Iconic hip-hop trio De La Soul’s entire discography will finally be available across streaming platforms this spring. But, with the catalog dating back to 1989, what took the group’s music so long to reach digital streaming platforms? After several failed attempts behind the scenes to agree with their former record label, Tommy Boy, emcees Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo took to social media to air their grievances.
The legal battle began back in 2018. Then, the Long Island natives began planning to release their first six albums on streaming servers in 2019 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising. Still, they weren’t pleased with the terms Tommy Boy brought to the negotiating table.
On February 26, 2019, the group took to Instagram to reveal the details behind the meeting, writing, “the music will be released digitally,” by Tommy Boy. Still, the group would not be paid fairly, “your purchases will roughly go 90% Tommy Boy, 10% De La,” as the trio allegedly still owed the label 2 million dollars in unrecovered debt.
Quickly fans were outraged by the label’s plans to move forward without the group being onboard, sparking the hashtag #BoycottToyboyRecords. Fellow rapper Jay Z shared in this anger. As the owner of the streaming platform, Tidal, his company refused to upload the albums to its server until De La Soul was satisfied with the financial terms.
The label even attempted to enforce a confidential agreement to restrict the group from speaking on a deal if one had been reached with the public.
Fast-forward to August 8, 2019, the group shared an update on the matter, writing, “After 30 years of profiting from our music and hard work and after seven long months of stalled negotiations, we are sad to say that we’ve been unable to reach an agreement and earn Tommy Boy’s respect for our music/legacy.”
The label shot down the group’s attempt to gain control over their master recordings. The group wrote on Instagram, “Tommy Boy says they are ‘not in the business of giving artists back their masters,’” adding, “Be aware, all parties involved will profit, but De La Soul will not benefit or earn deservedly/fairly. We really tried.”
With the public’s support, the group continued to fight for their music back, even appearing in the animated show Teen Titans Go! in February 2021. The episode featured De La Soul fighting an octopus trying to steal their music (a metaphor for Tommy Boy Records).
Then in August 2021, Talib Kweli revealed the group had reached an agreement with Tommy Boy in an Instagram post captioned, “After years of being taken advantage of by the recording industry in the worst possible ways, De La Soul now owns all the rights to their masters and is in full control of the amazing music they have created.”
Now, Tommy Boy Records has been acquired by Reservoir Media. In a statement, Reservoir’s Executive Vice President of A&R and Catalog Development, Faith Newman, addressed the matter, saying, “As someone who has devoted my life to hip-hop for over 30 years, my relationship with the guys in De La Soul dates back to my early days in the industry, and I can attest to how influential their catalog is to the genre.”
Newman added, “When Reservoir acquired Tommy Boy, the first call we made was to De La Soul. We vowed to bring their music to streaming, and it means the world to our team to make good on that promise and expose a whole new generation of listeners to one of the most important catalogs in hip-hop history.”
De La Soul’s first albums will be available on streaming platforms on March 3.