De La Soul: hip-hop pioneers to release free documentary charting their fight to release their music

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De La Soul’s arduous journey to release their own music on digital platforms is now the subject of a new streaming documentary due for release this month - for free.

Often cited as one of the most important hip-hop groups in the genre, newer fans of hallowed group De La Soul at one point had to contend with clips on YouTube of the group or music videos to access their music.

But after a buyout of their original record label in 2019, fans old and new were able to stream iconic songs such as “The Magic Number” and “Me, Myself and I” finally after years of disputes with record executives and several samples that also ran the risk of copyright problems.

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“Chapter 3,” due to release this week globally, is a documentary that details the painstaking process the hip-hop group had to endure for fans to readily access their quintessential back catalogue, from the early issues regarding samples through to the triumphant return of the group’s music to themselves. 

But for those curious before the documentary airs, perhaps a small history lesson about what led to the group losing the right to release their music - be it a cautionary tale for other musicians to heed, but also for those curmudgeons who rather than celebrated their arrival on Spotify and more chimed in with a “finally - what took so long.”

NationalWorld Music explores the murky surroundings that plagued De La Soul up until they had autonomy over their works once again.

What led to the delay in De La Soul’s music appearing on digital platforms?

Hip-hop pioneers De La Soul are set to release a documentary this month chronicling their fight to release their music on Spotify (Credit: Getty Images)Hip-hop pioneers De La Soul are set to release a documentary this month chronicling their fight to release their music on Spotify (Credit: Getty Images)
Hip-hop pioneers De La Soul are set to release a documentary this month chronicling their fight to release their music on Spotify (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty Images

De La Soul faced a prolonged dispute with Tommy Boy Records over the release of their catalogue to streaming services, leading to an initial announcement from the group regarding the cancellation of the negotiations in a press release on August 8 2019. 

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The group cited an inability to reach an agreement and earn respect for their legacy from Tommy Boy, opting not to settle on terms presented by Tom Silverman, CEO of Tommy Boy.

Tommy Boy Records signed De La Soul in the late 1980s and released their first six studio albums, including landmark LPs like "3 Feet High and Rising" and "De La Soul Is Dead." However, legal issues arose due to the group's heavy use of uncleared samples, resulting in their catalogue being withheld from streaming platforms.

The public dispute between De La Soul and Tommy Boy became apparent in when the group aired their grievances on social media, alleging unfair terms regarding the release of their catalogue on streaming platforms. Peers in the hip-hop community, including Jay-Z, expressed support for De La Soul, with Jay-Z stating he would prevent the release of their catalogue on his streaming service, TIDAL.

In response to the stalled negotiations, Tommy Boy announced a delay in releasing De La Soul's catalogue to streaming services, citing ongoing difficulties in finalizing deal terms. De La Soul claimed that Tommy Boy offered an unfair split of royalties due to a $2 million debt allegedly owed by the label over the group's catalogue. 

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If the group accepted the offer presented by Tommy Boy, they would receive only a 10% cut of royalties from their six-album catalogue, which had been unavailable on digital platforms for years.

It would take Reservoir Media's acquisition of Tommy Boy Entertainment in June 2021 to lead to the breakthrough De La Soul needed; the new owners of the label provided a new framework for negotiations and discussions between De La Soul and Tommy Boy. 

As a larger media company with broader resources, Reservoir Media had more flexibility in addressing the concerns raised by De La Soul and finding mutually beneficial solutions - leading to the group’s catalogue finally arriving on streaming services.

When can I watch De La Soul’s documentary in the United Kingdom?

“Chapter 3,” the documentary chronicling De La Soul’s fight to re-release their old records, will be available to stream from 3pm on Friday June 10 2024 through De La Soul’s official website.

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