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Adam Sandler Controversy Puts Bremerton Rapper David Olivas in the National Spotlight
UPDATE: David Olivas came out with a new music video for his song “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed.” Check it out:
Adam Sandler’s new Netflix comedy special is titled “100% Fresh.” But detractors are saying the special — or at least one particular part of it — is actually quite rotten.
David Olivas, 33, of Bremerton, has been rapping since he was 13. He’s not blowing up the music charts, but over the years he’s carved a place for himself in the local rap and hip-hop scene.
Olivas is finding himself in the national spotlight recently, however, thanks to Sandler’s new special, which included the performance of a comedic song called “Phone, Wallet, Keys.” The only problem? The song bore a striking similarity to Olivas’s song “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed,” originally released in 2015 — a full three years before Sandler’s special hit Netflix.
Here’s Sandler’s performance:
And here’s Olivas’s song:
This has led Olivas’s fans to ask: Did Adam Sandler rip off David Olivas? Some of Olivas’s most devoted fans have bombarded Netflix’s social media accounts to point out the uncanny similarity between the two songs. They’ve even contacted journalists across the country in an effort to ensure Olivas gets credit where they believe it’s due.
A couple days before the controversy broke, Olivas’s wife started watching the Netflix special, but turned it off before Sandler’s rendition of the song came on. A couple days later, Olivas was working his day job at Bremerton cannabis retailer The Reef when his wife texted him, telling him that Adam Sandler had, as she put it, “jacked his song.”
Olivas laughed it off at first, thinking she was joking. He kept getting tagged in Facebook posts, but couldn’t check them out while working. Finally, he took a break so he could see what all the fuss was about — by this point, he’d received 20-30 notifications from people tagging him in the comment thread of Sandler’s “Phone, Wallet, Keys” video.
More Than a Coincidence?
At first, Olivas thought it was a coincidence.
“My jaw dropped when I first saw it. I was a little speechless at first.”
“As people have been quick to point out, there’s half a dozen songs floating around that have titles like that,” he says. “But then when you click on the song, it’s more than just the title or sharing a couple words of a chorus. My jaw kind of dropped, honestly, when I first saw it. I was a little speechless at first.”
Although “Phone, Wallet, Keys” was performed by Sandler, frequent Sandler collaborator Dan Bulla was credited as the writer. He also performed the song with Sandler in the special. When the Kitsap Sun reached out to Sandler’s press office for comment, they directed the paper to Bulla; he has yet to respond to the Sun’s request for comment on Twitter.
Olivas doesn’t have a particular bone to pick with Sandler or his team and says most of the fuss was raised on his behalf by a dedicated group of fans who felt Olivas should get some kind of recognition for coming up with the song first.
“People that are fans of my music really ran with it. A couple of them, Netflix blocked their posts and banned them after a minute,” he says. “They started emailing journalists and stuff who are covering it.”
Robert Bacon was one of the first to report on the controversy on his podcast. Bacon mashed up segments of the two songs side by side so people could gauge the similarity of the two songs for themselves. Listen for yourself:
In addition to Bacon’s podcast and the Kitsap Sun, the story has been picked up by XXL Magazine and HotNewHipHop, and Olivas has been contacted by a reporter from the Washington Post. The media attention has helped Olivas confirm that he’s not crazy: Other people recognize the similarity between the two songs.
“Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed” appears on Olivas’s December 2015 album, “We Thrive.” It was recorded earlier that year, but Olivas had been using the phrase as a mnemonic device years before that, he says.
Olivas was traveling to a show in Port Townsend with his friend Denon Jones. When they stopped to get gas, Olivas began reflecting on his upcoming album.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I have a lot of good songs on there, but I don’t know if there’s a real good, hyphy club song … I should just take that “phone, keys, wallet, weed” that I do to remember my stuff and just put it to a banger and make it kind of funny. But I think people would be into it.’”
Jones was onboard and encouraged Olivas to record the song, which was co-written with Chris Dean.
The song has always been popular, although Olivas says it’s not necessarily the best representation of his overall catalogue of music. Much of his music tackles more serious issues. “Reason to Live,” for example, is a song about suicide prevention awareness. “Blessed” is about appreciating what you have in life.
Olivas always had a knack for storytelling, even as far back as elementary school, where he gravitated toward creative writing assignments.
“My favorite stuff was when they would just give you a sentence … and be like, ‘Write a story with it.’ And I would just go off of that. So I always enjoyed writing and hip-hop just spoke to me.”
Olivas heard Tupac for the first time when he was 12 and a friend popped one of the rapper’s cassette tapes into the car stereo on the way back from a church camp. The music made an impression on him, due to “the way the beat hit with the bassline and the way it pumped you up and made you feel,” he recalled.
“Hip-hop sent shivers down your spine. It just got you through hard times and made you feel pumped up, like you could do anything.”
Hip-hop also appealed to him because it was a genre that encouraged storytelling. You could fit more lyrics into a rap song than you could in other genres. “It takes talent in most genres to get your point across in less words or whatever, but hip-hop, some of my favorite stuff was just the storytellers — Tupac and Biggie and Nas, who would just tell stories, take you somewhere. It was magical to me. It (sent) shivers down your spine and it just got you through hard times and made you feel pumped up, like you could do anything.”
Olivas was 13 when he constructed his first rhymes. But true art can’t survive in a bubble: He wanted to share his music with the world.
“When you talk about having a dream your whole life, I remember when I just wanted more than anything to have my own CD released and have the booklets and the credits and thank-yous on the inside,” he says. “I used to read those cover to cover.”
In high school, he attended Olympic College through the Running Start program. There, a man named Roger Nick helped Olivas operate the recording equipment in the college’s music studio. “(I) … made some pretty bad music that I thought was cool at the time and started passing out CDs,” he says.
He’d fulfilled his dream of making a CD, but ultimately, he was just a kid messing around. He’d eventually take his music making to the next level, but it may have never happened if not for an accident that changed his life.
In December 2005, Olivas and his fiancé, Lacey Castro, were driving back to Washington from Los Angeles. As they drove, the conversation turned to Olivas’s music. He told Lacey he was thinking of putting music on the backburner to focus more on work and making money. But she wasn’t having any of that:
She turned to him and said, with a sense of urgency in her voice, “You have to promise me you’ll keep making music.”
“Ehh, I don’t know, Lace,” he responded. “It takes a lot of time and I don’t know if I have the time and money to put into that and still pay bills.”
“No,” she insisted. “You have to promise me you’re not going to stop making music. It means a lot to people and you’re good at it.” He finally relented and told her he wouldn’t quit making music.
Four hours later, the couple found themselves in a car crash that injured Olivas and took Lacey’s life. In the wake of the life-changing accident, Lacey’s insistence that he promise to keep making music took on new significance for Olivas.
“I remember thinking it was kind of weird, the sense of urgency,” he recalls. “I’m not going to speculate on anything beyond that, besides to say it’s not something a lot of people could say, when the love of your life at the time dies in a pretty rough way and then hours before that, told you to never quit making music.”
“It was on me to do something, like God wasn’t done with me. I still had some work to do.”
He didn’t get back into the studio for another year. When he did, he recorded a song for Lacey and gave it to her family on the one-year anniversary of the accident. He formed a band with his guitar-playing roommate, a rap-rock outfit called Redemption City. From there, he found himself fronting another rap-rock band called Crush Proof Juicebox, before returning to pure hip-hop, forming the duo Endgame with another local rapper, Nik Fury. As Endgame, Olivas had the chance to tour locally, opening shows for such acts as Kottonmouth Kings, Tech N9ne and Geto Boys.
Hip-hop became a way for Olivas to fulfil his promise to Lacey, but it also proved to be therapeutic, a way to heal from the psychic trauma the accident had inflicted on him.
“It made me like, OK, if I didn’t die from that or become an alcoholic and give up — which I tried to do for a while — then it was on me to do something, like God wasn’t done with me,” he says. “I still had some work to do.”
The accident shaped much of his early music and still does, to an extent. “Now it’s been 13 years,” he says. “It’s not something I think about every day or anything, but it’s always been there and it’s something I’ll always feel a responsibility for, but in a good way. It’s not as if I’m like, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to make music now because I promised this girl.’ It was something that, because she said that to me and I remembered it, it got me through some hard times and really saved my life in a lot of ways in terms of being a form of therapy.”
A Local Scene
As Olivas honed his skills, he found support and fellowship in the local rap and hip-hop scene.
Kitsap County’s burgeoning scene is overflowing with talent, Olivas says. Although the scene is diverse, it’s also tight-knit, he says. “Like any scene, some people have their groups and some people run in different circles and everything, but … people from different camps come together and have great shows and the fans have a good time.”
At 33, Olivas says he’s an “older guy” in terms of the hip-hop scene. But he sees many of the younger musicians doing cool things. As an example, he points out Young Lew and Jordy Sam, a duo putting out “KUBE 93-ready” songs.
“There’s kids that were little guys when I was starting out that are doing some really cool things,” he says. “It may not be known on the level that a bigger city scene is, but … there’s a lot of talent whose story needs to be told.”
And that’s not to leave out many of the forebears who came before, including both musicians, labels and promoters, such as I-Gang, a duo that was active in the early 2000s; Doc and Wesley Blackwell of Noroc Records; Lions Den 360, and Hustle Style Entertainment.
“There’s a lot of people doing a lot of things,” Olivas says. “I could go on, but if I start naming too many names it’ll seem like I’m leaving somebody out.”
In the wake of the Adam Sandler controversy, the artists in the local scene have been a major source of support. “They feel like one of their own got a raw deal and are just trying to spread the word,” he says. “The support from both the artists and the fans in the community has been really overwhelming and amazing.”
As an artist, it’s never fun to feel like someone’s used your work without properly crediting you. But Olivas acknowledges there’s been an upside to the situation. It’s given him a national spotlight and pumped his music into more ears than ever before.
The day after the controversy began erupting online, “Phone, Keys, Wallet, Weed,” garnered a couple thousand listens overnight. Although Olivas’s music has generated thousands of listens over time between Spotify, iTunes and other platforms, getting that kind of traffic over the course of a single day was unusual. The traffic continued to increase, and by the next day, the YouTube video alone had racked up 5,000 views. At the time of this writing, the video has more than 28,000 views.
But the circumstances for the extra attention have seemed surreal.
“Do I think Adam Sandler is up late at night looking for obscure people to rip off? Probably not. But my song has been on the internet for a while and I don’t know what could have (happened) or how somebody could have come across it, but it’s just odd. At this point, thousands of people agree that it seems oddly similar.”
It’s possible, Olivas says, that it’s a case of unintentional plagiarism.
“Most songwriters have had that experience where you start to write something … and then you realize halfway through, ‘Aww man, I’m taking this from …’” he says. “I’m not an unreasonable person and I’m not going to say, ‘Yep, this is what happened. This guy heard it, and he ripped me off and rubbed his hands together and was like, ‘Ha ha, I’m going to screw this guy!’ I don’t know any of that … I don’t know for sure what happened and I don’t want to level any accusations of definite wrongdoing.”
“I’m not angry. I’m just kind of a guy that is dealing with it as it comes day by day.”
But that doesn’t mean Olivas isn’t considering all his options, including the possibility of legal action. In the meantime, though, he’s focusing on the positives.
“I’m not out here angrily shaking my fist or anything,” he says. “A lot of people have said, ‘You should be thankful if Sandler ripped your song off,’ … and I’m like, I get it; I am thankful for the attention and the opportunity and the platform, not just with this song, but to try to promote in general what I’m about, which is taking care of your fellow man and really trying to let and let live if you can. … I’m definitely not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m just kind of a guy that is dealing with it as it comes day by day.”
There is one way Olivas says Sandler could make it up to him, however.
“If we could just make Little Nicky 2, and then maybe I could be in it for like 30 seconds or something, I’d be good with that,” he says with a laugh. “You can’t have Rodney Dangerfield anymore, may he rest in peace. But I’d be down for Little Nicky 2. Let’s do it, Adam.”
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