De La Soul finally stream albums after years of legal woes

Hip-hop pioneers De La Soul are finally releasing their classic early hits on streaming platforms from Friday after decades-long battles over their samples.

The roll-out starts with the single "The Magic Number" from the platinum-selling 1989 album "3 Feet High and Rising". It got a new lease of life when featured on the soundtrack to 2021's "Spiderman: No Way Home".

The New York trio's first six albums, dating from 1989 to 2001, have not appeared on streaming platforms because their label, Tommy Boy, never tackled the huge legal task of clearing all the samples (there are some 60 to 70 on "3 Feet..." alone).

The group cleared the rights for sales of vinyl and audio cassettes, but streaming offers a much more lucrative and ongoing source of revenue that requires specific deals with each rights-holder.

De La Soul are well aware of the dangers of unlicensed sampling, having been at the centre of a landmark case in 1991 when little-known band The Turtles sued them for sampling one of their songs and won a reported $1.7 million.

"That first album by De La Soul marked the end of sound sampling as it was practised before, with little concern for credits," journalist and rap expert Olivier Cachin told AFP. "The whole album was a mosaic of samples."

- 'We were frustrated' -

Known for their positive spirit, in contrast to the tough gangster image of West Coast rap at the time, De La Soul are now heralded as one of the most influential hip-hop groups of all time.

But they recently told industry magazine Billboard: "It almost felt like we were being erased from history, because our music wasn't up (on streamers)."

At one point in 2014 -- after they had reached a new generation of fans through their collaborations with Damon Albarn's Gorillaz and touring -- the trio even organised a free giveaway of their albums online.

"We were frustrated with people not being able to just get it," they told the New York Times at the time.

The situation was finally resolved after Tommy Boy was acquired in 2021 for a reported $100 million by rights company Reservoir Media, who set about signing all the necessary deals with sampled artists.

From March 3 -- 34 years to the day since the release of "3 Feet..." -- all six albums will be available to stream, including "De La Soul Is Dead" (1991), "Buhloone Mindstate" (1993), "Stakes Is High" (1996), "Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump" (2000) and "AOI: Bionix" (2001).

"We can't believe this day is finally here, and we are excited to be able to share our music with fans, old and new," they said in a statement.

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