Pete Rock Says He Was Never Paid For His Work On Illmatic

Nas’ Illmatic is widely revered as one of the best albums ever recorded. In 2016, the readers of Ambrosia For Heads deemed it the greatest Hip-Hop album in a comprehensive poll. The 1994 LP is the subject of an acclaimed documentary film, Time Is Illmatic. The double-platinum release is in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry as well as the Hip-Hop-themed archives of Harvard University.

However, soon approaching its 30th anniversary, Illmatic may have unfinished business. This month, Pete Rock spoke to the New York Post‘s “Page Six” column about not receiving money for his contribution to the classic. “Nas and his people have stonewalled me since 1994; My New Year’s resolution is to be compensated for my hard work on Illmatic.” Pete produced Illmatic‘s lone gold single, “The World Is Yours.” The song, credited in the inserts to Nas and Pete, also features some background vocals from the Mount Vernon, New York producer/DJ.

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Rolling Stone then followed up on the story. They reported that Pete is receiving publishing royalties on his Illmatic stake, but that master royalties have not been paid since 1994—including the producer’s vocal contribution. Pete Rock’s manager, Daniel Evans, told the publication that he discovered a glaring omission in trying to create a dashboard for the artist’s royalties. “When it came to ‘The World Is Yours,’ I couldn’t find anything for him at Sony [the parent company of Columbia, which released the album],” Evans told RS‘s Jason Newman. “ ‘Where are the royalties to this song?’ ‘Where are they going?’ They didn’t have any answers.” The business manager estimates that the earnings on the song could be over a million dollars. The track has been sampled by other artists, including JAY-Z and Rick Ross, and has been licensed to film.

On episode #73 of Ambrosia For Heads’ What’s The Headline podcast, Pete’s claim is analyzed at 1:26:49 in the audio below. That conversation draws from first-hand legal experience in the music industry, as well as from decades covering the space. Some of Pete’s peers, including Diggin’ In The Crates’ Lord Finesse, have said that headlines have erroneously made this an issue between Pete and Nas, when it could be just a legal battle between Pete and Columbia/Sony Records.

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Another theory surrounds samples on “The World Is Yours,” not all of which may have been cleared—which can sometimes disrupt compensation. Notably, Pete Rock participated in Nas’ Time Is Illmatic documentary and its rollout. In 2019, he produced multiple songs on The Lost Tapes 2Rolling Stone  spoke to Pete’s attorney and reports that those songs were made during attempted negotiations for “The World Is Yours,” but that “they never resolved it.” In an era when Pete’s collaborators De La Soul have used the media to battle Tommy Boy Records and take control of their digital catalog, perhaps another legendary artist is following suit.

The time codes for episode #73 of the What’s The Headline podcast:

0:00 Intro
5:02 There is a new generation of MCs emerging to take over the 2020s
9:20 The top MCs of the 2010s
12:43 The differences between traditional Rap and melodic Rap
17:30 The criteria for choosing the top MCs of the 2020s
18:10 The best rappers of the 2020s
18:14 J.I.D.
23:46 Jack Harlow
27:32 Lute
31:57 Mach-Hommy
36:10 Russ
42:37 Your Old Droog
45:01 Nick Grant
46:20 Boldy James
48:49 Cordae
51:53: Megan Thee Stallion
54:49 Cardi B
58:02 Reason
1:00:18 Isaiah Rashad
1:04:05 Why Da Baby and Lil Baby aren’t being considered
1:06:48 Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher (Griselda)
1:10:35 Westside Boogie
1:11:40 Buddy
1:13:23 Saba
1:14:36 The Top 10 MCs of the Now School
1:18:18 Kool Moe Dee graded the top MCs of the 80s and 90s
1:26:49 Pete Rock says he has not been paid for his work on Illmatic; who’s to blame?
1:32:25 Kanye West spills the details about his divorce on a new song with The Game
1:34:50 Tupac affiliate CPO Boss Hogg has passed away
1:36:40 New music of the week from Camp Lo, Nicholas Craven & Evidence, Gunna, Saba & Krayzie Bone, and Cainaan & Masta Ace

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Last month, Nas released Magic with Hit-Boy. In 2021, Pete Rock produced songs for AZ, Papoose, and his Tru Soul artist, AMXXR, including their collaborative mixtape, Worth Its Weight In Soul: 21 Grams.

#BonusBeat: A 2016 AFH interview with Pete Rock: