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Drake Producer Explains — But Doesn’t Excuse — R. Kelly Songwriting Credit on ‘TSU’ From ‘Certified Lover Boy’

Drake publicity 2021
Courtesy of Republic Records

Amid the dramas and controversies spawned by the long-awaited release of Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” album, the biggest may have been the surprising presence of a songwriting credit on the song “TSU” for fallen R&B superstar R. Kelly, who is currently on trial for sex trafficking and racketeering charges amid allegations of sexual abuse against multiple women. As the internet filled with outraged and incredulous comments, reps for Drake, his label and music publisher, and Kelly declined or did not respond to Variety’s requests for comment on Friday.

However, at some point on Sunday, Drake’s longtime co-producer Noah “40” Shebib posted a comment on Instagram explaining the credit and distancing himself from it, noting that Kelly was not involved in “TSU,” but rather that a Kelly song was playing in the background of a sample of OG Ron C — the veteran Houston DJ and co-founder of Swishahouse Records OG Ron C — talking, and in order to use that sample, they had to credit the Kelly song. Media outlets and commentators had challenges even identifying the Kelly sample, which some said was a lyric credit and WhoSampled said is a faint orchestral passage from Kelly’s 1998 hit “Half on a Baby.”

“On a song called tsu at the beginning is a sample of OG Ron c talking,” Shebib wrote. “Behind that faintly which you can’t even hear is an r Kelly song playing in the background. It has no significance no lyrics are present, r Kelly’s voice isn’t even present but if we wanted to use Ron c talking we were forced to license it. Doesn’t sit well with me let me just say that. And I’m not here to defend drakes lyrics, but I thought I would clear up that there is no actual r Kelly present and it’s a bit misleading to call him a co lyricist.

“It’s kinda wild cause I was just reading ‘Baby Girl’ by Kathy Iandoli and the recounts of some of that stuff is horrific and disgusting,” Shebib continues. “Then I saw this post and just had to say something because to think we would stand beside that guy or write with him is just incredibly disgusting.”

That is just one sample on the song, which also credits Christopher Cross (for a sample of ‘Nsync’s version of his hit “Sailing”) as well as producers Harley Arsenault, Noel Cadastre and OG Ron C), Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.

However, Shebib’s comments do not explain and actually call further into question why Drake felt the sample was essential to the song, and why he feels comfortable crediting — and, by association, effectively endorsing — a man whose name has become synonymous with sexual abuse and a corrupt or inept legal system that allegedly allowed him to get away with it for more than two decades. It is difficult to imagine that Drake would not have been aware of the sample or the optics that the songwriting credit would bring — or why he didn’t simply ask OG Ron C to say the same words without an R. Kelly song playing in the background. Shebib’s post suggests he may have similar questions.

The timing of the release — coming just a week after Kanye West brought alleged sexual offender Marilyn Manson and self-proclaimed homophobe DaBaby onstage at his “Donda” listening event — saw the two biggest rappers in hip-hop endorsing sexual offenders within a week of each other.

It was unclear at press time how much money in royalties the sample may garner Kelly, but any song from “Certified Lover Boy” is racking up millions of streams, and thus royalties.