Nothing is “authentic” in hip hop: problems behind Kill the DJ’s copyrights claims against Prabowo’s supporters

A performance at one of hip hop scenes in Wijilan, Yogyakarta. The Conversation Indonesia/Edi Dwi Riyanto, Author provided (No reuse)

Nothing is “authentic” in hip hop: problems behind Kill the DJ’s copyrights claims against Prabowo’s supporters

Rapper Marzuki “Juki” Mohammad, also known as Kill The DJ, was furious when a video showing supporters of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto singing a parody of his song Jogja Istimewa (Special Jogja) in a campaign event went viral.

Juki, the founder of Jogja Hip Hop Foundation, posted the video and vented his anger in his Instagram account. He said the song was used without his consent.

He then filed charges against the person who distributed the video for copyrights issues.

Juki has publicly declared that he is the supporter of Prabowo’s rival, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. But, politics aside, Juki’s claim to be the sole owner of the song’s copyrights is problematic.

For the last 10 years, I have been doing research on hip hop as music and culture. My PhD research examines hip hop scenes in Yogyakarta. Theoretically, hip hop culture is built on the spirit of mixing and compiling sounds and texts from other sources. Juki’s claim on his song does not align with this spirit.

Behind the creative process

This is not the first time Juki protested against the use of Jogja Istimewa. The Yogyakarta local government had also used the song. Juki said they violated copyrights laws. However, he did not file charges against the local administration.

It’s hard to establish Jogja Istimewa’s authenticity, because all of the song’s elements - lyrics, sounds, and visuals – are taken from other sources.

Juki wrote the lyrics of Jogja Istimewa. Local hip hop artist, Balance, who is also a prominent member of Jogja Hip Hop Foundation, composed the music.

Juki admitted that he only contributed about 30% of the lyrics. The rest were compiled from other sources. These include famous speeches by Sostro Kartono (the brother of Indonesia’s famous heroine for gender equality rights Kartini) and the late king of Yogyakarta, Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX.

The sound of Jogja Istimewa is very familiar for most Yogyakartans. This is because the song used the sounds of marching snare drums and flutes which are usually played during a parade of Yogyakarta’s Royal’s troop.

Almost all of the visual elements of Jogja Istimewa video clip are taken from public events in Yogyakarta. Many of the scenes in the video are taken from various events, which were not originally intended for the production of the video clip.

The creative process behind the production of Jogja Istimewa, has shown how Juki is a brilliant artist that can revitalise his cultural and traditional backgrounds and reproduce them using hip hop music. However, when it comes to copyrights claims, hip hop has its own story.

Hip hop versus originality

Hip hop or rap musicians often produce their music by reusing existing sounds in their own style. The creative process of hip hop music production involves sampling, mixing and compiling someone else’s sounds and texts; a process called remixing.

Professor Lawrence Lessig from Stanfod Law School defines remix as a creative process where an artist remixes a wide range of texts to produce something new.

Based on its creativity process, Jogja Istimewa is produced using a remix style.

Therefore, hip hop’s creative process has often been controversial. Law professor Kim D. Chanbonpin at John Marshall Law School in Chicago argues that hip hop is not an original musical product, acknowledging that the practice of sampling has often invited legal problems. Due to the nature of hip hop creative process, Chanbonpin believes that hip hop “does not rely on copyrights laws to regulate its own notions of originality or innovation”.

Lessig and Chanbonpin have suggested the end of copyrights era as it brings “damaging effects” to members of marginalised groups who cannot afford the resources to support their creativity.

Hip hop spirit

Jogja Istimewa is one of the great hip hop songs created using a remix technique. It has brought the artists into prominence. However, tracing the authenticity and claiming the copyrights of this song is problematic and contradictory to the spirit of hip hop.

It is the same spirit that has given opportunity for the poor boys in Bronx, New York, US and all over the world to participate in the cultural productions. It is the same spirit that has been attacked by those who are in favour of copyrights.