Despite not yet releasing an album, 2021 has proven to be a pivotal year for De La Soul. The legendary Hip-Hop trio has spent more than two years in a battle with their former label, Tommy Boy Records. At times bitter, the dispute surrounded the compensation, ownership, and the alleged mishandling of De La’s first six albums and other music. The two sides could not reach an agreement, which included Posdnuos, Dave, and Maseo and many members of the Hip-Hop community calling to boycott the nearly 40-year-old record label. After plans fizzled during the dispute, Tommy Boy never added its De La catalog to digital streaming platforms. That discography includes 1989’s 3 Feet High And Rising debut, 1991’s De La Soul Is Dead, and 1996’s Stakes Is High, among other lauded titles.
This summer, however, there was progress. Tommy Boy sold its entire catalog to Reservoir for a reported price of $100 million. This purchase included releases by Digital Underground, Naughty By Nature, House Of Pain, Coolio, Queen Latifah, Prince Paul, and others, along with De La’s catalog. Many, including Ambrosia For Heads (in a What’s The Headline podcast episode embedded below), anticipated that new ownership and negotiations with the group could fast-track De La Soul’s first six albums arriving on DSPs.
Now, news has come that shows even more progress for De La. According to Talib Kweli, the Long Island legends now own their early masters. “Ladies and gentlemen, I spoke to Maseo from the legendary De La Soul today and it’s official… after years of being taken advantage 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. Let’s salute Plugs 1, 2 and 3 for sticking to their guns and showing us that we can all beat the system if we come together as a community. Let’s hear it for Black ownership of Black art! Congratulations fellas,” Kweli wrote in an Instagram post Saturday (August 7).
After leaving Tommy Boy in the early-2000s, De La Soul worked with other labels, including Sanctuary Music. The trio launched its own companies for releases beginning with 2004’s The Grind Date, working independently. 2016’s and The Anonymous Nobody… topped Rap charts and earned the group a Grammy nomination. Presumably, De La now owns its entire album catalog.
Talib and De La Soul have years of collaborations in the studio and on the road. The trio appeared on Reflection Eternal’s “Soul Rebels” in 2000, with Kweli guesting on De La’s 2020 political single, “Remove 45.” For a time, both acts were managed by Corey Smyth and appeared together on the Spitkicker Tour, alongside Common and the late Biz Markie.
The confirmation means that De La Soul can decide if and when they want their catalog to go digital. Moreover, the trio controls licensing and other crucial decision-making surrounding a discography, including a platinum debut and a gold-certified, 5-mic follow-up. Previously, in 2014, the group gave away its catalog for free download for 25 hours to celebrate their 25th anniversary.
Pete Rock Gives A Fantastic Update On The De La Soul Project He & DJ Premier Are Producing
De La Soul has yet to address the news on social media. For years, they have suggested that they have an upcoming album produced by DJ Premier and Pete Rock.
Kweli remains active as an artist. He and producer/MC Diamond D partnered as Gotham for a self-titled project earlier this year. However, he has followed Joe Budden, N.O.R.E., DJ EFN, Roxanne Shanté, Torae, and others into the media space with his People’s Party With Talib Kweli interview series.
De La Soul Are Fighting To Own The Music They Created (Video)
#BonusBeat: New De La Soul music, including their collaboration with Soul Council producer Khrysis, currently appears on the official AFH playlist: