De La Soul Is Playing the Only Hand They’ve Got

After negotiations with Tommy Boy reportedly fell through, the veteran hip-hop act is resorting to telling their fans not to stream their music.
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How De La Soul Brought Happy to Hip-Hop, 3 Feet High and Rising

De La Soul announced on Thursday that their recent negotiations with label Tommy Boy Records had broken down. In an Instagram post, the group writes, “we’ve decided we will not do our 30+ years the disservice of settling on Tom Silverman’s terms.” Obviously, this reported outcome is a disappointing development for classic hip-hop fans. The lack of agreement tarnishes any plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group’s seminal debut, 3 Feet High And Rising.

At issue is whether the group’s first six records will experience a re-release on streaming services. The disagreement goes back to February when the trio publicly aired their frustration with the label. After doing so, they received such an overwhelming response that Tommy Boy postponed the release so the parties could continue bargaining.

According to Billboard, the two numbers initially disclosed by the band (a 10% royalty rate and a $2M unrecouped balance) appear to remain the same, meaning that the negotiations couldn’t achieve a compromise. Their records all use samples, and because the label never had them cleared when they were initially released, doing so now would be costly. Given the expense of the clearance process and the size of the band’s unrecouped balance, it’s safe to say that Tommy Boy thought it was too risky to offer more favorable terms. (Editor’s Note: Tommy Boy has yet to issue any statement.) 

A sentence in the Instagram post hints at something worse. In it, the group says, “Therefore, our catalog will not see the light of day by way of our involvement or consent. This means if you see De La Soul music/albums available for streaming or purchase anywhere, BE AWARE, all parties involved WILL profit but De La Soul WILL NOT benefit or earn deservedly/fairly.” 

De La Soul has always had difficulty with their label, and it sounds like that is not ending anytime soon. After reportedly not coming to terms, the group must now watch as their music gets re-released without their approval. To counter that, they asked fans not to stream the music and to boycott Tommy Boy.

It would be unfortunate if these records were to remain in the vault. De La Soul has had a significant impact on hip-hop and other musical genres, and their records’ appearance on streaming services would allow a whole new generation to listen and feel that influence. What is more unfortunate is that the records are likely being re-released anyway, yet the group reportedly remains saddled with a contract they can’t renegotiate. Now, their only recourse is to ask fans to stop listening.

Mark Tavern is an artist manager, consultant, educator, administrator, and arts advocate with more than twenty years of music business experience. In addition to running his own management company, he currently teaches music business at LaGuardia Community College and before that at the Institute of Audio Research. Prior to 2012, Tavern worked at major record companies including Universal Music Group, SONY Music Entertainment, and BMG Entertainment. As an A&R Administrator with such labels as Island, Def Jam, RCA, and RCA Victor, he took part in more than 200 recordings, a dozen Broadway cast albums, and numerous reissue projects, including the GRAMMY®-winning 24-CD box set The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition. Visit his website for insider tips about the music business, and subscribe to his newsletter to get a free ebook: Listen Up! A Simple Guide To Getting Heard On Spotify.

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