Hip-hop artists should challenge Fortnite on ethics, not laws
Fortnite, the widely popular online video game, has been in an awkward relationship with hip-hop for several months. The game has an option for players to use real money to buy celebration dances (called “Emotes”) like the Milly Rock and BlocBoy JB’s Shoot dance. But the dance originators have not seen a dollar from these profitable dances. Fortnite has also appropriated and renamed the Milly Rock “Swipe It” and the Shoot dance “Hype”. It has sparked a legal and ethical debate on profiteering and culture-vulturing.
From a legal perspective, Fortnite has done no wrong. Here’s what Legal Entertainment shared with Forbes last week:
In intellectual property law, it is possible to copyright a dance, but not an individual dance move. The dance must have a series of movements that are arranged in a unique, original sequence in order to have copyright protection. This is because one simple move is considered to be only one building block of an entire choreographed dance.
By this definition, Fortnite can copy “dance moves” like the Milly Rock, but would have a tougher time using “choreographed dances” like The Shiggy Challenge. Despite efforts by 2 Milly and Chance The Rapper to get a share of Fornite’s revenue (over $1 billion in 12 months), it’s doubtful that hip-hop would win a court case against Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite.
If former UCLA men’s basketball player Ed O’Bannon couldn’t win his case against the NCAA for not compensating him on using his name or likeness in video games, chances are even slimmer for these hip-hop artists in a similar situation.
From an ethical perspective though, hip-hop has a stronger argument to make and a higher likelihood of success. Instead of fighting for a share of revenue, hip-hop should push on Fornite to update these dance names with their original hip-hop names. That way, the hip-hop dance originators can gain earned media by name association.
In today’s digital age, earned media (third-party publicity) is more valuable than ever. It’s why the NBA allows the Instagram account House of Highlights to freely share NBA clips to its 10 million followers. Even though the NBA earns no direct money from House of Highlights, the exposure extends the NBA’s brand. It’s true in Fortnite as well, where a France National Football Team player did an Emote dance to celebrate a goal in this year’s FIFA World Cup Final.
In August alone, more than 80 million people played Fortnite. According to LendEDU, nearly 70% of players make in-game purchases. This is a huge customer base—many of whom may only know these dances by their appropriated Fortnite names. But if the company updates the dance move names, 2 Milly and BlocBoy JB would more directly benefit from the amplified exposure that Fortnite has created.
If Fortnite changes the dance move names and players then search for the “Shoot” dance on YouTube or Google, those players are more likely to stumble upon BlocBoy JB’s music. There are also several Fortnite hip-hop dance move classes. Instructors would now refer to these dances moves by the proper names, which is what BlocBoy JB and 2 Milly should ultimately hope for.
Hip-hop won’t beat Epic Games in the courtroom. But if artists assured Epic Games that they are fine with Fortnite using the real dance move names, the video game company would be more likely to budge. And if not, public shaming and media attention could force their hand. No brand wants to be perceived as a culture vulture.
The earned media is the more valuable than any revenue share would be, and that’s what BlocBoy JB, 2 Milly, and Chance should focus on.
Tha Carter V is nostalgia marketing for hip-hop millennials
After years of delays and drama, Lil’ Wayne finally escaped Cash Money Records and dropped Tha Carter V. The album comes at an interesting time. Wayne is past his prime as an emcee but has maintained his cultural relevance. Not too long ago, I was very critical of both him and Birdman in a story I wrote for MEL Magazine:
Wayne and Birdman’s decline in popularity and shameful media appearances are symptoms of the same problem: They have failed to evolve with the times.
The duo’s tough guy mentality was celebrated in the ‘90s; it was endearing in 2006; but it’s downright laughable in 2016, when successful rappers need to present more complex and relevant personas.
I am glad I was proven wrong. In Tha Carter V, Weezy keeps his relevance and authenticity. The album’s two most talked about songs, “Uproar” and “Mona Lisa”, speak to a generation of hip-hop fans who supported Wayne from the 99 into the 2000s.
In “Uproar”, Wayne sampled rapper G. Dep’s 2001 hit “Special Delivery”. The Harlem Shake anthem represents an era that hip-hop fans over the age of 25 remember vividly. Back in 2001, Wayne was still reppin’ The Hot Boys. Fans of the Hot Boys are more likely to give a new Wayne album shot than a younger fan would.
“Mona Lisa” taps into the same era’s nostalgia, but in a much more salacious way. The song references Wayne’s longstanding relationship with a woman, which is almost certainly Karrine “SuperHead” Steffans. Most hip-hop fans in their 30s and 40s understand Steffans’ significance in hip-hop. She was name-dropped in plenty of rap songs in the 2000s, wrote Confessions of a Video Vixen—a tell-all book about the entertainers she’s been with, and has had an open relationship with Lil’ Wayne for the better part of a decade.
From a pure business perspective, Tha Carter V is nostalgia marketing for hip-hop millennials. Wayne and his Young Money Entertainment team tapped into these Special-Delivery-Karrine-Steffans-experts. These are the same folks who reminisce about Wayne’s epic mixtape run from 2005 to 2009.
It’s always cheaper to tap into an existing customer base than to create a new one. Wayne was smart to remix his style to the evolved taste of his core base. It’s the same reason why a show like Netflix’s Stranger Things succeeds. It uses nostalgia to tap into the fond memories of its 80s and 90s-loving audience. Those viewers were (and still are) obsessed with E.T., The X Files, and Winona Ryder.
Most recently, Tha Carter V brought its nostalgia full circle when it spawned the #UproarChallenge. The viral videos are a mere glimpse at what 2001 would have been like if Instagram was around when everyone was Harlem shaking.
Ugh, now watch the Harlem Shake end up on Fortnite as “The Wiggle” or some BS…
The Mac Miller benefit will raise awareness on a troubling trend
On Halloween, a number of hip-hop artists will come together in Los Angeles to hold a benefit concert to celebrate rapper Mac Miller, who died at the age of 26 from an apparent drug overdose. The event will likely generate a ton of money through tickets and donations. It’s a jam-packed lineup full of Mac’s past collaborators and friends in the game.
Mac’s death is still troubling and hard to accept. He showed so much growth and evolution in his art. His drug overdose raises more concern about this generation of hip-hop artists. Rapper Lil’ Peep also died of a drug overdose within the past year. Many rappers are still reliant on lean or Xanax. It’s why I wrote the piece about Future needing help before it’s too late. There is too much talent and promise at risk.
Hopefully, this benefit will raise awareness to help those struggling like Mac. The life of an entertainer or public figure is not always easy. The community has each other’s back, and this event is a sign of that. His family, friends, and loved ones are surely still devastated. Let’s hope that these deaths continue to push the conversation forward toward action. How the culture manages substance abuse, mental health, and addiction will be important.
Rest easy, Mac.
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