The first albums of De La Soul, treasures of rap, finally on the platforms

(AFP) – End of the legal imbroglio: De La Soul, a monument group of American hip-hop, will finally broadcast its first six albums on music platforms on March 3, with, as a scout this Friday, the track “The Magic Number” (1989).

The story of this title, brought back to light with its use in the soundtrack of “Spiderman: No Way Home” (2021), but unavailable in streaming for young viewers of the film, illustrates the frustration of the trio of rappers from Long Island (State of New York).

“Someone contacted me on my networks: +Yo, after +Spiderman+ I couldn’t find +The Magic Number+ (on the platforms) so my grandfather took out his record and made me listen to it+ …”, tells Posdnuos, member of De La Soul, to Billboard, American music media.

Why such an absence? To sum up, between various scrambles, Tommy Boy, label of De La Soul, never attacked a mountain: to regularize the rights of the multiple samples, these borrowings of pre-existing music.

“The Magic Number” is taken from the group’s first album “3 Feet High and Rising” (1989) which is based on some 70 samples. It is a reference record, an audio copy of which is kept at the Library of Congress in Washington, a whole section of the history of rap, that of a positive hip-hop opposed to the gangsta rap emerging at the time.

But, therefore not found on the platforms. “The contracts for our first albums were for (exploitation for) vinyl and audio cassettes” only, Posdnuos told the BBC. But the extra-wide distribution allowed by music platforms has changed the situation.

– “Mosaic of samples” –

Tommy Boy is also probably cooled by an unfortunate episode. A 1960s band, The Turtles, sued the trio in 1991 for using a title in “3 Feet…”. With the key to compensation of 1.7 million dollars according to the New York Times.

“This first album by De La Soul marked the end of sound sampling (the sample) as it was practiced before, without being too careful about the credits, because the whole album is a mosaic of samples”, described for AFP Olivier Cachin, journalist and author, rap specialist in France.

Without existence on the platforms, “it was as if we had been erased from history”, brush Posdnuos in Billboard. Common, another figure of a scholarly rap, regretted in the New York Times that “a 16-year-old kid” could not discover this heritage of hip-hop via streaming. However, apart from “Spiderman”, De La Soul also attracted a new audience by collaborating with Gorillaz, project of Damon Albarn, the leader of Blur.

– “What impact?” –

In June 2021, the situation settled down. The Tommy Boy label has been acquired by music rights company Reservoir for $100 million, according to Variety. And the contracts are finally dusted off.

“It’s cool to know that it’s settled”, savors Olivier Cachin, who wonders however “what will be the impact commercially?”. “Will 34 years after its release +3 Feet…+ generate big streaming numbers, a young listening style, or only attract nostalgics with high average ages, who stream less?”.

Apart from “3 Feet…”, the platforms will in any case be able to distribute the albums “De La Soul Is Dead” (1991), “Buhloone Mindstate” (1993), “Stakes Is High” (1996), ” Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump” (2000) and “AOI: Bionix” (2001). Their oldest album present on the platforms so far was “The Grind Date” (2004).

March 3 is not chosen at random. It’s the 34th anniversary of the release of “3 Feet…”. “It’s hard to realize that day is finally coming, we can’t wait to share our music with fans old and new,” the band said in a statement.