In November, Nathan and I discussed the hazy territory surrounding beat stealing in regards to Logic and while I had hoped that conversation would provide clarity, here I am almost six months later and I’m still having the same conversations in my head. Is Drake building his empire on the backs of the struggle rappers or just drawing inspiration? Did 2 Chainz steal "Mindin My Business" from this unknown rapper? As a rap nerd and a rap writer I’m hyper sensitive and low-key obsessed with beat stealing. Which is why when I heard the production for Bas’ “Too High To Riot” was the same as Mick Jenkins “Comfortable,” I knew something was up. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed...
I wish I could write I was better than the YouTube commenters and Twitter eggs, but like some sort of beat stealing induced PTSD my first naive thought was the the same. The most frustrating part of all of this was knowing how murky things can get behind the scenes, so I refused to settle for uncertainty. I had to know one way or the other. If I was going to start a riot over “Too High To Riot” I had to make damn sure I was right, and if in this process it helped me understand the music industry better than great.
First things first, both songs do use the same beat, there is no question about it. After all, both “Comfortable” and “Too High To Riot” were produced by the same person, Cam O’bi. Thanks to playing Acid Rap on repeat forever, having spun "Orange Soda" more than 99% of all songs released since 2010, and being a huge fan of Saba, I knew his name -- and apparently he knew mine, which is pretty dope -- so I reached out to get the full story.
So did Bas steal Mick Jenkins' beat? The short answer is no. He didn’t steal anything. At all. In any way, shape or form. If you wanted a juicy headline or some gossip, sorry to disappoint. There’s the door.
Though there’s no sexy claims of theft here, my 45 minute conversation with Cam was a fascinating look into the life of a producer and the mysterious ways this industry works.
I'll let Cam explain:
It's funny. I made that beat and just put it up on my Soundcloud in 2012. I had no idea people were gonna like it. The first person who made a song on it was Arima Ederra. A song called “Characteristics of an Aquarian.” I knew her growing up in Vegas.
In 2013, Mick also got it through Soundcloud, and ended up downloading and writing to it. Then later I let him know they could use it on his project. I just let him because I was a fan of his and wanted to have something on his project.
Then it got to Bas through a friend of mine, a producer named Nascent. He gave the beat to his manager at the time, Matt Mcneil, who was shopping beats around. Matt had a personal relationship with the Dreamville guys so he gave the beat to Bas. I actually didn't know this was going on until I got hit up from Bas’ manager.
When I post things to Soundcloud, I do it to give people something to listen to from me. I don't necessarily mind people downloading and making songs to it. I don't really mind as long as it's really dope. I just want the production to be heard, so If someone records over it and it doesn't do much, I'm liable to give it to someone else.
So I was kind of nervous because Mick Jenkins had it. I let Bas know and he didn't care, he was like, "It's so perfect. I need it for my album." The label ended up buying the beat from me. It was the first time I actually sold it. I ended up selling it to him was because he was really persistent. Bas really loved it and it was a really important song to the album. It was the title track. He told me Cole really loved it too; Cole was the one who told him to make it the title track. Also, what sweetened the deal was they were offering to buy it from me. That was very helpful because I was kinda broke.
At that point I was determined to make it work. So my manager hashed it out with Mick and it ended up working out. I think, at first, they wanted Mick to take the song off Soundcloud, but after awhile they let him keep it. I remember being nervous I had fucked up, but I didn't give it to either of them. They found it themselves.
So there's the story. The beat traveled from Soundcloud to Arima Ederra to Mick then to Bas. It was never stolen, never leased, only purchased once by Dreamville and Cam never even shopped it. They all found him. Very rarely does an artist straight lift a beat. It’s much more likely to trickle down (or up) the ladder reaching different artists through different means.
It’s incredible how the person who creates the beat so often loses any and all agency. Whether on a major label level or the indie route, producers often lose control over their work once it reaches an artist, resulting in difficulty, frustration and confusion. Cam never sent that beat to Mick and yet he was faced with a difficult dilemma; sell it and potentially make Mick upset, or refuse to sell it and lose out on a potential fat check and a great relationship. He had every legal and moral right to sell it and yet he had to hesitate because once a rapper uses a beat for a well known placement it becomes theirs, whether they bought it or not.
Bas bought it legally from the rightful owner and creator, and yet Mick, the artist who first wrote to it without initial permission, is perceived as the one getting "jacked." Just imagine creating something special, but not being able to do what you want with it because someone borrowed it. Just imagine if Dreamville had passed on the beat as a result.
When Cam uploaded and shared the beat in 2012, he had no idea it would end up on a Dreamville artists' major label release, and he had no idea it would lead to group texts with J. Cole. When he was telling me the story, I couldn't help but think of English producer Menace, who sold a beat for $200 a few years ago having no idea it would turn into "Panda." You make these things, release them to the world with no expectations, two months or two years down the line they become bigger than you ever imaged without your knowledge, or sometimes your approval. The life of a producer is insane.
Though “Too High To Riot” is a major look for Cam, it’s hardly his first break. Cam has placements on Acid Rap, Innanetape, and Big Sean and Jhené Aiko's brand new collaborative endevor Twenty88. And while he continues to work with hip-hop’s best, youngest and brightest, he is also plotting a solo album, so make sure to keep your ears peeled.