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De La Soul Have Finally Acquired Their Masters, According to Talib Kweli

New York trio's back catalog has been tied up in sample clearance and label issues for decades

de la soul own rights to masters talib kweli
De La Soul, photo by Ben Kaye
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    It’s been a long and winding road, but hip-hop luminaries De La Soul have finally acquired the rights to their masters. The New York group’s recent collaborator Talib Kweli revealed the news via Instagram on Saturday.

    “Ladies and gentlemen I spoke to @djmaseo from the legendary @wearedelasoul today and it’s official,” Kweli wrote. “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. 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.”

    De La Soul released a classic run of albums from the late ’80s to mid ’90s, including 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul Is Dead, and Stakes Is High, but due to issues with sample clearances and label issues with Warner Bros. and Tommy Boy Records, none of the New York trio’s music before 2004 has ever made it to streaming services or online music stores like iTunes.

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    In 2014, De La Soul even made their entire catalog free for download in an effort to make their music more accessible for fans new and old. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope in February 2019 when Tommy Boy reacquired the group’s masters from Warner, but plans to bring their first six albums to streaming services were put on the backburner when De La Soul pushed back on the move and revealed they would only be receiving 10% of the profits. Even worse, those “pennies” would have gone toward paying a “phantom 2 million dollar debt” the label claimed it was owed.

    Subsequently, negotiations with Tommy Boy for better terms broke down in August 2019. In June 2021, however, music rights company Reservoir acquired the label for $100 million. At the time, a representative for Reservoir revealed the company was working with De La Soul to resolve the various issues with bringing their music to streaming, stating, “We have already reached out to De La Soul and will work together to the bring the catalog and the music back to the fans.”

    Giving De La Soul the rights to their masters is the first step toward making that a reality.

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