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Tracy Chapman sues Nicki Minaj over uncleared sample

By | Published on Wednesday 24 October 2018

Nicki Minaj

Tracy Chapman has sued Nicki Minaj over an uncleared sample on a track originally intended to appear on the latter’s recent album ‘Queen’. Although the track was dropped from the LP, presumably because of licensing issues related to the sample, it’s alleged that Minaj’s people nevertheless leaked the record to a US radio DJ who then played it on air. Fans then grabbed the track from the broadcast and shared it online.

Back in August, Minaj revealed on Twitter that she’d discovered – somewhat late in the day – that a track on ‘Queen’, featuring “one of the greatest rappers of all time”, also included a sneaky sample taken from one of Chapman’s records.

Licensing that sample was proving tricky, so Minaj asked her Twitter followers whether she should delay the release of the album, to see if a deal could be done with Chapman’s people, or if she should just release it anyway without that particular track.

Presumably hoping that there might be a third option – ie that she could personally persuade Chapman to green light the sample in a speedy fashion – Minaj also tweeted: “Tracy Chapman, can you please hit me?”

‘Queen’ was subsequently released without the Chapman sampling track. But, it seems, that track did find its way to Funkmaster Flex on New York radio station Hot 97. Before playing the record, he told his listeners via the socials that Minaj “gave me something”.

The offending Minaj track is called ‘Sorry’ and the sample comes from Chapman’s 1988 song ‘Baby Can I Hold You’. In legal papers filed with the Californian courts earlier this week, attorneys for Chapman wrote: “This action is necessary to redress [Minaj’s] disregard and wilful infringement of Chapman’s rights under the Copyright Act, and to ensure that her misconduct is not repeated”.

According to the lawsuit, Minaj’s people did indeed try to license the ‘Baby Can I Hold You’ sample earlier this summer, but they were told that Chapman has a blanket rule that she doesn’t clear samples of her music. It seems that at least someone of Minaj’s team was already aware of this, because one email from a representative of the rapper actually asks whether Chapman is still on the “do not sample or interpolate list”.

Discovering that she was indeed still on that list, Minaj’s manager then reportedly tried to get a meeting between his client and Chapman, hoping that the rapper might be able to persuade her fellow music maker to clear a sample just this once. No such meeting took place though and, say Chapman’s team, they “repeatedly” denied a request for a sample licence.

The lawsuit alleges that it was Minaj, or someone on her team, who then provided a copy of ‘Sorry’ to Funkmaster Flex – real name Aston George Taylor Jr – which, of course, is something the DJ himself claimed on social media.

“Taylor played the infringing work on air on his radio show on Hot 97 on the evening of 11 Aug 2018”, Chapman’s lawsuit alleges, according to Law360. “After Taylor played the infringing work, many internet users reproduced the infringing work, and published it on several different websites. As a result of [Minaj’s] actions, the infringing work is available through multiple websites hosted by internet service providers all over the world”.

Confirming that his client has now sued over the sample, Chapman’s longtime lawyer Lee Phillips told Rolling Stone: “Tracy Chapman very much protects her rights and she has a right to deny a licence when requested. There’s no question that this is infringement. If you ask what Nicki Minaj’s defence is going to be, we have no idea”.

The lawsuit seeks to stop any further distribution of ‘Sorry’, while also seeking damages and any profits made through the airing of the record.