De La Soul Is Not Dead; They’re Going Digital

Benny Ross, Contributing Writer

In this day and age, it comes as a surprise when classic albums cannot be found on major streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. Yet one major omission has persisted for years: the music of De La Soul, one of the most revolutionary groups in the history of hip hop, has never been made available digitally. That’s changing. On March 3rd, De La Soul’s entire catalog will be released on streaming services for the first time ever.

In contrast to hardcore mainstream acts, De La Soul was lighthearted, goofy, and sometimes just plain weird.

De La Soul was formed in the late 80s by three friends from Long Island: Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Maseo. After their demo tape “Plug Tunin’” impressed Prince Paul, a DJ and producer for Stetsasonic, the trio teamed up with Paul to create 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising. Their music was like nothing else out at the time. In contrast to hardcore mainstream acts (e.g. NWA and Boogie Down Productions), De La Soul was lighthearted, goofy, and sometimes just plain weird. From a production standpoint, Prince Paul created a collage of samples, with sources ranging from James Brown to Schoolhouse Rock! Although this technique of blending samples together was not new, it had never been done with such breathtaking results. The album was an instant success, reaching #1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop charts and eventually being certified platinum in 2000.

Over the next four years, Prince Paul and De La created two more classics: De La Soul Is Dead and Buhloone Mindstate. Although this period represented the peak in the group’s commercial success, they have continued to put out excellent music. In fact, one of my favorite De La albums (second only to their debut) is 1996’s Stakes Is High, which features the masterful “Stakes Is High,” produced by J Dilla.

So where has this music been? Originally, De La Soul was signed to Tommy Boy Records, but by the time streaming services started taking off, their catalog had been transferred to Warner Records to settle a debt.  As it turned out, the group’s revolutionary sampling techniques made bringing the albums to streaming services a nightmare, since many of the samples on De La’s early albums were uncleared, and those that were would have to be re-cleared for streaming. Warner didn’t want to spend the time and money necessary to fix the problem, so the albums sat untouched.

Tommy Boy bought back the catalog in 2019 and announced soon after that De La Soul’s entire catalog would be available for streaming. However, the group called for a boycott of Tommy Boy due to an unfair deal that gave them only 10% of streaming profits, and the release was postponed indefinitely. Finally, Reservoir Media bought Tommy Boy records in 2021. According to executive Faith Newman, “the first call [they] made was to De La Soul.” Now that these classics are making it to the masses at last, I encourage you to take a listen.