FEATURE: Deep Cuts: The Unexpected Fate of De La Soul’s Music Online




Deep Cuts



The Unexpected Fate of De La Soul’s Music Online


ONE of the most pleasing announcements of recent weeks...


IMAGE CREDIT: Abraham Jay Torres  

was the fact De La Soul were putting their music online. There are two albums – 2004’s The Grind Date and 2016’s and the Anonymous Nobody... – but nothing else from them. The reason behind the lack of De La Soul music online is because of issues arriving around clearing royalties. Their 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, was built on a foundation of eclectic and fantastic samples but the band did not get clearance for all of them. They faced reaction and legal threats when the album was released and a contract was signed that stated their music would not exist in any other format bar physical release. It is a shame sampling issues got in the way but, if an album like 3 Feet High and Rising existed online, there would be legal challenges and artists demanding money – it would be a complex situation and it could mean Spotify having to remove the album from their site. The landmark debut celebrates its thirtieth anniversary tomorrow and it would have been great to have the album online for new listeners to enjoy. The fact it one would struggle to buy the album on vinyl and it is expensive trying to hunt down a copy. I think there are C.D. versions but what happens when one wants to listen on the go or experience 3 Feet High and Rising in its vinyl goodness?!


 IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Yesterday, the BBC looked at the ongoing problems and whether there is going to be any resolve. It was announced the back catalogue would go online but, as I shall explore, the financial deal was not great. Things have been delayed and I do wonder whether we will see De La Soul online soon:

For years, it has been shunted between record labels, none of whom could sort out the complex licensing issues around the record's numerous samples.

That was set to change on Friday, with the album primed to debut on Spotify, marking its 30th anniversary.

But it was pulled at the 11th hour, as the band said the deal was unfair.

On Instagram, the group alleged that record label Tommy Boy would get 90% of the profits from 3 Feet High (and several other classic De La albums that were primed for release) while they would see roughly 10%.

The deal is particularly complicated because of what the band describe as a "phantom $2m debt"; which Tommy Boy boss Tom Silverman claims he is owed.

"The actual offer was 30% to De La," David 'Trugoy' Jolicoeur told Rolling Stone.

"But with this phantom debt that's in the air - this $2m dollar debt - what he proposes is, 'Since you guys are getting 30, I'm going to take 20 of that 30 and kick it back to your debt'".

It is unfortunate De La Soul failed to predict the rise of digital music and how the landscape would change but one could forgive them back in the late-1980s/early-1990s. There is this dispute and rankle between De La Soul and Tommy Boy that is delaying so much fantastic music reaching the world. It is a tense situation that has reached services like Tidal:

Upon learning of this deal, Jay-Z refused to put De La Soul's music on his Tidal streaming service; while A Tribe Called Quest star Q-Tip called for a boycott of Tommy Boy.

Noticing the bad publicity, the label decided to "postpone" its release of De La Soul's back catalogue until the dispute was resolved.

"Because Tommy Boy has not had the opportunity to sit down together with De La Soul and finalise our negotiations - something we've wanted to do for months - we have decided to postpone the digital release of their catalogue scheduled for tomorrow," said the label in a statement on Thursday night”.

I always feel it a shame when money gets in the way but, whatever angle you look at things from, it seems De La Soul are not getting their cut. It may not be easy to offer a fifty-fifty split given the fact that rarely happens in music but De La Soul created the music and they need their fair share. A raw deal would not be a good compromise and it would be wrong to force De La Soul into the digital marketplace on bad terms.


 IN THIS PHOTO: De La Soul in 1990/PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Speaking with Billboard, Posdnuos reacted to the news of delays and a new compromise:

"It's a victory," Pos, of De La Soul, tells Billboard. "It's great that people who supported and understood what we mean to the culture, whether it's someone who's so dear and close to us like a Q-Tip, or someone who could admire the moves we've made creatively, but we ain't necessarily been in the room with each other nothing but maybe three times together, like a Jay-Z. You can have people just feel like, 'Culturally, I support and understand where they are coming from'".

De La Soul are recording their tenth album this year and one feels there might not be a deal brokered before then. A.O.I. and Kobalt released and the Anonymous Nobody... so a new album will go online and there will be no issues. I feel the first few albums from De La Soul, especially 3 Feet High and Rising, are essential and they are being kept away from a whole new marketplace. There are other acts who are not on streaming sites and they have their reasons for it but, in the case of De La Soul, one sees this barrier that can be broken down. Tommy Boy are being unreasonable and I feel there needs to be a deal where De La Soul are not short-changed.

There are reasons why things are so sticky and the delay of the digital releases might suggest Tommy Boy and De La Soul are conferring and trying to reach a compromise. As 3 Feet High and Rising turns thirty tomorrow, it will not be available online. One can purchase the record but even that is a difficult experience. So many people adore the record and there are countless fans-in-waiting who have not yet heard the kaleidoscopic majesty of this Hip-Hop masterpiece. So long as all the samples can be cleared and both sides can realise a deal that is fair and sustainable. De La Soul are heartbroken their music is not available online and there is so little there. They cannot be blamed for some of the problems of the past – regarding sampling and not seeing the rise of the Internet – but I know getting their early albums online will be a longer process than we all hoped. Even though one cannot hear 3 Feet High and Rising online and stream it in full, there are the odd few songs on YouTube that you can discover. It is not the full experience but it is better than nothing. I wonder how people will mark thirty years of 3 Feet High and Rising tomorrow – whether we will see a lot of the songs played or whether the lack of online availability will stifle what can be done. Let’s hope De La Soul, Tommy Boy and anyone else involved in the compromise can find some resolution and we can get De La Soul’s brilliant music online and reaching new ears. Although De La Soul are losing out and they want a fair outcome the ones who are suffering the most are the fans who desperately want to hear...

DE La Soul’s genius online.