Is it possible for a rickroll to go too far? Twenty-six-year-old rapper Yung Gravy may be about to find out. Born Matthew Hauri, the musician – from Rochester, Minnesota – had a viral hit last year with Betty (Get Money), a track that heavily interpolated Rick Astley’s 1987 hit Never Gonna Give You Up – which itself gained new prominence 20 years after its initial release thanks to rickrolling, a phenomenon in which internet users troll each other by sending covert links to the song’s music video. Now, Billboard reports that Astley is suing Gravy, saying that the rapper violated his “right of publicity” by hiring a singer to imitate his voice on the track.
Although Gravy’s use of the melody and lyrics of Never Gonna Give You Up was authorised by Astley, his lawsuit claims that he never authorised Gravy and his collaborator, Nick Seeley, to use his “signature voice” on the song. The lawsuit suggests that Gravy “conspired to include a deliberate and nearly indistinguishable imitation of Mr Astley’s voice”, with the intent to “capitalise off of the immense popularity and goodwill” of Astley. Astley’s lawyers claim that Gravy’s song caused “immense damage”, given that Astley is “extremely protective” over his image and likeness.
Astley does not own the musical rights to the track; owners Stock Aitken Waterman granted Gravy and his collaborators the right to interpolate the track but denied a request to sample it, meaning that the rapper was not allowed to perfectly replicate any of the sounds on the original song, vocal line included.
“A licence to use the original underlying musical composition does not authorise the stealing of the artist’s voice in the original recording,” said Astley’s lawyers. “So, instead, they resorted to theft of Mr Astley’s voice without a licence and without agreement.”
Gravy has openly said that his intention was to make the interpolation in Betty (Get Money) sound as close to the original as possible. In an interview with Billboard last year, he said that he and Seeley “basically remade the whole song”. In that interview, Gravy claimed that Astley “digs the song”; in his lawsuit, Astley says “those statements were all false”. The Guardian has approached representatives for Yung Gravy for comment.
Gravy first gained prominence in 2017 with the Soundcloud viral hit Mr Clean. Since then, he has released a handful of platinum- and gold-certified hits, and achieved vast viral notoriety thanks to his TikTok account, which has seven million followers.
He is known, on social media and in his music, for a fixation on older women; last November, he made headlines when he was photographed on the MTV VMAs red carpet kissing Sheri Easterling, the mother of TikTok celebrity Addison Rae, who is 16 years his senior.
Betty (Get Money) has been certified gold in the US, Canada and Australia in the months since release, and peaked at No 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it peaked at No 73.