Tracy Chapman Scoops Up $450K From Nicki Minaj in Suit

Controversy centered on Minaj's song 'Sorry' using lyrics from Chapman's 'Baby Can I Hold You'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2021 1:07 PM CST
Tracy Chapman Scoops Up $450K From Nicki Minaj in Suit
This Aug. 20, 2018, file photo shows rap artist Nicki Minaj at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

A copyright infringement lawsuit involving Nicki Minaj and Tracy Chapman has seemingly been put to rest. Per documents filed in a California federal court and reviewed by Pitchfork, Chapman, 56, who's best known for her late '80s hit "Fast Car," has accepted a $450,000 offer of judgment from the 38-year-old rapper, whom Chapman said lifted lyrics directly from her song "Baby Can I Hold You" to use in Minaj's song "Sorry." What makes the case not as straightforward as some copyright infringement complaints is how Minaj's experimental song was released. Per The Hollywood Reporter, "Sorry" was leaked in 2018, not long after Minaj had released her album Queen. The song, which Minaj worked on with Nas, wasn't on that album—instead, it made its way to the public when DJ Funkmaster Flex leaked it online.

The song clearly uses Chapman's lyrics, and she sued Minaj in October of that year, saying that Minaj needed a license to use the sample. And Minaj obviously knew she would need such a license before she ever put the song on an album, which is why she kept trying to get one from Chapman; Chapman kept denying it, per THR. But in September, a judge handed Minaj a fair-use win, noting it was OK to use Chapman's lyrics in a studio song that was experimental in nature and not yet on any album. "A ruling uprooting these common practices would limit creativity and stifle innovation within the music industry," US District Court Judge Virginia Phillips said in her ruling. By both sides agreeing to end the dispute with the $450K offer of judgment, which also takes care of all Chapman's legal costs, the complaint will now avoid a trial. (More Nicki Minaj stories.)

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