Meet rap music's hottest new hero . . . Freddy Krueger!
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince have just released a single called "Nightmare on My Street," a spooky parody of "Nightmare on Elm Street" featuring a sound-alike of the horror film's nasty leading man, Freddy Krueger.
But wait: rival rappers the Fat Boys' new single, due out next week, is "Are You Ready for Freddy," which actually features actor Robert Englund (and his distinctively chilling basso profundo) terrorizing the chubby rap stars.
Anything wrong with a little competition? Apparently New Line Cinema, the movie company that distributes the "Nightmare" film series, thinks so.
New Line recently filed a complaint in New York's Second District Federal Court against both Jive and RCA Records, which distribute DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's records. The film company has also sought a temporary restraining order requiring the labels to halt distribution of the new single.
"We own both a character, Freddy Krueger, and the theme music from 'Nightmare on Elm Street,' both of which are protected under the copyright laws," said Seth Willenson, New Line's senior vice president of telecommunications. "By using Freddy in the Jazzy Jeff song, they've infringed our copyright.
"We're protecting our rights the same way that George Lukas does, because as far as we're concerned, Freddy Krueger is the 'Star Wars' of New Line Cinema."
Naturally, the rival camp doesn't see it that way at all. "It's no big deal--we don't think they have much of a case at all," said Jive Records exec Barry Weiss. "This is a parody, not a rip-off. We didn't use Freddy's voice. We ran the Fresh Prince's voice through a vocoder. From our point of view, this is fair use--it's no different than Weird Al Yankovic doing a parody of Michael Jackson."
What makes this dispute particularly intriguing is that the first rap group to approach New Line about doing a song with Freddy was . . . Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince!
"I think what upsets New Line the most is that they had a chance to have our record instead of the Fat Boys one," Weiss said. "We went to them in January, three months before our album shipped, and presented it to them with the idea of using it in the movie.
"We gave it to them on a silver platter and they turned it down. Now, after we've sold 1.5 million albums and are No. 8 on the Billboard charts, they send us a cease-and-desist letter."
Willenson confirmed that New Line was approached earlier this year by Jazzy Jeff's label--and turned them down. "We felt at the time that the Fat Boys reached a broader audience, and could offer us more promotional opportunities."
He added: "Whether the song is a parody or not is irrelevant to the issue of protection of copyright. It's not a matter of using Freddy's voice--it's using his character that bothers us. And we hired a musicologist who found, in his opinion, that the music used in their song is identical to our theme music."
For now, the matter is in the hands of the lawyers. But we were curious--what did the Fat Boys, who've normally been supportive of their rap peers, think of the legal brouhaha? So far, the band appears to be staying scrupulously neutral.
"I think the Boys were surprised by the whole thing," said their spokeswoman. "They're not competitive toward other groups--they like Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. And they think it would be great to have as many rap records as possible out in the market. But they feel strongly about one thing--they think their song is better!"