De La Soul on Tommy Boy Postponing Digital Release, Wanting Jay-Z to Bring Their Catalog to TIDAL: Exclusive

De La Soul
Robert Adam Mayer 

De La Soul

On Thursday (Feb. 28), Variety reported that Tommy Boy Music would postpone the streaming release of Da La Soul's catalog, which includes the group's first six albums. In what has been a "bittersweet" week for the rap trio, which will also be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its debut 3 Feet High and Rising this Sunday, the decision to halt the release of the catalog serves as a huge win for the group.

"It's a victory," Pos, of De La Soul, tells Billboard. "It's great that people who supported and understood what we mean to the culture, whether it's someone who's so dear and close to us like a Q-Tip, or someone who could admire the moves we've made creatively, but we ain't necessarily been in the room with each other nothing but maybe three times together, like a Jay-Z. You can have people just feel like, 'Culturally, I support and understand where they are coming from.'" 

After the group members vocalized their displeasure with what they deemed "unbalanced, unjust terms" regarding Tommy Boy's proposed deal earlier this week, Jay-Z declared his allegiance to the trio by barring the catalog from release on his TIDAL streaming service. 

"I spoke to [TIDAL's culture and content editorial director] Elliott [Wilson] and Elliott was like, 'Jay said, 'What y'all trying to do?,'" Maseo explains to Billboard. "I ain't gonna lie to you, I was torn because I would want them to win with the catalog, just based on where things is at for powerful black men. Jay could have been the one [to buy the catalog]. As far as the competitors and what people are making on streaming everyday, I would want him to be the one to succeed with the catalog and really go up against his competitors. He's TIDAL, dog. That's an amazing achievement, especially with where we come from and being a part of this culture. So, for it not to be on TIDAL, it speaks volumes."

Currently, De La Soul's catalog remains in the hands of Tommy Boy founder and CEO, Tom Silverman. Silverman signed the group during the late 1980s, and they then released their first two albums 3 Feet High and Rising and De La Soul Is Dead. Marred by sample clearance issues, the trio explained how they never benefited from the fruits of their labors, despite their projects seeing commercial success. "There's an asterik next to our name when it comes to sampling. We have been deemed copyright criminals," says Maseo. 

After a bevy of stars, including Nas, Questlove and more, shared their support for De La, Silverman reached out to the group that signed with his label in the late '80s in an effort to reach a resolution. According to the group, little progress has been made. 

"We've been bringing this to his attention," says Maseo. "He's been ignoring us for some time, it just got to the final hour where he expected to us to be on-board and make things smooth and dandy. When he finally addressed it, there were no changes in how he felt things needed to be. He used words like, 'what's customary" and 'what's standard.'"

He adds: "He can legally do what he wants, but the issues that I raised [was that] in all that you're doing with what you're able to do, did you clear it? Did you clear those samples? When he got the catalog back, is it cleared? What he said on the phone was, 'If anything comes up, we will deal with it the way we've dealt with it in the past.' And what I know that to be is that if a lawsuit comes up, we're gonna settle because we're in the wrong. I say we because we do suffer from that."

This year, De La Soul will be releasing their 10th album through Mass Appeal with production by DJ Premier and Pete Rock.