Vanity Fair finally puts a solo African-American on its cover, and doesn’t do any fact checking.
Beyonce Knowles, who’s full of sass and has a striking voice, actually thinks she’s a songwriter. She says so in the new Vanity Fair.
In fact, Beyonce did not write her big hit "Crazy in Love," or even conceive of it. "Crazy in Love" — its horns, percussion, chief melody and overall "feel" — was written by the late and very great Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites (he died this summer). The group recorded and released it in 1969 as "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)."
Indeed, the person who sought out the track was hip-hop producer Rich Harrison. He’s the go-to guy when you need to sample something obscure because you can’t write your own music.
He told MTV.com in February 2004 that he’d had the sample for some time, long before Beyonce knew about it.
"Yeah, I had it in the chamber," he told the Web site. "I hadn't really shopped it much, because sometimes you don't want to come out of the bag before it's right."
Harrison then brought Jay-Z in to add a rap. The result was such a success that Harrison would later adapt the horn section from the Chi-Lites' record for similar records he produced for pop singers Amerie and Jennifer Lopez.
The Vanity Fair article, however, makes it seem like Beyonce is a genius songwriter who came up with all this stuff. Knowles says, without her veracity being questioned: "'Crazy in Love' was really hard to write because there was so much going on … I mean, I had written — what? —seven, eight number one songs with Destiny's Child, in a row." Of Jay-Z's added rap: "I knew the song wasn’t complete because the horns were so old school…"
There, she is correct. The horns were old school. They were charted 36 years ago by Record, who also wrote "Have You Seen Her?," "Oh Girl," "Am I The Same Girl?" and many other classic R&B hits. Unfortunately, he’s no longer here to defend himself.
In the Vanity Fair article, Beyonce also claims to have “written” seven No. 1 songs. Again, not exactly. Her name is on them all. But “Independent Woman, Pt. 1” was authored by Samuel J. Barnes and Jean Claude Olivier, tweaked by producer Cory Rooney and added to by …Beyonce. Olivier and Barnes also worked on constructing Jennifer Lopez’s “Jenny from the Block.”
“Say My Name,” a big Destiny’s Child hit, was written by Rodney Jerkins, his brother Freddie and Rodney’s writing partner LeShawn Daniels. The names of the four girls from the group were added again, so they could share in the collection of royalties.
There’s more: "Baby Boy" was based on a hit by reggae star Ini Kamoze called "Here Comes the Hot Stepper." "Naughty Girl" is merely a hefty sample of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s "Love to Love You Baby." "Bills Bills Bills" was written by singer/songwriter Kandi Burruss and producer Kevin Briggs. "Nasty Girl" and "Survivor" were the work of composer/producer Anthony Dent, who had to share credit with not only Beyonce but also her father, Matthew Knowles. "Bootylicious" is simply Stevie Nicks’s "Edge of Seventeen."
Nicks, following Sting’s lead from years ago with Diddy’s sample of "Every Breath You Take," did not allow Destiny’s Child or Beyonce to get any royalties at all. Rock on, Stevie!
In fact, not one of the songs listed under Beyonce’s name on the BMI Web site is written solely by her. They are usually credited to a list of songwriters. The list comprises the actual writers, and then a few people who’ve "tweaked" the song with a rap or by adding samples.
But this is the way it’s done in hip-hop and rap. "Writing" a song has new meaning. It means "licensing" the song from another writer. The word "composer" is not in the hip-hop dictionary.
This can make for a peculiar situation at the Grammy Awards. In 2000, Jerkins and his writing team had to share the Grammy for Best R&B Song for “Say My Name” with the members of Destiny’s Child because their names were on the credits.
In 2003, Beyonce, Harrison and Jay-Z won a couple of Grammys including Best R&B Song for “Crazy in Love.” Record’s name isn’t even listed on the Grammy Web site and he was the writer. Hopefully his widow is getting checks.
Over the weekend I discussed this phenomenon with a famous songwriter concerning rapper Nelly, whose albums — like Kanye West’s — are made up of samples of previous works. I thought they’d find the whole thing deplorable. Not so.
"Really?" they said, realizing the revenue that could be realized. "I’ll send him my whole catalogue for his next one!"
Otherwise, Vanity Fair’s annual music issue, as has been noted elsewhere, is an attempt to make up for not including African-Americans in years of previous issues. The magazine photographed nearly all of the most famous members of the hip-hop and rap community. Most of them fare very well, although Sean “Diddy” Combs probably regrets his portrait.
Clive Davis is famous for his annual pre-Grammy show featuring dozens of music stars. But —and I hate to say it — he was at least matched, if not outdone, on Saturday night down at the Atlantis Hotel celebration in the Bahamas.
This was only one night after Patti LaBelle taped her 60th birthday special at the hotel for airing on UPN with stars like Ashanti, Michael McDonald, Kelly Rowland and Nelly (see Monday’s column).
The next night was a combination of two 70th birthdays — Sol Kerzner, who owns the Atlantis, and Sam "Soul Man" Moore. Here was the lineup of performers, who played the smallish Coral Room at Atlantis for about 500 people: Moore, Billy Preston, Sheila E. with Emilio Estefan (husband of Gloria), Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, The O'Jays with Gerald Levert, Oleta Adams, Ashford & Simpson with McDonald, Gloria Gaynor, Bebe Winans and LaBelle again.
In the audience: Denzel Washington with wife Pauletta and six burly bodyguards.
As Kerzner resorts’ Jerry Inzerillo said, there were nine members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, each performing their own No. 1 hits. It was quite a gathering.
The highlights were many: Moore and McDonald on “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” with Preston on keyboards. When Sheila E. joined them on drums for “Soul Man,” the song was changed at the end into “Sol Man” — a birthday treat from one guest of honor to the other.
There was no sampling. No one used a guide vocal, a computer, a pre-recorded track or a fake anything. It was all spontaneous, with music master Greg Phillinganes — now also in the reformed, revived Toto — leading an incredibly talented band and three back-up singers. Everyone sang on key, too. How old fashioned!
The O’Jays did an extended funky version of "For the Love of Money." Chaka Khan wailed like a mutha, as they say, through "Tell Me Something Good" and "Ain’t Nobody. "When she did "I’m Every Woman," Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford — who wrote it — danced in front of the stage. It was about three feet away from them. It was that kind of night.
The couple also helped McDonald through their songs, "Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough." People at the tables around us kept saying, "They wrote that one, too?” Yes, they did, all by themselves.
Sheila E. and Estefan set up their drums in the audience so they could add to Richie doing “All Night Long” (there wasn’t enough room on the stage). Who knew Emilio was so good? Sheila E. told me later she’s making a new album, and Prince — her original mentor — is giving her a helping hand.
The night was so hopped up with knock-out performers, but there was time to introduce a new singer, too, who’s making a name for herself in Nashville. Shanna Crooks, who might give Jessica Simpson and some other young divas a run for their money when she’s signed, wowed the very experienced crowd with a song called “I’ll Be Your Escape.”
Ivana Trump, Bebe Buell, Denise Rich, Evander Holyfield and Butch Lewis were among those who helped sing "Happy Birthday" to Kerzner, along with a wild Junkanoo band.
Preston, who has no functioning kidneys, rocked the house with "Nothing from Nothing" and "Will it Go Round in Circles." Preston — the "fifth Beatle" — joined Richie on a couple of his songs like "Brickhouse" and "Dancing on the Ceiling," playing on an organ that Kerzner had imported from Miami just for the night, for him.
Even Denzel’s bodyguards had a good time! More tomorrow from this music-filled weekend at the Atlantis…
Since this is such a music column today, I’ve rediscovered a "lost" album that’s worth digging up. Stewart Levine, who also produced Culture Club’s many hits, made a mini-classic with Simply Red in 1990 called "A New Flame." Mick Hucknall has never sung better. The album includes the group’s cover of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ "If You Don’t Know Me By Now." For blue-eyed soul at its best, this is a find…