This is what happens because Kendrick can't say no to a feature. Independent Montreal-based rapper Jonathan Emile has won a judgement in a Quebec small claims court against Top Dawg Entertainment after the label filed a copyright takedown against one of the artist's tracks, which features Kendrick Lamar.
Back in 2011, around the time of Kendrick's Section.80, Emile reached out to Lamar and paid him to feature on the track "Heaven Help Dem," a song dedicated to Fredy Villanueva who was shot and killed by Montreal police in 2008. Emile would later describe the song as a commemoration of "the murders of Fredy Villanueva, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and too many others to name.”
Lamar delivered the verse in 2012. Emile's team made it clear the song would be the lead single on his debut album as per their original agreement. Then, Lamar's management disappeared, going silent on all matters regarding the arrangement.
When Jonathan Emile finally released his debut, The Lover/Fighter Document, in October 2015 and began promoting the track, Kendrick Lamar's star had risen considerably. He'd already released his AOTY To Pimp A Butterfly and was two months away from receiving 11 Grammy nominations, the second-most ever behind Michael Jackson.
Soon after he began pushing the single, Emile received a message from Top Dawg Entertainment, Lamar's label, notifying him the song would be blocked for copyright infringement. "Heaven Helped Dem" was then yanked from iTunes, YouTube, and SoundCloud. Any momentum he'd built had died.
Emile built a legal team and took the issue to small claims court on their advice. The court made its ruling in October: $8,600, plus five per cent interest paid by Top Dawg Entertainment, Interscope Records and Universal Music Group, according to Emile's management. The song is back up, too.
He didn't want to publicize the win; instead, he told Billboard, he wants to move on with fresher projects. Jonathan Emile's new album, Phantom Pain, comes out in the next month or two.
But he likes that his lawsuit serves a point: major labels mistreat independent artists all the time. Sometimes, though, there can be justice.