As the Neptunes' Pharrell Williams and partner Chad Hugo launch their new album, Star Trak presents...Clones today in stores nationwide, they must do so amidst allegations from a young Canadian man who claims that Williams and his Star Trak Entertainment ripped off beats that he posted on their Web site.
In an exclusive interview with SOHH.com, 18-year old Joseph Zakoni accused Pharrell and Star Trak President and long-time Neptunes's manager Rob Walker of copying and manufacturing his beats - without consent - that were posted on the label's message board last April. Zakoni insists that Star Trak Entertainment strung him along into believing that he would eventually become a part of the Star Trak production team, including future plans to work with the likes of Super Cat, only to be duped while they manipulated his productions.
Hugo and Williams started Star Trak Entertainment with Walker after establishing a relationship with Arista Records and its President, Antonio "L.A." Reid. The deal entails that The Neptunes produce, develop and sign new artists to Star Trak, and Arista Records handle all marketing, promotion, sales and distribution responsibilities for the new label. Zakoni says he was initially contacted by the label after he posted some of his beats on their website under the username, "knukurru."
"They [Walker and Williams] discovered me online last April on their message board," said Zakoni via e-mail from Canada. "They basically flew out to meet me [in Canada], and promised to give me money to buy equipment, since all I used [to create beats] is this sh!tty software stuff."
It was from that meeting, which took place at Canada's Much Music Studios, that Zakoni realized that Walker and Williams were really interested in his style of production - which coincidently took Zakoni by surprise. "I was reluctant from the start, because like, I didn't really give a sh!t about it much," Zakoni says, who insists that making beats up until then was strictly a hobby. "But they kept getting all excited about having me on their team or whatever."
In August, Joseph Zakoni says he met up again with Williams and his group, N.E.R.D. (No One Ever Really Dies) at the Warped Tour. He received V.I.P. tickets from Rob Walker to attend the event, and it was there that he turned over more beats to Pharrell to pass on to Walker. Since that last meeting, Zakoni insists he has heard nothing more from Williams, Walker or anyone at Star Trak. However, months after he noticed that Pharrell and The Neptunes had begun to incorporate his productions into theirs.
"They flew me out to New York once," Zakoni recalls of a previous encounter, "and I walked into the studio and was like, 'Oh awesome! They're playing my beat...wait a minute...', and [then I realized] it was that 'ni99a Please,' Jay-Z bullsh!t." Zakoni has gone so far as to present to SOHH.com what he calls proof of the theft -- an MP3 that displays the shocking similarities between his original production and Neptune-produced Jay-Z track. Other tracks that Zakoni alleges The Neptunes stole from his collection are tracks by Canadian/Jamaican-descent rapper Kardinall Offishall ("Belly Dancer") and Nas ("Flyest Angel") - which is currently receiving modest play on radio, and sits at #29 on New York's Hot 97's (WQHT) play list.
Zakoni said he's sought legal advice on the matter, and although he has a strong suit against the Neptunes and Star Trak, the case would have to be prosecuted in New York City and he does not have the funds to go ahead with any legal actions. His attempts to rectify the situation with Star Trak Entertainment, Rob Walker and Pharrell Williams have gone stale, and he's received unpleasant phone calls from Walker and company requesting that the allegations cease. "Yeah, they phoned me up with a courtesy call, more like a threat, basically [telling me] to shut the f#@$ up," said Zakoni. All calls made by SOHH.com to Rob Walker and Star Trak Entertainment regarding the allegations were not returned.
While The Neptunes continue to blaze their path of success with their unique, and unorthodox-style beats, Zakoni can only sulk with his belief that part of their reputation is based on his hard work. "I got really angry one day after I heard Pharrell say [in one of his rhymes] 'I hand out styles like ice cream cones' in that 'Hot Damn Remix'. I was like, 'yeah, [and] one of those styles is mine, you f#@$.' He's said some other underhanded stuff [pertaining to me] in his lyrics, like in the hook for the 'Belly Dancer' remix."
Clones will no doubt raise the bar that has already exceeded rock-star status for The Neptunes. The LP will include tracks from Busta Rhymes, Kelis, Clipse, Ludacris, Nelly, N.O.R.E, and many more top-notch artists in hip-hop and R&B. But all Joseph Zakoni wants is retribution, and a bit of respect for the art that he created - the art he alleges Williams and Star Trak Entertainment took away from him.
As for his story, Zakoni says he could really "give a sh!t less if people believe it or not." "There's nothing concrete that you can judge about an idea, an intention, a situation," says Zakoni. "Anyone who understands the situation believes me. Anyone who visits their forums believes me, because they saw the whole [thing] play out. It's that simple. I'm presenting the alternative, so people can do whatever they want with it...I don't give a f#@$. It [the story] is out there."
side note: This guy is a good friend of mine and it's about time this has been exposed! More to come!