Jamaican music producers Wycliffe “Steely” Johnson and Cleveland “Clevie” Browne’s reggaeton lawsuit has escalated significantly, now implicating high-profile artists such as Drake, Bad Bunny, and numerous others in the case. This ground-breaking legal battle has sparked a heated discussion about Reggaeton’s origins and its relationship with intellectual property rights.
Initially filed in 2022, Steely & Clevie’s lawsuit claims that their 1989 “Fish Market Riddim”, more popularly known as the “Dem Bow Riddim”, was unlawfully appropriated, forming the basis of the now globally popular reggaeton genre. As the case advances, the list of defendants has grown, bringing well-known artists like Canadian rapper Drake and Puerto Rican sensation Bad Bunny into the fray. The lawsuit seeks to hold these artists accountable for allegedly profiting off the duo’s work without proper recognition or compensation.
Steely & Clevie’s legal team argues that their clients’ contributions have been crucial in shaping Reggaeton’s sound and style, and they deserve fair compensation. To support their claims, the team has presented expert testimonies and musicologists’ analyses, which suggest that many chart-topping reggaeton hits have incorporated elements from “Dem Bow Riddim.”
THE LIST OF DEFENDANTS
A whopping 57 primary artists and their featured artists, producers and record labels were listed in an exhibit attached to the complaint. These included:
- Drake, for One Dance with Wizkid and Kyla, which is RIAA-certified Diamond.
- Bad Bunny, for Mía with Drake, which is RIAA-certified Latin Diamond; and Vete, Solo De Mi, La Santa with Daddy Yankee, Safaera with Jowell & Randy and Nengo Flow, Ignorantes with Sech, which are all certified RIAA Latin Diamond; and 31 other songs.
- DJ Snake, for Taki Taki with Salena Gomez, Ozuna and Cardi B, which is RIAA-certified 4X Platinum, and four other songs.
- Luis Fonsi, for Despacito (Remix) with Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber, which is RIAA-certified Latin Diamond; and Échame La Culpa with Demi Lovato, which is 3X RIAA-certified Latin Platinum; and eight other songs.
- Daddy Yankee, for Rompe; Dura; El Pony; Gasolina; Shaky Shaky; and 38 other songs.
- Jason Derulo, for Mamacita with Farruko, Love Not War with Nuke, Colors with Maluma, Goodbye with David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, and Willy William.
- El Chombo, for Dame Tu Cosita with Cutty Ranks.
- Enrique Iglesias, for Bailando, and nine other songs.
- J Balvin, for Mi Gente with Willy William; Ay Vamos; 6 AM with Farruko; Bonita with Jowell & Randy; Safari with Harrell Williams, BIA and Sky; Ginza; and more.
- Jay Wheeler, for La Curiosidad with Mike Towers, and more.
- Jhay Cortez, for No Me Conoce (Remix) with J Balvin and Bad Bunny, and more.
- Justin Quiles, for DJ No Pare (Remix) with Natti Natasha, Farruko, Zion, and Lenny Taverez y Dalex; and more.
- Anuel AA, for China with Daddy Yankee, Karol G, Ozuna and J Balvin; Secreto with Karol G; Ella Quiere Beber; Amanece with Haze; and Ayer with DJ Nelson, and more.
- Becky G, for Mayores with Bad Bunny; Sin Pijama with Natti Natasha; Cuando Te Besé with Paulo Londra; and more.
- Cali Y El Dandee, for Por Fin Te Encontré with Juan Magan and Sebastian Yatra; Nada with Danna Paola; and Sirena, and more.
- Farruko, for Chillax, with Ky-Mani Marley, and Passion Whine with Sean Paul.
- Karol G, for Tusa (Remix) with Nicki Minaj; BICHOTA; EL MAKINON with Mariah Angeliq; and Mi Cama.
- Major Lazer, for Lean On with DJ Snake and MØ; Sua Cara with Anitta and Pabllo Vittar; Light It Up with Nyla; and Watch Out For This (Bumaye) with The Flexican, FS Green and Busy Signal.
- Anitta for Downtown with J Balvin; Sim Ou Não with Maluma; Paradinha; and Terremoto with Kevinho.
- Maluma, for Felices los 4, Corazón, El Perdedor, Borro Cassette, Sin Contrato, Hawái, HP, and more.
- Nicky Jam, for Hasta El Amanecer, El Amante, Travesuras, and more.
- Ozuna for, Se Preparo, Síguelo Bailando, and Tu Foto, and more.
- Pitbull for, We Are One (Ole Ola), Hey Ma with Camila Cabello and J Balvin, Como Yo Le Doy with Don Miguelo, and more.
- Rauw Alejandro, for El Efecto with Chencho Corleone, Fantasías, 2/Catorce, Reloj with Anuel AA, and more.
- Ricky Martin for Vente Pa’ Ca with Maluma, Fiebre with Wisin and Yandel, and more.
- Wisin, for Escápate Conmigo with Ozuna, Adrenalina with Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin, Nota de Amor with Daddy Yankee, and more.
Is it Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?
This lawsuit has generated considerable attention within the music industry, as it has the potential to set a new precedent in intellectual property disputes. The case brings to light issues of cultural appropriation and the role of artists and producers in shaping and transforming musical genres.
Industry insiders and experts are closely watching the case, curious to see if it will lead to stricter regulations or more stringent copyright enforcement. In turn, this could impact the creative freedom of artists and producers, potentially leading to a more cautious approach when incorporating influences from other genres or works.
Meanwhile, fans of the artists involved have expressed mixed feelings about the lawsuit. Some argue that the music industry thrives on cross-pollination and collaboration, while others maintain that original creators should be rightfully acknowledged and compensated for their work.
As the Steely & Clevie Reggaeton lawsuit continues to make waves, it remains to be seen how the legal battle will play out and what lasting effects it may have on the music industry. Undoubtedly, the case will be a defining moment for Reggaeton’s history and the broader discourse on intellectual property rights within the world of music.