In early 2014, Lil Jon and DJ Snake‘s “Turn Down for What” became a smash hit melding electronic dance and crunk rap. Thanks in large part to an eye-catching music video (670 million views thus far!) and a manic hook, “Turn Down for What” experienced crossover success few artists ever enjoy. Now, though, the song is in the crosshairs of a copyright lawsuit filed Thursday (May 4) in New York federal court.
Golden Crown Publishing is the plaintiff in the suit, alleging that Freddie GZ came first with his own “Turn Down for What.” The publishing company is represented by noted copyright pitbull Richard Busch, who appeared on behalf of the Marvin Gaye family in the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit and recently scored a lucrative settlement in a lawsuit over Ed Sheeran‘s “Photograph.”
According to the complaint, a collective known as “Tha Architectz” — Fredley Saurel (a.k.a. Freddie GZ), Maliki Sankoh, and Roberson Bonjean — came to the idea for “turn down the what” in 2012, using a colloquialism for “get wild” or “let’s party.” The song they produced was finished in January 2013 and released in March 2013. The lawsuit reports that Freddie GZ experienced international exposure from an earlier hit, “Quagmire,” that his works are available on Spotify, and that Charlamagne Tha God, a member of the hip-hop community with a nationally syndicated radio show, tweeted upon its release, “Turn Down For What?? Turn Up. LOUDER!!!!!!!!!” Other artists, including Killer Mike from the rap duo Run the Jewels, followed with similar sentiments on social media.
“Tellingly, Lil Jon and DJ Snake exchanged tweets regarding their Infringing Work on July 15, 2013, only four months after the release of Plaintiff’s Original Work,” states the complaint. “DJ Snake tweeted to Lil Jon ‘Turn Down For What ??? @LilJon’; Lil Jon replied ‘LET’S GO! Rt’@djsnake: Turn Down For What ??? @LilJon.’
“After the release of Freddie GZ’s song of the same title in March 2013, and its acclaim and nationwide recognition and distribution, DJ Snake and Lil Jon composed a song of the same title,” the lawsuit continues. “The striking similarity between the Original Work and the Infringing Works…when paired together with the timeline of events cannot be a coincidence. There is no possibility that the Infringing Works is a creature of independent creation.”
The complaint lays out the case for striking similarity with written and visual comparisons of where the beats line up, where voices both drop in pitch, where measures in each of the songs repeat, and corresponding note progressions. Read the court documents for the musicology.
Less than three months after Lil Jon and DJ Snake released their “Turn Down for What,” it was certified gold with more than 500,000 units sold. It’s enjoyed several remixes, appeared on Now That’s What I Call Music, and featured in films such as Furious 7 and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.
The plaintiff is also going after a brand empire, saying that “Turn Down for What” “resulted in a windfall for Lil Jon and Defendants in merchandising and touring revenues” and that “Lil Jon has gone as far as filing a trademark for the word mark phrase.”
And of course, there’s that music video (see below, along with plaintiff’s song). Golden Crown wants a piece of that too, saying the “infringing works are directly responsible for the views and the revenue received by Defendants as a result.”
Besides monetary damages, a permanent injunction is requested.
Among the other co-defendants are Sony Music and Kobalt Music Publishing. We’ve reached out to a rep for Lil Jon for comment and will add any response.