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De La Soul: The Road To Regaining Their Masters

De La Soul's Arduous Road To Regaining Their Masters

De La Soul can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

On Tuesday (January 1), the beloved New York City-bred trio comprised of Posdnuos (Pos), Maseo and Trugoy the Dove announced their first six albums—including their inaugural, groundbreaking album 3 Feet High and Rising—are finally coming to streaming services. But it was an arduous road to get here. The group wrestled with their former label, Tommy Boy Music, for decades in an attempt to acquire their masters but always came up empty-handed. After several stalled negotiations and a very public boycott, they nearly gave up. 

Everything changed in 2021 when music rights company Reservoir Media brokered a $100 million deal for Tommy Boy’s catalog, giving De La Soul renewed hope for a resolution. With the help of Chrysalis Records, Reservoir agreed to roll out all six albums beginning March 3, which happens to coincide with the 34th anniversary of their seminal debut.

DE LA SOUL circa 1989

“When we got together with the owners of Tommy Boy, every now and then, we’d make a few strides, then maybe all of us within the group wouldn’t trust in what was going on,” Pos says. “Communications would be shut down for a few months. To get to the point where Reservoir has taken over the Tommy Boy catalog, they immediately reached out and they were like, ‘Look man, we have control of this. Let’s work it out.’ It was a whole different feeling, a better energy. Let’s be honest. They didn’t have to do it. It was just great to know they did take the time to work this out with us, but it’s been a journey. Once it was worked out, we still had to get all the business, all the affairs handled and now here we are.”

Maseo says he was “perplexed” by the sudden turn of events, but the years of battle had taken a toll on his mental health, and he admits he was close to utter defeat.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he says. “Two days prior to the Reservoir information, I was still being coerced into signing the old Tommy Boy contract. Then something miraculous happened. We were still refusing to sign the contract, then out of nowhere, I get a phone call from Pos in the middle of the night saying Faith Newman [Reservoir EVP of A&R and Catalog Development] was trying to get in touch with me. I talked to Faith and things turned real different. Things turned in a matter of how I was praying it would be. But what traditionally happens in this business, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s not like labels are in the business of giving back catalogs.” 

He continues, “I began to realize when I watched different award shows of artists who’ve been around for a long time, it’s like, ‘Why aren’t they happy?’ I get it now. It’s a lot of bullshit they go through to get to that point. You lose your zeal for the celebration. At the end of the day, when you become an adult, you realize it’s a career, it’s a job and something we worked so hard to build and now we have to sustain and not let anybody take it away.” 

That feeling was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began its rampage in March 2020. By that point, Maseo had become dependent on money from touring to sustain any kind of financial stability. But COVID crippled the concert industry for years and Mase was left wondering what to do next.

quotes
When we got together with the owners of Tommy Boy, every now and then, we’d make a few strides, then maybe all of us within the group wouldn’t trust in what was going on.”

- Posdnous

De La Soul's catalog returns to streaming De La Soul's catalog returns to streaming

“We’d been fighting for so long,” he adds. “I felt like everything was taken away. When it came time for the pandemic, it seemed like it was all going away. Touring had become a significant part of what I do; it was what we did because the music was no longer available. What else am I supposed to do if I can’t sell no records?” 

But like De La Soul has always done, the group persevered while the demand for their music grew. De La proved this in 2016 when they returned with the Grammy Award-nominated album, …And The Anonymous Nobody, a full 12 years after dropping The Grind Date. The innovative album was created using live musicians and no samples, a complete 180 from the early Prince Paul days. Featuring a cornucopia of artists such as David Byrne of Talking Heads, Little Dragon, Snoop Dogg, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Justin Hawkins of the Darkness, the project once again pushed any perceived creative boundaries and proved they were still in demand. Coupled with a renewed interest in “The Magic Number,” which was featured in Spiderman: No Way Home in 2021, De La Soul was able to keep swimming—despite the chokehold Tommy Boy had on their music. 

“To know this music could be appreciated beyond where we even got a nomination, it was actually very gratifying,” Pos says of And The Anonymous Nobody. “3 Feet is what it is because it was the first thing we ever did, but Anonymous Nobody lived up to that same kind of energy because we had so much fun making that album. There’s tons of stuff that didn’t make the album for whatever reason that is absolutely amazing. There’s so many great songs. We had fun making it and creating it and spending hours listening to the jam sessions and then taking samples from it. We wanted it to feel like conventional Hip-Hop.”  

Looking back, Maseo doesn’t blame himself for the situation De La Soul found themselves in after signing their Tommy Boy contracts. After all, they were barely out of their teens and were unfamiliar with the pitfalls of the music industry. 

“I’m clear on the deal I signed,” he says. “You don’t go to McDonald’s, get a job and expect to be a manager the first day. You gotta cut some fries, you gotta sweep some floors even before you get on the register. The problem is, he [Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman] tried to keep us sweeping the floors; there was no raise."

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quotes
You don’t go to McDonald’s, get a job and expect to be a manager the first day. You gotta cut some fries, you gotta sweep some floors even before you get on the register. The problem is, he [Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman] tried to keep us sweeping the floors; there was no raise."

- Maseo

“With any job, people have to start somewhere and they eventually get a raise. When I started learning the cycle of this business and learning how it’s structured, at some point I deserved a partner in my own shit. Even from the deal we signed early on, I’ve been reflecting on this since I was 21. If we work for hire, shouldn’t we get some medical benefits with this deal? There’s been an imbalance in this business for years, not just for us but for everyone. We just had the guts to talk about it and bring it to the forefront. Most people are too embarrassed to talk about this shit. But I’m definitely glad everything has worked out. It was definitely rough [laughs].” 

At the end of the day, De La Soul is beyond ready to leave this chapter behind and focus on the future. As Maseo puts it, “We finally got it and we can move forward with our lives and continue to establish and keep this relationship with our fans. It had been so long we’ve been saying, ‘We’re coming, we got it, we got it.’ I don’t want it to ever come off like we’re lying so people just give up, sounding like the boy who cried wolf. It’s finally coming to fruition. The journey still continues and I’m still excited on where this journey is going ‘cause it’s still going. The car just parked for a second. Now we got some maintenance and some gas and we back out.”

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