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Sampled 'Harlem Shake' Artists Seek Compensation

Acts say Baauer used their music without permission in his Number One hit

Baauer performs at Webster Hall in New York.
Andrew Rauner
March 11, 2013 8:20 AM ET

Two artists sampled in Baauer's Number One hit "Harlem Shake" are seeking compensation from the label that released the song, which has sparked an Internet dance craze over the past few weeks.

The New York Times reports that former reggaeton performer Hector Delgado and rapper Jayson Musson say Baauer used elements of their music without permission in "Harlem Shake," which has spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. 

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The song opens with the voice of Delgado, now an evangelical preacher in Puerto Rico, saying, "Con los terroristas," which was a refrain on his 2006 single "Maldades" and popped up occasionally in his other songs. The phrase "Do the Harlem Shake" comes from the 2001 song "Miller Time" by Plastic Little, Musson's former rap group in Philadelphia. He now lives in New York and performs as Hennessy Youngman. 

Both artists are seeking compensation from Mad Decent, the label that released the song last summer. "It's almost like they came on my land and built a house," Delgado said of the sample.

In the crush of viral videos that pair dance moves with "Harlem Shake," the first 15 seconds of the song feature a solitary dancer gyrating before Musson's voice commands, "Do the Harlem Shake," which triggers pandemonium as people, many wearing crazy costumes, flail around. There are now thousands of "Harlem Shake" videos on YouTube, including entries from the Norwegian army, the University of Georgia men's swim and dive team and indie duo Matt and Kim. The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live have turned in their own variations, too.

Baauer, the stage name of New York electronic musician Harry Bauer Rodrigues, hasn't commented on Delgado and Musson's claims, though he told The Daily Beast last month that he found Delgado's sample online. It's not clear where he encountered Plastic Little's song, though Musson said that after he learned of the sample from a former bandmate, he called Baauer to thank him for "doing something useful with our annoying music."

Delgado's music publisher, Machete Music, and Musson are negotiating with Mad Decent over payment for the samples, and while neither would provide specifics, Musson said, "Mad Decent have been more than cooperative during this."

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Song Stories

“Money For Nothing”

Dire Straits | 1984

Mark Knopfler wrote this song with Sting, and it wasn’t without controversy. The Dire Straits frontman's original lyric used the word “faggot” to describe a singer who got their “money for nothing and their chicks for free.” Even though the slur was edited out in many versions, the band, and Knopfler, still took plenty of criticism for the term. “I got an objection from the editor of a gay newspaper in London--he actually said it was below the belt,” Knopfler told Rolling Stone. Still, "Money For Nothing," undoubtedly augmented by its innovative early computer-animated video, stayed at Number One for three weeks.

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