After receiving a cease and desist letter for his debut song "Waffle House" from the restaurant franchise over trademark infringement, Atlanta-based rapper J.R. Bricks offered to rename the song in German ("WaffelHaus") and called the company's actions "cultural discrimination." Waffle House say the action was taken in response to Bricks' unauthorized use of its logo and that they "embrace all cultures within Waffle House."
According to reports by AllHipHop.com and Music Industry News Network, J.R. Bricks (Earl Harrison, Jr.), a Havana, Florida, native and United States Air Force veteran, recently signed with German-American digital imprint Block Starz Music LLC. He is also nominated for "Best Southern Rapper" and "Buzz Factor" at the 2011 Underground Awards, which take place Aug. 21 at B.B. Kings in New York.
The MC released "Waffle House" on July 20 on iTunes to a positive response. Less than a week later, legal counsel for WH Capital, LLC and Waffle House, Inc. issued a cease and desist letter to the artist's label.
Waffle House ordered the artist to stop using the logo on iTunes, and to change the title of the song, which is now called "After The Club." The restaurant rejected Block Starz executives' offer to change the song to "WaffelHaus (After the Club)."
"The words 'Waffle House' are trademarked, and any form of that in any language is also of that U.S. Trademark protection," Waffle House spokesperson Pat Warner tells Billboard.biz. "Whether they put it in German or Spanish, it would still be 'Waffle House.'"
Bricks was permitted to re-release the song on iTunes under the new title, and keep the lyrics mentioning the restaurant in the chorus: "We what they talkin' 'bout, we what they talkin' 'bout/After the club, meet us at the Waffle House.'"
Warner elaborates on the situation. "We do have music associated with our brand. We have a jukebox and we have some Waffle House songs, and our thoughts were that…the consumer could get confused thinking that it was an official Waffle House song since they were using our block logo in the promotion of the song."
Bricks was not pleased with the decision. "I don't think Waffle House's actions were motivated by racial discrimination," he said, according to Music Industry News Network. "But I do believe it is based on cultural discrimination. I don't believe they want to see their company associated with the Hip-Hop lifestyle. The song portrays what we do in the South after we tear it down at the club. I don't speak on violence in the record. I just speak on having a good time."
The song, in fact, does not mention any violent acts, but it still warrants an "Explicit" label on iTunes, likely for vulgar language and references to marijuana. However, Waffle House maintains that the "lifestyle" portrayed by the song did not influence its decision to take legal action.
"Anybody who knows Waffle House knows that's not a true statement," Warner says of Bricks' comment. "We embrace all cultures within Waffle House. All you have to do is come eat with us and you see that. You'll have all sorts of folks eating and working in all of our 1600-plus locations."
Warner cites two examples of Waffle House's diverse partnerships. "We've had movies done in a Waffle House--'ATL' [starring rapper T.I.] comes to mind. We just finished working with the 'Joyful Noise' movie with Queen Latifah."
Warner says that the legal predicament could have been prevented, had Bricks and his label approached the company before releasing the song.
"We get a lot of people wanting to use Waffle House in songs and movies and TV shows and we look at these projects on a case-to-case basis," he says. "So I wish they would have come to us before they launched the song, then maybe we could have talked…but after the song is released and they're using our logo to promote it, we have to protect our brand."
Bricks is not the first artist to mention Waffle House in a track, or construct a song around a restaurant. R. Kelly's 2007 song "Same Girl," featuring Usher, mentions the fanchise, and De La Soul famously rapped about Burger King with 1991's "Bitties in the BK Lounge."