RETRO CENTRIC: Arrested Development – “Tennessee”Published by Justin Joseph on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:45 am.
Twenty years ago, alternative collective Arrested Development released the “Tennessee.” The song which was the first single off their debut album, 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of…, became one of the group’s biggest hits, reaching number one on the Billboard R&B and Rap charts, and number six on the Hot 100.
While the song won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 1993, and is considered one of the greatest songs of the 90s; it cost the group a lot of money, thanks to the unauthorized sampling of Prince’s 1988 song “Alphabet St.”
1991 sounds like a very interesting time to be sampling records. You said you sampled Prince. Now, the actual “Tennessee” vocal came from Alphabet Street?
That’s right. Yeah, it did.
How did you clear that sample? Or did you even have to back in 1991?
You know, I didn’t know to in 1991, the sample laws weren’t very clearly set out back then. It was our first record, we definitely weren’t vets in the industry, we didn’t understand all the game play and the rules. So we didn’t ask for permission. I learned as a producer pretty quickly the laws of sampling: it’s the wild, wild West out there. So what happened was the record obviously was getting some pretty good heat. MTV had a show called “Buzz Clips,” and they added it to “Buzz Clips,” and it just became this huge phenomenon. And as the song moved up the chart the album got to #3 on the pop charts. And once it went down, the very week it went to #4, we got a call from Prince’s representation. They waited for that song to sell as many possible copies as they could wait for. As soon as it started to go down the charts we got a call, and the Reaper became the reaped. So we got charged for that sample pretty heavily. I paid $100,000 for that word.
The $100,000, was that negotiated?
It was not. In fact, because we didn’t ask for permission ahead of time, they didn’t need to negotiate with us. It was either do it, or we pull the record.