new one with greater meaning. But he said he could foresee it being a digital alternative to crate digging for obscure samples to chop up and manipulate beyond recognition.

Though the “U My Everything” complications are over — and set a new precedent for the nascent field of AI sampling in the process — the legal complications with “BBL Drizzy” will continue for Woodard and his client. Now, they are trying to get the original song back on Spotify after it was flagged for takedown. “Some guy in Australia went in and said that he made it, not me,” says Willonius. A representative for Spotify confirms to Billboard that the takedown of “BBL Drizzy” was due to a copyright claim. “He said he made that song and put it on SoundCloud 12 years ago, and I’m like, ‘How was that possible? Nobody was even saying [BBL] 12 years ago,’” Willonius says. (Udio has previously confirmed to Billboard that its backend data shows Willonius made the song on its platform).   

“I’m in conversations with them to try to resolve the matter,” says Woodard, but “unfortunately, the process to deal with these sorts of issues is not easy. Spotify requires the parties to reach a resolution and inform Spotify once this has happened.” 

Though there is precedent for other “public domain” music being disqualified from earning royalties, so far, given how new this all is, there is no Spotify policy that would bar an AI-generated song from earning royalties. These songs are also allowed to stay up on the platform as long as the AI songs do not conflict with Spotify’s platform rules, says a representative from Spotify.

Despite the challenges “BBL Drizzy” has posed, Woodard says it’s remarkable, after 25 years in practice as a music attorney, that he is part of setting a precedent for something so new. “The law is still being developed and the guidelines are still being developed,” Woodard says. “It’s exciting that our firm is involved in the conversation, but we are learning as we go.”

This story is included in Billboard‘s new music technology newsletter, Machine LearningsTo subscribe to this and other Billboard newsletters, click here.

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