Earlier this summer, Nicki Minaj (real name: Onika Maraj) made a plea to Tracy Chapman. In a series of since-deleted tweets, Minaj admitted she recorded a song with “one of the greatest rappers of all time,” but didn’t know the song sampled Chapman’s “Baby Can I Hold You.” “I’m torn, y’all help. Tracy Chapman, can you please hit me. omg for the love of #Queen,” she wrote.
Now Chapman is suing the Queens rapper for copyright infringement. In the complaint, obtained by Rolling Stone, Chapman alleges that her representatives “repeatedly denied Maraj’s after-the-fact requests to use the Composition.”
“Beginning in June 2018, Maraj and her representatives and/or agents made multiple requests to license the Composition for use in Maraj’s recording (featuring Nas), ‘Sorry’ (the “Infringing Work”), which, on information and belief, Maraj had already made without the requested license for inclusion on her recently released album, Queen.”
The suit claims that in mid-July, Chapman, through her business managers, denied a request from DMG Clearances for Minaj’s request to sample “Baby Can I Hold You.” In response, Minaj’s manager, Gee Roberson, allegedly reached out to connect the two artists.
“On or around July 27, 2018, Gee Roberson, who identified himself as Maraj’s manager, e-mailed Chapman’s business managers, requesting that they connect Chapman with Maraj to discuss an ‘idea [of Maraj’s] that is one of the most personal for her that was inspired by [Chapman’s] art that [Maraj] would like the opportunity to touchbase (sic) with [Chapman] about,'” the suit lays out.
Neither a rep for Minaj nor Roberson immediately replied to a request for comment.
On August 8th, Chapman’s lawyer confirmed through email that Chapman never consented to the use of her song. However, three days later, New York radio DJ Funkmaster Flex premiered “Sorry” on Hot 97. Chapman is seeking that Minaj and her team stop “copying or otherwise using or exploiting the Infringing Work, including its interpolation of the Composition,” wants Nicki’s team to prevent third parties from using “Sorry” and is pursuing damages and profits made from the song.
“Tracy Chapman very much protect her rights and she has a right to deny a license when requested,” Chapman’s longtime lawyer Lee Phillips tells Rolling Stone. “There’s no question that this is infringement. If you ask what Nicki Minaj’s defense going to be, we have no idea.”
In a 1988 Rolling Stone interview, Chapman described how she approaches writing about love in her music. “One thing that really concerns me is a sense of balance,” Chapman said. “You know, when you’re talking about material things, it’s where those things fit into your life. Then, with relationships, too, how do you position yourself in relation to other people? It’s a fine line sometimes, trying to hold on to yourself and your own identity and either being lured into having other people define them for you or having the things around you define them for you.”