De La Soul’s Music Will Be Coming ‘Back to the Fans’ — and Streaming Services — New Label Owner Pledges

With 1989’s “Three Feet High and Rising,” the Long Island rap trio De La Soul created one of the truly groundbreaking albums in hip-hop history, bringing a happy, psychedelic, flower-bedecked vibe — dubbed “the D.A.I.S.Y. Age” — to a genre that had largely been aggressive and confrontational. But the album and the group’s early recordings have been mired in legal issues with its label, Tommy Boy Records, stemming both from their extensive use of uncleared samples — a field that was an unexplored Wild West at the time — and the group’s contract with the company, which the members signed when they were teenagers.

Consequently, the group’s classic early recordings are not available on streaming services; the group claimed in 2019 that it would receive just 10% of streaming revenue and declined to sign off. Along with much of the Aaliyah catalog, it remains one of the few remaining major-artist holdouts from streaming services.

But with Reservoir’s $100 million acquisition of the Tommy Boy catalog announced Friday morning, all that appears to be changing: A spokesperson for Reservoir tells Variety, “We have already reached out to De La Soul and will work together to the bring the catalog and the music back to the fans.”

The group’s problems began shortly after the release of “Three Feet High and Rising” in early 1989. Sample clearances were a new and largely undefined business at the time, and what exactly constituted a copyright violation was a moving target. By today’s standards, the album’s use of snippets or pieces of songs by everyone from Hall & Oates to the Turtles to “Schoolhouse Rock” was egregious, but it was all new terrain in 1989. The group, producer Prince Paul and Tommy Boy found themselves embattled by lawsuits — particularly from the exceptionally litigious original members of the Turtles — to the extent that their follow-up album, “De La Soul Is Dead,” was delayed for many months and ended up being stripped of most of its samples (and suffered musically). It’s fair to say their formerly fast-rising career never fully recovered, although they have continued to release albums and tour in the years since.

More to come …

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