Exclusive: Junior Vasquez Talks Kanye West Suit

Exclusive: Junior Vasquez Talks Kanye West Suit

The club godfather's NSFW '89 banger was plagiarized by Teyana Taylor's "WTP."

The club godfather's NSFW '89 banger was plagiarized by Teyana Taylor's "WTP."

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

Pop music may have been built on theft, but over the years, strengthening IP laws and crackdowns on file sharing have lead to an industry landscape that feels increasingly more like a giant algorithm than the Wild West. So it’s somewhat surprising in this day and age when an artist publicly steals from another, as Kanye West did earlier this year in one of the most brazen plagiarism cases of late. While the in-your-face banger "WTP," which appears on West protégé Teyana Taylor’s 2018 album K.T.S.E., is an exact copy of Ellis D's 1989 underground record “Work This Pussy,” when Ellis—better known today as Junior Vasquez—first heard the song, his first thought was not that he had an open-and-shut case. 

"When I did find out about it through the tom-tom so to speak, at first I was like, 'Holy shit this is fierce," says Vasquez. "But then other people pointed out to me, 'That’s actually your song completely.' I listened to my original against their new one and I said, 'Wait a minute..."

2018's "WTP" features a few original verses sung by Taylor and an introduction by Mykki Blanco, but the thumping ballroom tempo and titular refrain—the repetitious imperative to, quote, "work this pussy"—are virtually identical to Vasquez's arrangement. While not officially a single, its subversive lyrics and irresistible beat have made "WTP" a slow-burning cult smash among contemporary clubbers and dance crews.

Vasquez says West's team did contact him about using the sample, but only long after the song (which does not list Vasquez as a writer) had been recorded; it dropped later that weekend, before Vasquez had the chance to respond to West's inquiry. Adding to the surprise was Vasquez's belief that the NSFW tune had faded into obscurity. As Ellis D, Vasquez says he made the rounds as a DJ in the Harlem ballroom scene, specializing in "bitch tracks," or beats catered to club-kids and voguers.

"I can’t even speculate how [West's team] found it, because it was such an underground record. It was only intended for the voguers," says Vasquez, who, after founding his legendary club Sound Factory in the early 90s, went on to garner mainstream traction, mixing everyone from Björk to Marilyn Manson. By the time he was creating his own ecstatic gay-pride anthems ("If Madonna Calls," "Get Your Hands Off My Man") Vasquez had mostly retired from bitch tracks. "I moved away from ["Work This Pussy"] probably after Sound Factory. I just didn’t play it anymore because there were so many [songs] after that."

Despite ushering a circuit-party sound into the mainstream, Vasquez saw "Work This Pussy" as a bridge too far for most audiences. "It’s a risky record, so I never would have thought that [it had] wheels," says Vasquez, adding that, even though "it took a while," he's heartened that a song forged in the fringes of nightlife has found a second wind. He also emphasizes the intention of the song's lyrics—a general call for sexual self-empowerment more than a reference to one type of anatomy. "It is very nasty; my friend Boom Boom did the really raunchy dialogue over it. But the other side of it is that it did cross all margins. That I know," he says.

Earlier this month, Vasquez and West reached a mutually satisfying settlement. "They could have pulled the song, they could have shelved it; but they didn’t," he says. "It all worked out fine." Vasquez says the experience has inspired him to create more original work as well as revisit his unreleased catalogue: "I have a song I wrote with Madonna...I have songs from Prince. I have a lot of stuff that [hasn't been] exposed or released. That’s still in the can for me."

He's also bringing back Ellis D this year. First up, Vasquez is throwing a Work This Pussy-themed bash at the Standard Hotel High Line later this month, where all are welcome to party like it's 1989—or 2019. Just "bring your pussy," Vasquez advises.

Junior Vasquez (photo: JVM)

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