Kelis on Beyonce and Pharrell sampling her music: ‘It’s theft’

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Beyonce released her seventh studio album, Renaissance, on Friday, July 29. It was going to be a big deal no matter what since it is Beyonce, but the album has caused some unexpected trouble. Days before the album release, a Kelis fan page posted that Beyonce’s new song “Energy” would be sampling Kelis’ iconic song “Milkshake.” That July 25 post was the first time Kelis learned that her song would be sampled, and she posted to that effect, noting the “disrespect and utter ignorance of all 3 parties involved.” Aside from being bothered that Beyonce failed to notify her, Kelis is upset with Pharrell and Chad Hugo — with whom she worked on the original song — for not crediting her then and using it now without telling her.

In a pair of videos posted to her Instagram business account, Kelis explained at length why she’s so upset – the disrespect but also, the fact that, in her version of events, it reminds her of how she’s been screwed out of royalties and music rights by her former collaborators, who she explained continue to license her music without even asking if she minds.

“I’m a human being, so I get pissed off and I get ticked off. Alright? I’m an artist, so I am as Erykah [Badu] said: ‘I’m sensitive about my s—.’ The reality is that my real beef, is not only with Beyoncé, because at the end of the day, she sampled a record, she’s copied me before, so have many other artists, it’s fine, I don’t care about that,” Kelis said in the first video.

“The issue,” she continued, “is that not only are we female artists, Black female artists in an industry where there’s not many of us… We’ve met each other, we know each other, we have mutual friends. She can contact me, it’s not that hard.”

“Ashnikko, who’s what, 20? She’s a young white girl, she reached out when she freakin’ like, it’s just common decency. It’s common decency. Especially because, as so many of you pointed out — I know what I own and what I don’t own. 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 then. So, it’s not about me being mad about Beyoncé.”

“She’s one issue, because it was stupid and disrespectful and she should have at least reached out,” Kelis added before also explaining she’s mad at her former collaborators Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. Hugo, she said, “is an amoeba, he’s spineless, it’s a miracle he can keep his neck up.” As for Pharrell, she said he “knows better. This is a direct hit at me. He does this stuff all the time. It’s very petty.”

She called out the lack of “human decency” by the parties involved for not simply calling to ask if she’s OK – and she accused them of doing that on purpose.

In a follow up video, Kelis included a written message: “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 bully’s [sic] and secrets and gangsters in this industry that smile and get away with it until someone says enough is enough. So I’m saying it today. I’m coming for what’s mine and I want reparations. Peace .”

And in the video itself, she called out “the hypocrisy” of Williams, who she said talks about artists rights but doesn’t actually respect them.

[From The Wrap]

So it sounds like Kelis is rightfully upset about two things. Since she and Beyonce are, at least, acquaintances and have mutual friends as Black female artists in the music industry, Kelis believes Beyonce should have reached out to her and given her a heads up as a courtesy. Even if Kelis doesn’t own the copyright and Beyonce doesn’t technically have to, that would have been the right thing to do. Black artists are appropriated without proper credit by other groups so frequently that I could see how this would be especially galling coming from a peer. Then, Pharrell and Chad Hugo are another story. That issue goes back 20 years to the creation of the song and Kelis not receiving proper credit for her contribution back then, which has had long-lasting implications financially. Considering how prolific “Milkshake” has been in pop culture in the years since, it must especially sting that Kelis isn’t able to benefit from the royalties in the same way. This really sucks and I’m glad Kelis spoke up for herself and alluded to some of the issues in the music industry. Songwriting credit and song ownership is more complicated than it should be; and the way songs are passed around and given to other artists to “Play” seems (I’m) Real(ly) unfair (ahem, J.Lo). Most people associate Robin Thicke with the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, but Pharrell was part of that too.


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37 Responses to “Kelis on Beyonce and Pharrell sampling her music: ‘It’s theft’”

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  1. goofpuff says:

    Ugh I really feel for her. It’s hard to move on from the backstabbing done to her in the past if the song keeps popping up everywhere. I wish there was a way for her to get the credit she deserved. Being a woman in the workforce. I totally know the feeling with something you put your heart and soul into, and someone else gets the credit for your ideas and you get no mention.

  2. Imara219 says:

    Kelis is entitled to her feelings. Lashing out towards Beyonce is unfair but I’m sure all of this was kneejerk. Beyonce by all accounts handled things professionally. Kelis was given credit on the album. The sample was a 10sec clip of the drumbeat disassociated. It was actually nice that Beyonce gave credit as Kelis’s vocals nor lyrics were used. This has allowed people to jump on and blame a Black woman as an easy target when the real issue is that Pharrell stole Kelis’s credit while they were dating. He has ownership of her masters. He’s the jerk. He has a history of directly ripping off his artists.

    • Snoozer says:

      Every article I’ve read says that Kelis was not given credit, nor was she even given a heads up. Where are you getting this take from?

      Because this was an interpolation rather than a sample – meaning Beyoncé re-recorded the part from the original song rather than using a snippet of Kelis’ recording – she only technically has to credit the writers and producers of the song. So she credited The Neptunes. (FYI – Kelis didn’t know at first that it was an interpolation rather than a sample, thus her usage of the word sample here).

      The right thing to do would have been to at least give Kelis a heads up, or else include her in the credits, because her story with The Neptunes is well known in the industry.

      Essentially, Kelis knew the Neptunes from performing arts school, and was especially close to Pharrell. They allegedly told her when they worked together that they would split the rights 33 / 33 / 33. However, they got her to sign a really shitty contract that, as a naive 19 year old and a trusting friend, she did so without reading it properly or fully understanding it, and they screwed her out of all of her publishing rights. She didn’t even realise for years, until her third album, that she wasn’t making a single cent /penny out of album and single sales; because she was earning money from touring, and again, was naive, and didn’t fully understand how her own money worked.

      She has never made any money from the sales of her own first two albums. Albums that she not only sang on; but contributed to creatively. It’s messed up.

      I hope she goes after The Neptunes and wins.

      • Snoozer says:

        Ah okay, I see what happened.

        Kelis is tagged by fans on July 25 exclaiming that she had collabed with Beyoncé after a pre-album drop of a track list of who would be featured in each song. The list is titled ‘Renaissance Sampled Artists’ and number 5. says ‘Energy – Beyoncé / Teena Marie / Kelis’.

        This is the first Kelis has heard about this. The list says ‘Sampled’ and there is no indication at this point that it is actually an interpolation or which part of the song was used. Kelis’ name is being used in PR and it seems her work is being sampled too and no one gave her a heads up. I’m not surprised she was FURIOUS!!

        From Kelis’ perspective, this is the perpetuation of the exploitation of Kelis and her work – something she has been very vocal about and is well known in the industry. She goes off. And even when she goes off, feeling slighted that she didn’t even get a courtesy call from Beyoncé, she saves most of her ire for The Neptunes.

        Bear in mind, she dropped these critiques ‘Hours before Beyoncé’s much-anticipated seventh studio album Renaissance dropped at midnight on Friday’, according to Rolling Stone. So she hadn’t heard the track in question yet.

        And when the album does drop, the credits drop on Apple Music and Spotify, and Kelis’ name is not there.

        You can see the Apple Music and Spotify credits and the sampled artists list in this Buzzfeed article:

        Then Beyoncé’s team release the full credits to Pitchfork on July 29 in which you can see the following:

        ‘Contains an Interpolation of “Milkshake” Written by Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Performed by Kelis. Published by Waters of Nazareth Publishing (GMR), EMI Pop Music Publishing (GMR) and Universal Music – Careers (BMI).’

        However, this article notes that Kelis had already called this theft. It quite clearly came AFTER the accusations. Every other mention of the credits that use this wording refer to the information coming from this Pitchfork article.

        So, let’s be clear, Kelis had no knowledge that her name was in any credits when she made these comments. She did know that her name had been used in PR and that her name was included in a list of sampled artists without her knowledge or permission.

  3. Dee(2) says:

    She definitely has a point regarding ownership of music, and she’s hardly the first or unfortunately probably won’t be the last new artist who gets shafted on their initial contract. The Beyonce should have given me a heads up is a reach to me though. Her vocals aren’t used but an interpolation of a drum beat in Milkshake, her being the artist that sang it seems a bit much that she deserved a personal call. The industry is small for black artists but this seems like she’s angry at P&C and taking it out on the only person who acknowledged her contribution.

    • Red says:

      Yeah, I mean Beyoncé gave her credits when she really didn’t have to. All Kelis did was lend vocals to this song, this is not theft. Sounds like she’s taking frustrations out on Beyoncé rather than the men who took advantage of her and her career.

      • Snoozer says:

        Kelis says they co-collaborated and that she wrote a lot of the lyrics. She had the same manager as The Neptunes and they told her they would split the rights equally then abused her naivety and trust in them to get her to sign a contract that gave her no rights. Nothing at all from album / single sales. Only from touring.

    • Lemons says:

      I must not have an ear for this kind of thing because the fact she is credited is ALREADY huge. I’m having such a hard time hearing it. I’m hearing afrobeats more than anything else.

      I really hope Black women in the industry learn their lesson at some point. Coming after Beyonce is not going to do them any favors. Ask Keri Hilson.

    • QrsGeorge says:

      I tend to agree: I think it was a courtesy to give Kelis a credit, particularly when the beat in Milkshake was itself borrowed from a traditional doumbek drum rhythm called baladi used in bellydance. That beat is a thousand years old and wasn’t invented by Kelis. Unless of course Beyonce’s team used an actual recording of Milkshake (I listened to “Energy” but couldn’t tell if it was a Kelis sample), then of course Kelis should be credited (which she was). I can sort of see why Kelis is annoyed but it shouldn’t be with Beyonce, and she should remember where she herself found that beat to begin with.

  4. Nyro says:

    What’s happening to Kelis is literally the same thing that happened to Big Mama Thornton and Hound Dog, the writing credits stolen from her.

    And Beyonce has long been a straight up “black girl empowerment” hypocrite. I can’t think of another black female artist who has screwed over other black women in the industry like she has.

    • Dee(2) says:

      She didn’t write the song though? The song was shopped and she took it. Now we can argue about her getting vocal credit, but this isn’t like Big Mama Thornton, where someone recorded her work and eclipsed her in the same time frame,who by the way didn’t write Hound Dog either. Milkshake was a huge hit that people primarily associate with Kelis. If she didn’t mention it on her live I’m sure people wouldn’t even have noticed.

      • Snoozer says:

        Kelis and The Neptunes say different things. They claim they wrote it in full, offered it to Britney and then gave it to Kelis and that she played no part in writing it.

        Kelis says she helped write it. That the song came from the album name Tasty, and that they came up with ‘milkshake’ as a euphemism for what makes a girl special whilst messing around in the studio together.

        Who knows what the truth is?

    • C says:

      As far as Beyonce is concerned there is no theft. Kelis doesn’t own the copyright to the song and her vocals were not sampled, but Beyonce credited her.
      Kelis has the right to want fair payment but this has little to do with Beyonce beyond her personal feelings that she should have gotten a phone call. Which, given that Beyonce didn’t take any of Kelis’s actual contribution to the song as part of her sample, seems unnecessary.

  5. Ameerah says:

    Here’s the thing though: Beyoncé credited her on the album. Which legally she didn’t have to. The argument that Beyoncé should have called her is debatable as well. While I think it would have been a courtesy – she didn’t HAVE to do that. To me the bigger issue is Pharrell’s history of cheating artists out of their music. And the bulk of the public (and Kelis’ as well) ire should be directed at him. Because he actually IS stealing from artists.

    • sunny says:

      I agree with all of this. I think Kelis is annoyed that an artist of Bey’s stature(and a fellow black woman) didn’t give her the personal courtsey of reaching out more than anything else but the anger is all about Pharrell who screwed her(and many artists over). I think she used Beyonce’s name here/dragged her into this mess because it gives this complaint way more visibility and she is rightly frustrated with Pharrell.

      Also i may never stop laughing at her description of Chad.

    • Snoozer says:

      This timeline is so confusing but I just read a bunch more articles and here’s the thing:

      At the time Kelis dropped these videos, two things had been released:

      1. A list of who Renaissance would sample, including Kelis’s name. It was titled ‘Renaissance Sampled Artists’ and for Energy it listed ‘Beyoncé / Teena Marie / Kelis’.

      2. The Spotify and Apple Music credits, which under writing credits mention Pharrell and Chad; but not Kelis.

      So Kelis heard that she would be sampled via fans which she knew nothing about, and that dredged up all of her anger about the shitty contract the Neptunes and their shared manager with Kelis got her to sign when she was 19.

      Now, since then, it’s come out that this was an interpolation, not a sample. And Beyoncé’s team has released the ‘full credits’ to Pitchfork which in the writers section say ‘Contains an interpolation of Milkshake written by Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and performed by Kelis’ but that was not out before.

      I can completely understand Kelis’ fury from the information she had at the time.

  6. Dee says:

    It isn’t theft. She didn’t write the song. Her vocals (which were her only contribution to the track) were not used on the new song. The original writers (who had already completed the lyrics and sound and even offered it to Britney before giving it to Kelis) are not only credited, but are the actual writers on the new song. This is just Kelis believing that because she bought the song and recorded it she deserves to be compensated for any future work of the people she bought it from, using any element of what they sold to her. THAT’S actually exploitation, but nobody thinks about it like that. You can’t hold Beyonce to a high standard on Kelis’ account, and then not even hold Kelis herself up to the same standards. She doesn’t like how the “industry” uses people? She should have spoken up when she was the one cashing out on the work of others.

  7. Pix says:

    I’ve been following Kelis for years because she’s true original. I was surprised to see her name trending for something other than her amazing turmeric facial oil. She got mad and expressed it. That’s her right. I wish it didn’t turn into Kelis v. Beyonce. The fire should have been against Pharrell – he and Chad are the ones she’s really mad at. Pharrell is no saint.

  8. MsIam says:

    Funny how she says Beyonce should have called me, not Beyonce should have paid me. I think she’s just trying to drag Beyonce into some ish to give her some clout. I think Kelis will regret doing that.

    • Nyro says:

      This isn’t 2013. Nobody’s scared of Beyonce anymore. Good for her for speaking up.

      • MsIam says:

        Speaking up for what, that she didn’t get a phone call? Imo it makes her look petty and simple. She got credit on the album, but no “you should have called me first”. Be mad at the ones that she feels should have paid her, not who didn’t call her. The only reason I can see she would go this way is if she wants Beyonce to put pressure on Pharell to give her a cut but if so, she’s going about it the wrong way.

      • Queen Meghan’s Hand says:

        Yup! And Kelis was speaking about artistic integrity re:Beyoncé. If you are arguing down to legal technicalities concerning a respected colleagues…that’s a problem. Kelis is an artist so attribution matters more than legality. Beyoncé is a musician so she only thinks in terms of what is currently lawful or necessary.

      • C says:

        She did attribute it. Kelis is credited on the album, which as far as I know is more than legally required, although I can be corrected?
        This argument that she should have reached out would have more weight imo if Beyonce had sampled a part of the song where Kelis was singing. But she didn’t.
        The problem is with Pharrell, not Beyonce.

  9. Wendy says:

    I am actually surprised by most of these comments — I can’t help but wonder if we would be explaining to Kelis why she is wrong or not entitled to her feelings if it wasn’t Beyonce.

    Imagine if Katy Perry had done this — we would be having an entirely different conversation.

    • C says:

      Well, Kelis’s real problem is with the men who screwed her out of income. She herself seems to be admitting that she’s less mad at Beyonce than she is with them. But media will always want to highlight the “faults” of the Black female performer and particularly Beyonce, rather than the person who is actually exploiting someone (Pharrell), so of course the headlines coming out about this are misrepresenting the reality of this situation: that Milkshake was a song composed and written by others, shopped around first and turned down by others, until Kelis took it- Beyonce sampled the part of the song that Kelis did not perform on and still credited everyone involved including her. That’s what the comments are about.
      Nobody here said Kelis isn’t entitled to her feelings because of course she is, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree. If someone credits you when you don’t own it, it’s not theft.

    • Queen Meghan’s Hand says:

      I suspect Parkwood pays a few “stans” to a launch narrative and the rest follow.

  10. FTBRF says:

    Several things here. First, this originally came from a fan account and they said it was a different Kelis song and that she and Beyoncé had done a “collab,” which implies a lot of involvement and understandably made Kelis upset. But when the song actually came out, it turned out it was an interpolation of Milkshake, which is DIFFERENT from a sample both in function and legally. As others have said, the drumbeat was interpolated (meaning re-recorded, not directly taken from the original). It was stated in the album liner notes that an interpolation was used and it properly credited the original writers/producers and Kelis as the original performer. Kelis being upset with Pharrell and Chad and whatever happened with their deals back in the day is completely legitimate and deserves a conversation. Whether Beyoncé should have called seems iffy to me, especially given how subtle the use of the song is. If it was an outright sample with Kelis’s vocals? Sure. I think the fan account made it sound way more overt and that’s what Kelis reacted to, but once the song was out probably realized it wasn’t to the extent she thought but had already put a lot of criticism out there. Overall this just feels like putting blame on either Black woman rather than putting the onus on the men in this situation.

  11. Div says:

    I feel like people are missing the point, and I say this as someone who loves Bey.

    Pharrell has notoriously screwed over a lot of artists, particularly Kelis. Kelis has spoken out on this for years. Some of y’all keep going ‘well, she didn’t write.’ That’s not what Kelis has claimed…she says she did contribute writing/production and Pharrell did not give her proper credit. This is not new, either.

    She’s upset that Bey, who preaches about empowering Black women, worked with Pharrell, who has screwed over Black women, and then didn’t even call her about it. Pharrell stole from her back in the day, and now she sees Bey as complicit in that theft.

    And I genuinely love Bey, but it’s kind of insane how this type of stuff keeps happening with her. If this was any other artist, like Rihanna or Katy Perry, it would be a different story and the media would come down way harder. Frank Ocean called her out back in the day on twitter for denying him songwriting credits, deleted his tweets, and then suddenly she popped up on Pink & White. The Countdown MV is a straight up rip off of Keersmaeker, not even some elements but a straight up copy. She later said it was an homage, and Keersmaeker basically pointed out it was bullsh*t. There are a ton more examples…hell even the Renaissance trailer is nearly identical to Azealia Banks Big Beat, down to wearing a black leather jacket with fringe and going down a hallway.

    TLDR: Beyonce is an incredibly talented artist who often faces unfair, racist media scrutiny. However, she also gets a pass for some very shady, uncool stealing/borrowing ideas, etc. from other artists.

    • C says:

      Eh. Katy Perry and Rihanna both have had lots of publicity over appropriation from other artists and legal cases too. But I didn’t see their examples written up in analyses in Rolling Stone, Time, Vanity Fair, etc like they have been in this situation. But maybe I’m wrong.

      Again, Kelis can feel how she wants. But Beyonce asked permission for a song to be used which is a little different from working with someone. And she credited Kelis anyway, which…is kind of the point in the end? If she hadn’t, this would be a different situation.

      Beyonce may be shady in her “inspirations” sometimes but this episode doesn’t particularly make a lot of sense to me. Kelis’s vocals aren’t on her track. The interpolation of a drumbeat is – not even a sampling.

      • Snoozer says:

        Actually the ‘credit’ everyone keeps saying Beyoncé gave Kelis was only released by Beyoncé’s team to Pitchfork AFTER Kelis made these comments.

        The credits that Kelis saw – on Apple Music & Spotify – do not mention her. And the other thing Kelis saw was a tile on Bey’s IG that was titled ‘Renaissance Sampled Artists’ and listed ‘Beyoncé / Teena Marie / Kelis’ under ‘Energy’.

        You can see those in this Buzzfeed article:

        We now know that it was an interpolation rather than a sample; but the information Kelis had when she reacted this way was that she was being sampled without her knowledge or permission or even a courtesy call.

        Fair enough.

        In any case, Beyoncé does a lot around the empowerment of black women and here – unwittingly or in a misstep, or without care – she contributed to the ongoing exploitation of an iconic black female artist. Something that artist has been very vocal about. On an album that was touted as being socially conscious and morally irreproachable.

        In any case, Kelis’ anger is mostly reserved for The Neptunes and Pharrell in particular. And she is entitled to that anger.

    • MarcelMarcel says:

      @Div and @Snoozer ITA
      Also thanks for the link to the BuzzFeed article Snoozer. I assumed Beyoncé credited Kelis from the beginning so I appreciate the extra context.

    • Lizzie says:

      Isnt Beyoncé known for stealing other musicians work and then hushing them with good lawyers, PR and a lot of money? First everyone hears that someone is suing Beyonce for theft, and then we never hear more about it. It happened many times before.

  12. Sonya says:

    It’s always so easy to blame Beyonce in a situation like this, kelis anger is directed at the wrong person, only because Beyonce is a bigger name, and yes kelis is clout chasing, why didn’t she contact Beyonce in private, like she requested Beyonce to do? Beyonce credited her on the song. (She didn’t have to) she doesn’t owe her anything.

    • Lizzie says:

      Its actually not easy at all. She has lawyers and a lot of people making money off her, including her husband, so she has a good legal defense and actually getting her to pay credits, or legal damages, seems challenging, or at least never discussed publicly.

  13. MarcelMarcel says:

    Kelis has every right to be frustrated with the Neptunes and by extension, a musician who collaborates with one of them by using her songs without contacting her. I think her 2020 Guardian interview provides some context to this situation.

    I am a Beyoncé fan and I’m not lying the blame on her specifically. For all I know Pharrell told her that he contacted Kelis to discuss it.

    However, two things can be right- Beyoncé is legally allowed to interpolate a part of Milkshake without contacting Kelis. Kelis is entitled to be frustrated that she doesn’t get royalties because the Neptunes screwed her over with a contract and it’d be a sign of respect for a musician to reach out to her if a part of her song is featured in their new track.

  14. Lov3zone says:

    Beyonce steals soooo much that she LITERALLY stole Lil’Kim’s moniker “Queen Bee”…
    look…I dont care how much you “fan”…dont sanction theft. Just call it what it is…Beyonce doesnt write…doesnt produce…she’s like whitney…they INTERPRET through song. Only difference is…WHITNEY ALWAYS included folks and gave credit and put others ON! #ripwhitney #leos vs #virgos