With his thousand-yard scowl, shaven head and muscular arms, rapper DJ Class doesn’t look like the sort of chap you’d want to argue with. He grew up in Baltimore, a city that’s an illustration for inner city desolation and the setting for the hit series “The Wire.” Now he produces stars such as Kanye West and Beyoncé.
I am a politician’s daughter, brought up on the inner city streets of leafy Westminster. I went on to study English at Georgetown University, in Washington DC. For 5 years, I lived just down the road from Baltimore. I also write rap songs and bring my own ironic twist to the form, writing about dancing the nights away in St. Tropez.
It turns out that DJ Class and I have a lot in common, though – specifically, a song with the deliberately provocative title of “I’ll Be Your Bitch.” When I wrote and released it last year, it went to number five in the DMC Dance charts and number 13 in the Music Week club charts. I assumed my song and the inspiration for it were unique to me. Not so.
A few days ago, I logged on to iTunes to see how it was selling. To my astonishment, I discovered that there was another song titled “I’ll Be Your Bitch.” It came out six months after mine and was credited to DJ Class. His website says he composed the song. Same title, same words for the hook. What a coincidence. How could it happen?
I wrote “I’ll Be Your Bitch” a few years ago. The title was inspired by a man who became less interested in me the more available I became. He was fun, charming and good-looking, but rather too used to having supermodels all around.
Besotted, I flirted with him on the phone and by email for about six months, but he was always travelling. I’d meet him for coffee around the world and told him constantly how interesting he was. Then, I realised the error of my seduction technique – I was being too nice. I reversed my tactics, turning off my phone when I knew he was goingto call – only to find a string of plaintive messages from him awaiting me when I switched it back on. Treating him mean, it seemed, kept him keen.
Walking through St. James’s Park one day, I emailed him on my mobile,saying: ‘If that’s how to get your attention, I’ll be your bitch any time, baby.’ A song was born.
Believe me though, I’m not really a bitch. The song was merely a means of convincing myself to play the role when necessary. Not that the occasion arose: I never heard from my charmer again.
But how had DJ Class – a few thousand miles away – come up with the same title as as I did, six months after mine was a hit? It was puzzling. More intriguing still, a Baltimore newspaper said DJ Class’s latest album was disappointing, with just one stand-out track:
“Only ‘I’ll Be Your Bitch,’ with the blunt, funny way it toys with gender roles, stabs through the haze of generic party tracks enough to be particularly memorable.”
This was clearly something to chat about. I thought I’d email Mr Class, real name Daniel Woodis, and ask him if he wanted to write a song for me. I rang, too, and told him that I was a fan of his work – don’t great minds think alike?
At first, all I got no response. Perhaps I was being too nice again. After all, he does like bitches.
I approached his people with some trepidation. Many rap stars love to flirt with violent imagery, and I had no desire end up like 50 Cent, who was forced to wear a bulletproof vest after getting on the wrong side of one of his peers.
Just when I was about to give up, DJ Class’s producer, Nick Dirtri, replied: ‘I produced the song. DJ Class wrote the melody and lyrics.’ I heard that they are planning to officially launch the song next month. Then Shawn Caesar, the manager at Class’s record label, said: ‘I passed the message on to Class. He wanted me to let you know that he will definitely reach out to you and that he is interested in making some musicwith/for you.’
Working with DJ Class might be good for my career. Critics have said that some of my songs were ‘neither ghetto nor fabulous’. One pointed out that my father, former Tory cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, went to prison ‘for perjury, not gunning down homies to protect his crack empire’. Perhaps teaming up with Class will stop the class sniping.
In the meantime, I consulted my manager, Simon Napier-Bell, who discovered Marc Bolan and managed Wham. Simon explained:
‘One of the frustrating confusions of the songwriting business is that you can’t copyright a song title. In fact, if you want to make sure someone can’t rip off a great line you’ve come up with, then don’t make it the title.’
It is generally reckoned that a tune must have five identical sequential notes to count as copyright infringement. I do not claim this. Our songs are similar, but the musical hook of my “I’ll Be Your Bitch” is only four notes long and different from DJ Class’s.
The case that established that song titles couldn’t be copyrighted was Francis Day Hunter versus 20th Century Fox in 1939. Hunter had a song called “The Man Who Broke The Bank at Monte Carlo,” and Fox made a film of thesame name. A US/UK court ruled that song titles couldn’t be protected by copyright if they were made up of ordinarily used words.
Although many people have been expecting this unsatisfactory decisionto be overruled by a higher court one day, it won’t be me who brings the test case. My father’s own trial was enough to put me off courtrooms for life. Nor will I be seeking to resolve my grievances like they tend to do in hip hop videos. Nice girls don’t do drive-bys.
Victoria’s single, “I’ll Be Your Bitch,” is available on iTunes. You can hear it here.