October 16, 2012


Kanye West Wrote Handwritten Letter to Steely Dan for Sample Clearance

Kevin Mazur
Kevin Mazur

We usually associate sample clearances with contentious legal battles or soul-sucking corporate co-opting. Take, for instance, Gilbert O'Sullivan's landmark lawsuit against rapper Biz Markie, or jazz artist James Newton's lawsuit against the Beastie Boys. But sometimes, the story has a happy ending. Such was the case with Kanye West's request for a sample from Steely Dan's 1976 hit “Kid Charlemagne.”

Donald Fagen, one half of the '70s rock group, recounted the incident in a recent interview with Complex. "Kanye actually sent us a sample of his tunes, and frankly, Walter and I listened to it, and although we’d love some of the income, neither of us particularly liked what he had done with it," he said. "We said 'No,' at first, and then he wrote us a handwritten letter that was kind of touching, about how the song was about his father, and he said, 'I love your stuff, and I really want to use it because it’s a very personal thing for me.'"

The heartfelt plea was enough to change Fagen's mind. "It was such a good letter that we said, 'All right, go ahead,' and we made a deal with him," he said. West would go on to use the sample for his 2007 hit "Champion."

Of course, the concept of using a sample for an emotionally important record is still a foreign one for Fagen— "My mind doesn’t work like that. I would never use someone else’s stuff if I was writing something personal, but I guess that’s how he was thinking about it."—but still, what a nice ending to a normally litigious issue.