Last night, after the internet went nuts over Drake’s
full-length gif video for “Hotline Bling,” Virginia artist D.R.A.M. had enough: “Yeah, I feel I got jacked for my record, but I’m GOOD,” he vented on Twitter. He was talking about “Cha Cha,” the popular song that has been building buzz since September of last year.
In the hours since, there’s been tons of misinformation flying around Twitter, the home of amplified, misinformed voices. People think “Hotline Bling” and “Cha Cha” sample the same songs, but they don’t. The former samples a 1972 hit by Timmy Thomas called “Why Can’t We Live Together,” and the latter samples a classic Nintendo game.
The question, then, is why people are comparing “Hotline Bling” to “Cha Cha,” despite the tracks having two completely different samples. We’ll get to that, but first, here’s a timeline of the trajectories of both songs since their respective releases.
September 9, 2014 – D.R.A.M. releases 1EpicSummer mixtape with original version of “Cha Cha” (above)
Spring 2015 – D.R.A.M. signs deal with independent record label Empire to release #1EpicEP, a shortened version of #1EpicSummer with a couple new songs. A certain sample in “Cha Cha” couldn’t be cleared, so the beat is altered.
March 3, 2015 – Chance The Rapper brings out D.R.A.M. for “Cha Cha” at Virginia Commonwealth University
March 20, 2015 – Snoop Dogg Instagrams himself listening to “Cha Cha”
April 15, 2015 – Snoop Dogg brings D.R.A.M. out to do “Cha Cha”
May 19, 2015 – Beyonce dances to “Cha Cha” on Instagram
May 30, 2015 – Drake dances to “Cha Cha”
July 25, 2015 – Beats 1 premieres “Hotline Bling” as “Cha Cha Remix” on OVO Sound Radio
August 2015 – “Cha Cha” starts picking up radio spins
September 30, 2015 – D.R.A.M. says he embraces Drake’s silent co-sign:
“For it to not even have been a year? It’s very flattering. Know what I’m saying. He’s the first powerhouse to be heavily influenced by the VA wave that was influenced by myself and Gabe [Niles]. And like, it’s pretty much just a stamp that what we’re going is something real here. Ya know, we’re going to continue on. I dont think he is going to be the only that will be heavily influenced by our wave and sound. I just think he was the first. And ya know, over here we’re embracing it.”
October 12, 2015 – “Hotline Bling” hits #2 on Billboard Hot 100
October 13, 2015 – “Hotline Bling” hits #1 on urban radio
October 19, 2015 – Drake releases “Hotline Bling” video; D.R.A.M. says he feels Drake jacked “Cha Cha” for “Hotline Bling”
Listening to both “Cha Cha” and “Hotline Bling,” there are some undertones that sound loosely similar, specifically the shuffle of the percussion, the melody of each sample, and the rising pitch patterns of the hooks (“I like to cha cha” versus “You used to call me on my…”), but just like the “Blurred Lines” case, there is no direct “jacking” going on here, only “inspiration.” Many believe Drake stealthily covered his tracks by inhaling the Caribbean vibes of “Cha Cha” with a sample that pre-dates the original sample in D.R.A.M.’s song.
Frankly, it’s hard to tell, hence all the spirited discussion on Twitter about whether or not “Hotline Bling” is in fact inspired by “Cha Cha.” But the smoking gun here seems to be that Beats 1 tweet above. You have to assume OVO provides a tracklist for Beats 1’s social account to tweet the songs they play during OVO Sound Radio. How else would whoever was running that Twitter know to tweet “Cha Cha Remix”? That is by far the most concrete piece of evidence we have of Drake swagger jacking D.R.A.M.
The problem, then, is that Drake never credited D.R.A.M. for the song, and though there’s been speculation that Drake reached out to D.R.A.M., it hasn’t been confirmed. In his Fader interview from this past September, Drake acknowledged his frequent proclivity for jacking hot songs and making them his own (see: “Sweeterman” by Ramriddlz). “It’s just, literally, I’ve recognized the potential and greatness in this piece, and I want to take my stab at it too,” he boldly explained. “I’ll hear people’s stuff…and I’ll just give my interpretation of how I would have done it.” That sounds exactly like what he did with “Cha Cha.”
Drake does a cha cha dance in the “Hotline Bling” video, and it has to feel like a slap in the face to D.R.A.M., seeing how Drake’s record is on the verge of hitting #1 on billboard’s Hot 100. With D.R.A.M.’s new EP dropping this Friday, it’s a savvy move to drum up this publicity, but as writer Craig Jenkins noted, publicity don’t pay the bills. At the very least, people who never heard of D.R.A.M. are finding out about his incredible talent just in time for a new project. But given his massive starpower, Drake’s ethics in cases like these continue to be shaky.