PA Salieu’s track ‘Frontline’ recently got a huge boost via social media, and then the comparison’s started.
The track is catchy but many listeners instantly picked up on the fact Salieu sounds very similar to another artist – J Hus. More specifically on ‘Frontline’, he sounds very much like Hus‘ earlier work. Now social media did what social media does and made memes – but they also jumped to the conclusion that this was an imitation of J Hus. If this was everyday life imitation wouldn’t be that much of an issue, it happens all the time – trends exist because people imitate each other whether it’s fashion, slang, or even airpods. In music though imitation is often a point of contention, especially in Rap. Artists want to be unique and when other artists seemingly duplicate their sound it can understandably be met with a hostile response in some cases. In this case luckily it wasn’t as can be seen below. But, and there is most definitely a but in this conversation, how do we decide what is imitation and what isn’t?
Recently we’ve seen paying homage go left between Stormzy and Wiley, but that is a whole other situation. Yet it is recent evidence of exactly the point – the line between imitation and inspiration is extremely thin. In fact, sometimes there is no line just blurred intentions. In the case of Stormzy and Wiley, we can very clearly see Stormzy was paying homage, he’s bigged up Wiley multiple times and was seemingly always very respectful regarding the Grime founder. Yet Wiley being Wiley has taken that homage as imitation or as Stormzy using him for selfish gain.
We can go back a little bit further with that as there was an incident of this that came up roughly a year ago. Ambush having been successful with tracks like ‘Jumpy’ and ‘Man Can’t’ felt artist JB Scofield was imitating him. The two even traded digs on tracks ‘Stretch It’ and ‘Dem Man’. To be fair to Ambush if a person didn’t know otherwise they could have very easily confused the two at the time as their cadence is quite similar at times and their content isn’t always that dissimilar. But it is a difficult one because Ambush isn’t one dimensional and it’s not like JB Scofield‘s entire catalogue sounds similar to Ambush‘s, so was it imitation or inspiration?
Cadence is also a difficult one, we want people to be authentically themselves but we also want to keep things diverse. With cadence sometimes artists voices do sound the same but that doesn’t have to be a problem. In the case of PA Salieu and J Hus, I’d say the reason they sound similar is they share similar heritage with both being Gambian, that’s as far as I think that goes. Due to the shared heritage they sound similar, but they definitely don’t sound exactly the same. Maybe Salieu is influenced by Hus, but I don’t think he’s just trying to imitate him.
That is part of the problem though, only the artists themselves can know their intentions with their music. Some make it very public when they pay homage others keep it quiet, neither is a wrong or right way of doing it. Maybe the solution is that when paying homage, whoever is being referenced/remixed/imitated gets contacted beforehand so they at the very least don’t get it misconstrued. But what is also a bigger factor in this is fan’s reactions to things – we are quick as listeners to make judgements despite the fact we rarely have all of the facts of situations. It is therefore not even our responsibility to even be making judgements as to whether or not people are imitating or paying homage to each other.
The last thing on this is probably the most important, is the music any good? That is the ultimate deciding factor. Once upon a time T-Pain used auto-tune extremely successfully, this prompted almost everyone to try and replicate what T-Pain did. The numbers of successful attempts are dwarfed in comparison to the number of failures, and the artists that popped up during that wave just on that sound aren’t around anymore – but T-Pain is. Imitation and inspiration are the two sides of the same coin, intention is all that separates them.
“Only real music is gonna last/ All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow”Jimmy Smith, sampled on Drake – Pound Cake