De La Soul Are In A Bitter Negotiation About Their Streaming Rights & Stakes Is High
It has been 30 years since De La Soul released its debut album, 3 Feet High And Rising. That 1989 Prince Paul-produced work has since achieved platinum certification as well as monstrous critical acclaim for its clever rhymes and innovative sampling techniques. In addition to more than a million shelves, that Tommy Boy Records release now sits in the Library Of Congress music archives.
For the next 13 years, De La stayed with the label they were with at the start of their careers. They released five additional studio albums, along with various live works and compilations. This discography included celebrated works such as 1991’s gold-certified De La Soul Is Dead, and 1996’s Stakes Is High. Other moments include Buhloone-Mindstate, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, and follow-up AOI: Bionix.
While those six titles and companion compilations decorate the vinyl, cassette, and CD shelves of many, they have never been available on digital retailers or streaming platforms. In 2016, The New York Times‘ Finn Cohen examined the situation, speaking to De La, Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman, and Warner Bros. executives, responsible for legacy content. While De La members Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo admitted some optimism, lots of red tape seemingly stood in the way. Those hurdles were reportedly due to copyright holders and sampling, especially on the earlier half of the catalog.
The label system has been a complicated space for De La Soul throughout the last 30 years. After addressing frustrations with the imprint in songs and skits, the relationship ended after Bionix. In early 2002, Tommy Boy’s recorded music and publishing catalog were sold to Warner Bros. Records for more than $10 million. The label remained in business, but its Hip-Hop acts moved to the major, who had been distributing Tommy Boy since the late 1980s. In the transaction, De La Soul understood that they were headed to the Warner-backed Elektra imprint, a longtime home to fellow Native Tongues member Busta Rhymes. Thanking Tommy Boy for their service, Posdnuos told AllHipHop that the group was excited to have a new machine behind it in a changing marketplace. However, history shows that nothing came from the brief move.
Although Elektra soon dissolved in a merger, De La Soul next released an album in 2004 with The Grind Date. That LP arrived through Sanctuary Urban/BMG Music, and was the first of several indie releases for the Long Island, New York veterans. That release featured Beyoncé and Solange’s father, Mathew Knowles, as top exec. It and 2016’s Grammy-nominated and the Anonymous Nobody… are available to stream and purchase online. That is not the case for a 2009 Nike-commissioned mixtape and a 2006 Art Official Intelligence compilation. In 2015, De La avoided the label rigmarole entirely and allowed fans to fund its ninth album in advance. Asking for $110,000 to make and the Anonymous Nobody…, the group received more than four times the ask in just hours. In the process Plug 1, Plug 2, and Plug 3 rewarded donors with memorabilia, fan experiences, and physical copies of the 2016 Grammy-nominated LP.
In August of 2017, Billboard reported that Silverman re-acquired his catalog from Warner, including the De La Soul assets. A year and a half later, Tommy Boy Music is reportedly planning to bring those first six De La albums to the Internet marketplace. However, for De La Soul, who broke the news, this development is not a happy occasion.
Today (February 26), De La Soul notified its fans that the music will be made available soon. However, on the group’s social media accounts, the trio expressed disappointment with the accounting surrounding their digital catalog. “Your purchases will go 90% Tommy Boy, 10% De La,” the group posted, approximating the splits. In a caption, the group added, “Don’t feed the vultures, support and respect the culture.” The three men encouraged fans to support its two most recent releases, which presumably provide more lucrative revenue to the group. They also hash-tagged the copy of the post #thephantom2milliondollardebt. That is presumed to be a reference to the elements of the catalog not yet recouping, or becoming profitable per the initial agreement.
Two posts on Monday (February 25) confirmed that the trio was in recent contact with Tommy Boy, and disappointed with the discussion. They urged fans to contact their former label with “RespectTheCulture,” “RespectTheArt,” and “RespectTheArtist” on social media. In 2014, De La Soul hosted a one-day free music giveaway from its website, making its catalog available for free download. They have regularly treated fans to free music and surprise singles.
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For our fans to finally be able to stream and/or download our music will be a dream come true! The reality for De La… what an ugly greedy nightmare. #threefeethighandrising #delasoulisdead #buhloonemindstate #stakesishigh #aoimosaicthump #bionix Tag and let @tommyboyrecords and @dodo_011.1 know how you feel #respecttheculture #respecttheart #respecttheartist More news to come on Sway In the Morning, tune in.
Elsewhere in today’s public note, they confirmed that an album in the works for five years, produced by DJ Premier and Pete Rock, will be arriving later this year. Since announced in 2014, that project was said to be titled Premium Soul On The Rocks.
No release date has been given by De La Soul or Tommy Boy surrounding the first six albums coming to the Internet.
In recent years, the New York City-based label has released albums by Ghostface Killah, Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, and BROOKZILL. The last of the three is a group that includes De La mentor and producer, Prince Paul. Besides De La Soul, Tommy Boy’s Hip-Hop catalog includes seminal works by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force, Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature, Coolio, Digital Underground, House Of Pain, and Capone-N-Noreaga, among others.
They have announced new colored-vinyl pressings of several catalog releases, including a Vinyl Me Please editions of 3 Feet High And Rising and Buhloone-Mindstate.