Tommy Boy Has Agreed To Negotiate Better Terms With De La Soul For Their Music

This week, De La Soul publicly revealed that their first six albums are becoming digitally available for the first time in history. Reportedly, the plan was for the catalog to go live today (March 1), part of a 30th-anniversary celebration for the group’s highly-acclaimed debut, 3 Feet High And Rising. However, for many fans, that exciting news was quickly overshadowed by frustrations from the legendary trio that came with the development. Since Monday (February 25), Posdnuos, Maseo, and Dave used social media and a Sway In The Morning interview to vocalize unhappiness with their former label, Tommy Boy Music.

Specifically, De La Soul’s members believe they should receive more revenue from their digital catalog than the label’s planned accounting for 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.

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On Instagram, the group alleged that their former label would take 90% of the digital revenue for this catalog, which includes one platinum and one gold LP, respectively. Additionally, Plug 1 told Sway Calloway that Tom Silverman and his nearly 40-year-old label are claiming De La Soul owes a $2 million debt surrounding this catalog. The conversation also examined potential concerns surrounding the innovative sampling on the albums. Dave and Maseo got personal about the Hip-Hop cultural merits behind the executive whose label was their home for nearly 14 years. The interview also unpacked some complicated history with the catalog, which Tommy Boy sold in 2002 (De La members allege that it was used to repay a Tommy Boy Records debt). For 15 years, the Warner Music Group was unable to release these albums digitally, even as the group reportedly tried to acquire their own art. In response to lack of action, and as a gift to fans, De La Soul gave away the catalog to fans through a 24-hour free download in 2014. In 2017, Tommy Boy reacquired its catalog from Warner.

The posts and Sway In The Morning conversation about music, ownership, and 30-year-old contracts in the digital age has sparked protest and action. A social media hashtag #BoycottTommyBoy circulated in the Rap community, reportedly started by The Roots’ Questlove. Nas and Pete Rock are among the artists who shared this call to action. Meanwhile, De La Soul revealed that Tidal will not post the albums for streaming “until this matter has been resolved” on Wednesday (February 27). In the post, they thanked JAY-Z and Elliott Wilson for the support. De La, who has not found itself in much controversy the last 20 years, pushed on. Yesterday (February 28), the trio told fans that Tommy Boy was attempting to negotiate. However, the group also alleged that the label wanted a confidentiality agreement in place to do so. De La Soul apparently declined, wanting to reach an agreement first, before agreeing not to discuss.

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De La Soul members continue to speak. “There’s been a lot of pain and suffering through this [history],” Maseo told HipHopDX‘s Kyle Eustice in an interview published February 28. “To even take care of my family, I had to tour like a motherf*cker. Do you know all the things I’ve missed because of sh*t like this?” Mase’ added that the group had considered a boycott in the past.

In the DX conversation, the Grammy Award-winning artist born Vincent Mason said that the group’s relationship with Tommy Boy is the product of an older music industry business model. “When you reflect on all of it, it was a 12” [vinyl single] deal that [led] to another 12” that led to an option of three more options contingent on how the first one would go, and what they thought the success would be.” 1988’s “Plug Tunin'” b/w “Freedom Of Speak (We Got Three Minutes)” birthed the De La discography. Released at a time when the three group members were between the ages of 18 and 20, the debut single was followed by “Jenifa (Taught Me)” b/w “Potholes In My Lawn.” The response to these 12″ vinyl Tommy Boy releases quickly led to 3 Feet High And Rising. “At that time, you’re just learning who’s been burned in the business prior to your entry, and the things that have gone on in not just Hip-Hop but also music in general. These are things we were aware of coming up,” reflects Maseo. In retrospect, he urges, “Take care of your business. Hire a lawyer.”

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That first contract began a history that lasted until Warner acquiring the catalog in 2002. Soon after, the trio began an independent tenure that has seen two albums, a massively successful crowd-sourcing campaign leading up to 2016’s and the Anonymous Nobody…, and the group’s first Grammy Award, alongside the Gorillaz.

In response to the news, Tommy Boy Music tells the public that they are willing to negotiate. The imprint has changed its March 1 release plans in an effort to reach a compromise with its former group. Tom Silverman’s New York City-based label released a statement to Variety on Thursday. “Because Tommy Boy has not had the opportunity to sit down together with De La Soul and finalize our negotiations — something we’ve wanted to do for months — we have decided to postpone the digital release of their catalog scheduled for tomorrow [March 1],” the company’s statement reads. “We know fans are eager to hear these amazing recordings and we are hopeful for a quick resolution.”

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The impasse speaks volumes to changes for artists and labels in the new industry model. In the late 1980s, many artists were reliant on record labels and distribution to get heard. Those labels invested capital in taking a chance on the music, a risky proposition when many releases were not solvent. Similarly, artists lacked a platform to voice their unhappiness and vent their frustrations. Involving their fans through social media, De La Soul is asking a former employer to reconsider their worth and work together for a resolution.

As Hip-Hop Heads await a mutually-beneficial pathway to De La Soul’s digital catalog, the group has promised a 2019 album produced by DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Reports of this release have been around for nearly five years, including a 2018 Ambrosia For Heads interview with Pete Rock.