The "Starships" controversy never ends for Nicki Minaj, it would seem. Latest on the docket for the song often accused of being a sell-out number for the Queens rapper is a lawsuit courtesy of Chicago house musician Clive Tanaka, who says that the Minaj top five hit was lifted from his own 2010 song "Neu Chicago," from 2010's Jet Set Siempre 1°. The reclusive musician--at the time of the lawsuit, his attorney posited an educated guess that he might currently be working on a screenplay in Argentina--has been protesting the similarity between the songs for years, including posting a Soundcloud link of the two songs layered over one another:
Tanaka posits that the song was fairly popular in the U.S. at the time of the recording of "Starships," and even moreso in Sweden, where the "Chicago" was used in a number of commercials, and where the song's co-writers and producers, RedOne, Carl Falk, Remi Yacoub and Wayne Hector, all reside. "They had a very good opportunity to hear it," says attorney Christopher Niro. "We believe they are similar to the point that it is nearly impossible for it to be a coincidence."
So do we here at Popdust agree with Tanaka and Niro about the song's plagiarism? Well, the songs have obvious similarities—which if not immediately obvious, were certainly outlined by that Soundcloud mashup Tanaka posted—but we'd probably stop short of calling it a direct rip-off. Yes, the rhythm and chord progressions are alike, and yes, the vocal melodies overlap a little bit, but the likeness is not so startling that we'd consider it "impossible to be a coincidence," like Niro claims. It's closer than the "Got to Give It Up" / "Blurred Lines" debate, where the feel of the original song is the only thing actually being impinged upon by the new song, but not so close that we see any actual intellectual property theft.
However, we do have to say that ripped off or no, we're absolutely over the moon about this Clive Tanaka song. It's not the undeniable pop behemoth that "Starships" is by any means, but it's every bit as irresistible—smoother, more serene, and a little bit hypnotic. The bass line is even more prominent than it is in the Nicki jam, and it's laid perfectly over a boom-bap disco beat, with expertly deployed handclaps at the end of most measures for punctuation. Meanwhile, synths, guitars and steel drums are layered on top for texture, creating one of the most sublime grooves you've ever heard. The vocals don't come in until nearly halfway through, and in truth, they're totally unnecessary—it's impossible for the song to have set the mood any better than it already has. (To their credit, they blend in to the groove just like another instrument.)
Nicki might have opened "Starships" with a command to go to the beach, and then actually showed up there for the song's fluorescent music video, but listening to the two songs back-to-back, there's no doubt which of the two is actually the more appropriate soundtrack for a day of white sand and blue ocean. Listening to the spectacularly chill island rhythms of "Neu Chicago"—and honestly, why the word "Chicago" appears anywhere in this song's title is totally beyond us—you can practically feel the sea breeze blowing back your hair, you can smell the seaweek and suntan lotion. No Bud Light clinking to be found here--this is strictly tequilla-on-the-rocks territory, or maybe something fruity drank out of a coconut.
If nothing else comes of this lawsuit—and frankly, we hope nothing does—then at least it's introduced us to this excellent jam, with a couple listens to Jet Set Siempre 1° in its entirety sure to be on the way. Interesting way to get exposure for your song, and probably not the most cost-efficient or legally responsible, but hey, chances are pretty good we never would have heard this song otherwise. We'll take it.
(s/o to SPIN's Jordan Sarge for bringing this to our attention via Twitter)