UPDATED: After veteran hip-hop trio De La Soul spoke out about what they feel are unfair terms for the long-awaited streaming release of their catalog on Tommy Boy Music, the label has decided to postpone them, the company said Thursday in an exclusive statement to Variety.
“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,” the statement reads. “We know fans are eager to hear these amazing recordings and we are hopeful for a quick resolution.”
A rep for the group did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment.
While a rep for Tommy Boy stressed to Variety that sampling was not a central issue of the disagreement and “negotiating points are still to be finalized,” the group’s catalog with the label has been plagued by legal issues over uncleared samples since shortly after the release of their first album, “3 Feet High and Rising,” some 30 years ago. That album — widely considered to be one of the best and most influential hip-hop albums ever released — and several other titles from the group never have been legally available on streaming services, as the catalog has moved from Tommy Boy to Warner Bros. and back again without the sampling issues being resolved.
Tommy Boy scheduled the titles for release this Friday, pegged to the 30th anniversary of the release of “3 Feet High and Rising.” But the group took to social media and an appearance on the SiriusXM’s “Sway in the Morning” on Wednesday to discuss what they feel are unfair terms for the releases, and aired their grievances in no uncertain terms.
Speaking with Sway on Wednesday, the group’s Maseo, explained, “For some years, the catalog had been held up because … of the issues that existed behind the projects, with samples not being cleared.” He then acknowledges that few could have foreseen the forthcoming legal problems around sampling in 1989.
“I don’t know what [Tommy Boy’s] deals were with clearing samples, but back then a lot was probably done on a handshake, especially when you’re an independent” label like Tommy Boy, he says. “Nothing comes to the surface until it actually turns into something. If I was the record company at that time, I would have probably thought it was a small thing and not cleared it: ‘This little 30-second thing, who would come after that?’ And it happened! I think by the time [the catalog] got to Warner Bros., people started come out of the woodwork, and I think for the most part [those] people are the ones whose business didn’t get dealt with.
“Now it’s 2019,” he continues, “Tommy Boy has been able to acquire the catalog back, but there are still some infractions around the catalog, things we’re sure aren’t cleared, that might have new potential issues. Also, what’s on the table [contractually] for De La Soul is unfavorable, especially based on the infractions that have taken place, the bills that exist over time. And we have continued to pay the price, and that’s one of our big concerns with [the streaming releases of their albums].
The group says that it has never earned more than “peanuts” or “pennies” on their recorded music, and instead has earned a living from touring and merchandise. Sway asked whether the group is not with the fact that these long-lost albums will finally be made available on streaming services, which has become the primary format for hundreds of millions of music fans.
“I can’t say I’m not with it,” Mase says, “I’m just not with the administrative structure behind it. Let’s be straight up: We don’t really financially benefit — there’s so many infractions around this whole thing that we’ll probably never see no money from it or any project that has these infractions.”