Culture Discussion

Hip hop trio De La Soul owns rights to its music 33 years after formation

After a three-decade battle of being taken advantage of by the recording industry, hip hop group De La Soul finally owns the rights to all of its masters with Tommy Boy Music.

The legendary and talented hip hop group De La Soul was formed by three high school kids in 1988 in the Amityville area of Long Island, New York. The group consists of members Posdnuos, Trugoy and Maseo. The group’s unreal sampling work and thought-provoking lyrics attracted people to them from the start. The trio quickly caught the attention of producer Prince Paul from a demo tape. De La Soul’s debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, has, since its release, been labeled a “hip hop masterpiece.”

With De La Soul’s fantastic reputation in the hip hop world, it would be assumed these lyrical geniuses had the rights to their own music, but that was not the case until 2021, 33 years after their formation. Historically, talented artists and groups have been taken advantage of by the recording industry more often than people realize. Labels take most of the revenue from their artists’ music for themselves, and go as far as to practically own all of the rights to the music of their artists. 

The issue with De La Soul all started when the trio signed with Tommy Boy very early on in its career. In February of 2019, the group wanted to bring its music from when it was signed with Tommy Boy to streaming platforms, but an unfair split of streaming profits made the process difficult. Tommy Boy was giving the group a slim 10% of streaming profits while pocketing the rest. Tommy Boy’s refusal to agree to a fair deal with streaming profits led to De La Soul cutting ties with the label.

After cutting ties with Tommy Boy, much of De La Soul’s Tommy Boy-era music still was not available on streaming platforms. Finally, in 2021, the group now owns all the rights to its masters, allowing the trio to do whatever it pleases with its music. 

Not many people of the younger generations are aware of the sheer talent of De La Soul because not all of the group’s music is available on streaming services, the new and convenient method of listening to music. Most of the De La Soul tracks available on streaming services now are tracks in which the group is featured with other artists, not necessarily the ones that showcase its abilities. 

Streaming services may be the new way of listening, but they make it more difficult for artists to make reasonable profits from their hard work. The Ivors Academy found that a whopping eight out of ten music creators earn less than $200 a year from streaming alone. In an age where most people listen to music strictly through streaming services, artists cannot make a living off of streaming alone. Knowing that streaming services underpay artists for streams, imagine how little De La Soul was receiving with just 10% of the profits for its streamed songs.

Talib Kweli confirmed on his Instagram that De La Soul officially owns the rights to its music on August 7, 2021. 

“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,” Kweli shared in an Instagram post. “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.”

@hannahnoelburkhart

@hannahnoelburk

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