De La Soul’s legendary catalog, including their first six albums, is finally available on digital streaming platforms, punctuating a long-fought battle to make their discography more accessible.
De La Soul has been trying to get their catalog to streaming for several years now—since 2019 to be exact—after they acquired the masters to their music, but the main obstacle has been not coming to an agreement with their longtime record label, Tommy Boy, on an equitable way to earn money from the new streaming service revenue. However, after Tommy Boy was purchased by the music publishing company Reservoir Media, the process was swiftly streamlined and within 18 months under Reservoir, their catalog finally became available on DSPs on March 3.
“We presented a solution that was probably 98% of where we ended up,” Rell Lafargue, Reservoir’s president and COO, tells Complex. “So it wasn’t some long, drawn-out thing. It was like, ‘This is what I think we can do.’ They liked the sound of it. We went back and forth for a few days, and I think from day one, we saw eye to eye.”
The solution resulted in the legendary rap trio presumably having a larger share of the streaming revenue than the reported 90/10 percent split that Tommy Boy was reportedly offering prior—though the exact percentage they would be withholding now was not revealed for contractual reasons.
This major win for De La Soul also comes at a tragic time for the group following the death of David “Trugoy” Jolicoeur in mid-February. The rap legend’s untimely death can still be felt as the group and Reservoir celebrate this accomplishment, but Lafargue said that it made Reservoir that much more determined to make this moment special for De La Soul and Dave’s family.
“And I think, with Dave’s passing, it was more important than ever that we kept true to what we needed to do,” he said. “And we were always doing this for De La Soul and we were always doing this for the fans and now we’re doing it for Dave and his legacy as well.”
De La Soul’s debut studio album, 3 Feet High and Rising is widely considered one of the greatest rap albums of all time, and now it and the rest of their iconic catalog are finally available on streaming platforms. We talked to Reservoir Media President and COO Rell Lafargue about brokering the deal that brought De La Soul’s catalog to digital service providers (DSPs) and their plans for the future.
How did this deal come together in the first place?
Reservoir [Media] are music publishers. We do a lot of acquisitions to buy music, acquire catalogs, things like that. We’ve also done some acquisitions to buy record labels. And so we were very much indie. We bought Chrysalis Records a few years ago. And then about 18 months ago, we bought Tommy Boy Records, another legendary independent record label. So between Chrysalis and Tommy Boy, we had these two independent label acquisitions. And Tommy Boy came with a lot of great music: Naughty By Nature, Queen Latifah’s in there, Digital Underground’s in there, a lot of just really great hip-hop music from a certain era. And De La Soul was also signed to the label as well, famously.
“De La Soul is due. They need a victory lap. They deserve it.”
They’ve been in the press throughout the years of having different disputes with Tommy Boy and things like that. So they were pretty famous on the label. They had a lot of success together and then eventually went separate ways. But the old catalog, the first six albums of De La Soul, stayed within Tommy Boy. So whenever we acquired Tommy Boy, it came with all this great music that was actively being monetized and distributed, but then there were these six albums that weren’t.
And so obviously bringing in Tommy Boy and launching all the different campaigns that we’ve done around all the acts that I mentioned, as well as Coolio, for example, who has probably one of the biggest tracks on the whole label with “Gangsta’s Paradise.” We’ve done a lot of marketing around all that. And De La Soul was just sitting on the shelf, and it was always something that we knew we had to figure out whenever we were going after Tommy Boy. It wasn’t the reason why we did Tommy Boy, but it was definitely a side piece that we needed to figure out.
And we inherited the situation. And we were new. We weren’t Tommy Boy; we’re Reservoir. We just own all the masters now. So we had a chance to close this Tommy Boy deal and then really engage with De La Soul and figure out, “Look, we know all the history that we’ve inherited in the files, but let’s talk to you guys and let’s work it out.” And from day one, we closed the Tommy Boy transaction, and Faith Newman and I were in the office together and I said, “Faith, the paperwork’s signed. Make the call.” And she called De La Soul right away. And it was one of the first calls we made after acquiring Tommy Boy, was to call these guys, let them know that something had changed and let them know that we’re ready to figure it out, whatever that may be. But from that point on, we engaged with Pos[dnuos]; Mase and Dave [Jolicoeur]; their manager, Brandon Hickson; their attorney, Julian Petty.
And we presented a solution that was probably 98% of where we ended up. So it wasn’t some long, drawn-out thing. It was like, “This is what I think we can do.” They liked the sound of it. We went back and forth for a few days, and I think from day one, we saw eye to eye. And so what we did was we found a way forward to work together, to solve the issues that were keeping it from streaming services. And we presented a plan going forward about how we can get this music out to the generation that’s never streamed it, get it out to new generations that have never even bought vinyl or CDs, and really get what we think is some of the most important hip-hop music ever created out worldwide on the streaming services. And De La Soul is due. They need a victory lap. They deserve it. And finally, that day is coming this week.
What changed with the negotiations once Reservoir Media stepped in and acquired Tommy Boy?
I think first of all, we just came at it in a completely fresh and new way, and we didn’t bring all of the history and the baggage. And to be honest with you, I don’t even know what they were fighting about because I didn’t really pay attention to that years ago. We knew that there were issues, but the one thing that we believed in and the one thing that I thought would be the only way forward was to empower De La Soul. And this is the most unique situation that we’ve ever been in, where there was history between the group and the label. The Tommy Boy catalog was owned by Tommy Boy, then it was owned by Warner [Media], then it got back in the hands of Tommy Boy. These things had been moved around a lot and there was always a plan to get the music out, but it just never quite got over the finish line. And we pretty much just scrapped all of that. And we knew that we had to empower De La Soul to do this themselves.
I know when you go to clear samples, it’s De La Soul that’s asking. It’s not Reservoir or Tommy Boy or Warner. It was De La Soul who went to rights holders and said, “We want to get this right.” And they engage with hundreds of parties out there to get the rights that they needed to distribute their music. And so we struck a deal that puts the masters in the hands of De La Soul and the future is in their hands. And we’re the marketing partner. We’re going to distribute the music for them. We’re going to support all of the marketing initiatives, and we’re going to help press up vinyl and have a whole rollout of vinyl plans over the next remaining year.
We haven’t even talked about remixes or anything like that yet. There’s a lot of work to do going forward, and we’re going to be their partners in that. And whenever you go into things as partners and the decision-makers are the group, you’re going to have success. And that’s how we see eye to eye on everything. And I think that that’s why things are really starting to move at a much faster clip now, because these guys are calling the shots and it’s working.
How is this deal setting the precedent for legacy acts to pursue a similar path to get their music on DSPs without getting exploited?
I don’t know. I’ve never been involved with any act that’s the same as De La Soul and what they’ve been through. And you have to remember that these were six albums that have been sitting on the shelf for decades. They were just sitting there, and they were never going to see the light of day without a lot of shifting. And I don’t know that we’re ever going to be in a situation again where we would do anything remotely close to what we did with De La Soul. So in my view, it’s completely unique.
What is the newfound significance of this deal happening now, especially given the tragic death of Trugoy?
I got to be honest with you. I think we’re in denial. I think that we’re in shock. I’m going to see Pos and Mase tonight for the first time since it’s happened. And I don’t know, it’s too soon. We’re working on processing this. I’ve been a fan since the ’80s, but I’ve only been in the picture working with De La Soul for about maybe two years now. And Dave was a friend. Dave was such an important part of this group. And I’m an outsider just on Zoom with them for a couple hours a week, working on a release planning and whatnot. I don’t think that anyone here has really processed it yet, to be honest with you. So what we do know is that it was really important for us to get the music out on March 3.
“We were always doing this for De La Soul and we were always doing this for the fans and now we’re doing it for Dave and his legacy as well.”
03/03/23 was always the date that we circled. Dave circled that date with Pos, Mace, a long time ago. And we’ve been working toward this. And I think with Dave’s death, it was more important than ever that we kept true to what we needed to do. And we were always doing this for De La Soul and we were always doing this for the fans and now we’re doing it for Dave and his legacy as well. But I think everyone here at the label is, I think, still in shock. There’s going to be a lot of emotions tonight when things hit the streaming services because Dave is a massive part of the heart and soul of De La Soul and he’s not going to be here to see it.
So I think everyone’s having a tough time with it. But we know that we were always pressing forward to do this for a much bigger reason than just putting some music out. It’s not like it’s a new artist album. This is a body of work, one of the greatest bodies of work by a hip-hop group of all time. One of the greatest albums is 3 Feet High and Rising and then there’ll be other people that argue that maybe some of De La Soul’s other albums are better than that one. So we’re pressing forward. It’s very emotional. It’s bittersweet, as Mase will tell you. It’s awkward because every member of De La Soul had their role and Dave’s role is empty now, and it’s just really sad.
But we’re doing this for Dave. It’s going to be a celebration. I think when all of his music hits streaming services, I think people are going to have the opportunity to really continue to appreciate De La Soul, appreciate Dave and everything that he’s done. The videos are going to all be out and [people] get to appreciate all the art that he created. And he was very much one of the guys who drove a lot of the creativity and the look and the feel of things that they did. And so we’re going to continue to honor Dave and his legacy, and celebrate his genius. That’s what we’re going to do now.