Beyoncé kicks off a debate about borrowing, plagiarism and the mainstream pillaging the underground.

Beyoncé’s controversial decision to use footage from a 2014 short film on the Big Easy’s bounce scene has kicked off a debate about borrowing, plagiarism and the mainstream pillaging the underground.

“We don’t have gangs in New Orleans but we have what’s called Wards,” explains producer Manny Fresh in 2014 bounce documentary That B.E.A.T. “And if you’re gonna rep your neighbourhood to the fullest, like when somebody moving on your territory, you gotta let ‘em know where you’re from. Like, this is my space!”

After being picked up for use in Beyoncé’s pre-Superbowl music video for ‘Formation’, That B.E.A.T. has become the scene of an artistic turf war. Its co-directors Abteen Bagheri and Chris Black complained on Twitter that their footage had been used without their knowledge or consent:

Yet it emerged that neither Bagheri or Black own the rights to the footage. Instead, they appear to belong to the company that sponsored the film with Sundance, Nokia – who are now owned by Mircrosoft.

Representatives of Beyoncé and music video director Melina Matsoukas released a statement that reassured people they had gone through all the proper channels to secure the footage – legally, at least – and ensured Bagheri or Black got a credit on the video.

The controversy reignited a debate about where borrowing ends and plagiarism begins, and paying correct respect to those who influenced your work.

Ironically, as a genre that relies so heavily on sampling, bounce music has struggled to make it out of New Orleans due to a lack of copyrightable material that can be played on the radio.

Bounce is “project ass shakin’ music from New Orleans.” It developed as a defiantly underground scene, with predominantly gay rappers spitting over sampled beats, and producers slinging their tapes and merchandise at shows to get by, rather than going the commercial route.

“Bounce music would be the essence of hip hop,” producer Manny Fresh explains. “It would be like rebirth of hip hop, because it’s really just raw beats and response.”

After Matsoukas’ apology and shout outs to Bagheri or Black, some have argued that the filmmakers and the bounce scene itself will benefit from the increased exposure of appearing in a Beyoncé video. However, one of Black’s grievances still stands: Beyoncé’s attempts to benefit from being attached to New Orleans’ bounce scene – without fully supporting the community:

As any musician will tell you, borrowing is a huge part of what an artist does – especially sample-heavy genres, like bounce. It’s almost impossible to be wholly original and drawing on others’ output is part of the natural evolution of music. But as the outcry over Beyoncé’s use of the bounce footage has shown, it’s a reminder that the mainstream should think twice before sucking creativity and credibility from the underground without paying the proper dues.

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