Jay Z's Egyptian Legal Troubles Over 'Big Pimpin' Sample

The battle over whether Jay Z's use of an Egyptian song by Abdel Halim Hafez in "Big Pimpin'" violates Egyptian moral rights heads to trial.

Jay Z and Abdel Halim Hafez

In 1999 Jay Z sampled Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez on "Big Pimpin'," the fifth single off his fourth album, Vol. 3... Life and Times of S. Carter (2000). The track, which would go on to become one of Rolling Stones' 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time, pulls its unmistakable hook from "Khosara Khosara," a song originally written by Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi before Hafez recorded it in 1960 to feature in the film Fata Ahlam.

At the time of recording "Big Pimpin'," Jay Z and the song's producer, Timbaland, were granted permission to use the sample by EMI Arabia, who had previously obtained the rights to "Khosara Khosara" from another Egyptian label. In 2007 though, Baligh Hamdi's heir, Osama Ahmed Fahmy, claimed EMI did not in fact have the right to sublicense the song. Thus began a long, complex legal battle, which, in addition to the matter of copyright issues, also took on a complicated cultural dimension.

Fahmy's lawsuit argues that the way in which Jay Z and Timbaland reused "Khosara Khosara" was offensive, and violated the composer's "moral rights" under Egyptian law. "They used it with a song that even by Jay Z’s own admission is very vulgar and base,” Fahmy’s lawyer, Keith Wesley, told The Guardian. “That’s really why this is so significant to my client. They not only took music without paying. They’re using it in a song that is, frankly, disgusting.”

Now, eight years after the drama with Fahmy and co-defendants Jay Z and Timbaland (as well as Paramount Pictures, Warner Music, UMG and MTV) first began, the legal battle will finally head to trial. According to Hollywood Reporter, on March 30, 2015, a federal judge in California agreed the terms of the licensing agreements present triable issues. "I think this case really has to head toward some form of resolution sooner rather than later," the judge, Christina Snyder, said in court. "I think the only answer is to march toward trial," Wesley noted. The case is indeed now slated for trial on October 13. Hear Abdel Halim Hafez's original and Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" below.


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It's Fireboy's first time in the Big Apple — and in the US — and the rain that's pouring outside his hotel doesn't hinder his gratitude. "It's such a relief to be here, it's long overdue," he tells OkayAfrica. "I was supposed to be here last year, but Covid stopped that. This is a time to reflect and refresh. It's a reset button for me."

Olamide looks on, smiling assuredly. Since signing Fireboy to his YBNL Nation label in 2018, he's watched the soulful young singer rise to become one of Nigeria's most talked-about artists — from his breakout single, "Jealous," to his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, hit collabs with D.Smoke and Cuppy, and his sophomore release, Apollo, last year.

Even while he shares his own latest record, UY Scuti, with the world, Olamide nurtures Fireboy's career with as much care and attention as he does his own, oscillating between his two roles of artist and label exec seamlessly. His 2020 album Carpe Diem is the most streamed album ever by an African rap artist, according to Audiomack, hitting over 140 million streams. When Olamide signed a joint venture with US-based record label and distribution company, Empire, in February last year he did so through his label, bringing Fireboy and any other artist he decides to sign along for the ride, and establishing one of the most noteworthy deals on the continent.

Below, Olamide & Fireboy DML speak to OkayAfrica about their mutual admiration for each other, what makes them get up in the morning and how they switch off.

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