De La Soul Are Fighting To Own The Music They Created (Video)
In the last two weeks, the three members of De La Soul have been at the center of a discussion surrounding ownership of catalog and the fairness of record label contracts. That discourse stems from the trio of Dave, Maseo, and Posdnuos notifying fans on social media that they are unhappy with former label, Tommy Boy Music. The home of De La Soul from the late 1980s into the early 2000s planned to release the trio’s first six albums digitally, for the first time.
That celebratory news was marred with dissatisfaction from the group. The artists alleged that they were told that they would receive 10% of the royalties from streams and digital sales. Several social media posts, along with a revealing Sway In The Morning interview rallied peers and fans. JAY-Z, Nas, Questlove, Jarobi White, and Masta Ace are just some of the artists who called for action against the nearly 40-year-old label. Tidal responded by declining to host the six albums until a satisfying contract was in place. Subsequently, Tommy Boy responded by postponing its plans, in hopes to reach such an agreement.
As of March 9, no settlement has been reached. 1989’s 3 Feet High And Rising, 1991’s De La Soul Is Dead, 1993’s Buhloone-Mindstate, 1996’s Stakes Is High, 2000’s Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump, and 2001’s AOI: Bionix all remain off of digital retailers and streaming platforms.
However, all three members of De La Soul appeared on Drink Champs to discuss the matters with hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. Notably, N.O.R.E. has firsthand experience with Tommy Boy and its namesake founder, Tom Silverman. In a partnership with Penalty Records, Tommy Boy released Capone-N-Noreaga’s seminal debut, 1997’s The War Report as well as the host’s solo debut, 1998’s N.O.R.E. Both efforts are certified gold. However, N.O.R.E. alleges that he was always told that neither album recouped from its budget. Last month, De La Soul spoke about a “phantom $2 million debt” that their former label has cited. Like De La, N.O.R.E. said that he unsuccessfully tried to buy back his early releases in years past.
In an exclusive segment of De La’s Drink Champs episode, the group spoke about where they are right now. Together, two former Tommy Boy acts discuss the renewed focus of ownership in 2019.
“We had a few record exec people reach out behind the scenes,” Posdnuos reveals, surrounding the status of De La Soul’s Tommy Boy catalog. “Big up to Steve Stoute; he reached out,” Maseo adds ahead of the 7:00 mark, referring to a veteran manager and UnitedMasters founder whose career is closely tied to Nas, JAY-Z, and Will Smith.
N.O.R.E. responds, “It’s kinda fly now to own your masters. Like back [when we signed our first contracts], we wasn’t really thinkin’ like that. I’m speaking for myself, not you guys—like I was thinking about an advance, gettin’ some jewelry [and other material goods]. Now, it’s fly to actually own your material because we want to leave something to [our] children. You ever seen a person that lives in the projects for 30 years? They don’t own [the apartment], but it’s their house! That’s what it feels like!” The group affirms the statement as N.O.R.E. says he has family members who can relate to that declaration. “A good thing for [the housing authority] to do is to say, ‘You know what? You should own that.’ Tom Silverman, if you’re listening—’cause I know you are—this is the best time for you to lead the pack! You lead the way and say, you know what, I’m gonna stop doin’ business in this way. You could take this, Tom, and you could flip this whole sh*t, and you could be the winner! You could say, you know what? I’ma give them 50% of their sh*t so everybody [can make money].” N.O.R.E. adds that other former acts from Tommy Boy’s legendary run such as Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature could benefit and celebrate. Maseo responds claiming that he wants to give people the opportunity to “change because we have been given the opportunity to change.”
“I think he has an opportunity to lead the way,” N.O.R.E. echoes at 27:00. “‘Cause there’s a lot of people who need these albums—beyond wanting, need these albums. That is a part of Hip-Hop [and this] is a piece missing in Hip-Hop. You can’t tell the story of Hip-Hop and then not have that there,” the host charges. “There’s dual value; The value is in the culture and the history, as well as your pocket. And if you’ve only got a concept of one [idea], that’s where the problem lies,” Dave responds.
While N.O.R.E. suggests a 50% partnership, the group says, in no uncertain terms, that they seek ownership. The host asks the Native Tongues co-founders, “what is your [desired] end result?” At 11:30, Plug 3 says, “At this point, ownership. Owning my catalog, that would make a world of difference. That’d make it easy to show up for work and do what we need to do.” N.O.R.E. embraces the DJ/producer as the live studio audience applauds. The Queens, New York MC-turned-host proclaims, “It’s time to make that right. I feel y’all so much.” Maseo adds that since 2002, De La Soul has exclusively done partnerships. That includes releases with Sanctuary Urban, Nike, a crowd-sourced album, and an upcoming DJ Premier and Pete Rock-produced release in conjunction with Nas’ Mass Appeal Records imprint.
Maseo adds that following a Super Bowl Halftime performance, he understands that Missy Elliott sold more than a million downloads of catalog hit “Work It.” Thus, he feels that following President Obama’s 2016 personal request to perform on The White House lawn, De La Soul could have made significant revenue from the now-30-year-old “Me, Myself & I.” However, the song was digitally unavailable. Despite hurdles such as this, 3 Feet High… has reached The Library Of Congress archives and achieved other esteemed feats.
At 13:30, the interview broaches what De La Soul seeks in negotiation. “What can the fans do?” DJ EFN asks the Grammy Award-winning trio. “I would sincerely ask in support of the fans and the culture, yo, don’t press play. If [the catalog] actually comes up online, don’t press play until we give it a go—’til we actually say, ‘Yo, we’re happy. Thumbs up, guys. Let’s rock. We kissed; we made up.’ Until we say [that], do not press play. If anything, you can get The Grind Date [as well as] and the Anonymous Nobody…; you can get those two [albums].” DJ EFN suggests that fans are still hungry to hear the music. “At the end of the day, it’s your choice,” responds Mase’. “I want [fans] to have it; I really do. But sh*t ain’t right. Period. So let’s get it right. And if you want to support, don’t press play.”
N.O.R.E. likens the fans’ struggle with the NFL boycott surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s protests. Maseo, whose son, Tre Mason, was in the NFL for several years, agrees. “Absolutely. Because you’re a fan of players out there, you know people out there that’s playin’, you’re connected to the game your whole life, it’s America’s thing. Just like Hip-Hop. It’s America’s thing, the world’s thing, an international thing. Yeah, and we ain’t really still playin’ it fair.”
At 26:30, N.O.R.E. reveals that through a third-party, Tom Silverman was invited to participate in the episode discussion. Silverman, who founded his label in the early 1980s, reportedly declined in effort to progress with negotiations. “That’s all we’re trying to do: We just want to find a happy place with all this, man” Dave notes, after acknowledging that reported decision. Pos’ adds that many people have had a constructive dialogue with the group during the last two weeks. He suggests people that know Tom Silverman and the label staff do the same in hopes of reaching an agreement or understanding.
N.O.R.E. speaks about his former employer near the close of the clip. “It’s his chance to say, you know what? These are kids that I signed, these are kids that I was part of their career, and now they’re grown men. Let me do business with them as such.” The group harmonizes the last two words in the statement with the Drink Champs host. “This is your turn to do that, and you can lead the way.” DJ EFN adds that such a move would “revamp the way business is done.” N.O.R.E. interjects, “You can rectify the situation and say, [let us] be business partners from here on out. ‘Partners’ is the keyword.” The host asserts that in addition to De La Soul and Tommy Boy, Hip-Hop is now at the negotiation table.