One of the biggest omissions in hip-hop digital catalogue history is finally being corrected next month - and it comes alongside some news of what it'll sound like and a deeply ironic tragedy concerning the group in question.
On March 3, the first six albums by rap trio De La Soul - 1989's landmark debut 3 Feel High and Rising, De La Soul is Dead (1991), Buhloone Mindstate (1993), Stakes is High (1996), Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump (2001) and AOI: Bionix (2001) - will finally be reissued onto streaming platforms for the first time ever. 3 Feet High will also be issued on CD, vinyl and cassette. It's the culmination of decades of vagaries about music contracts, sample clearance and a few artistic compromises made to introduce this body of work to a new generation.
The New York trio - consisting of emcees Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove and Maseo - were at the center of a new movement in local hip-hop that called themselves the Native Tongues. This loose posse, which also included A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah and The Jungle Brothers, set itself apart from others in the increasingly mainstream hip-hop genre; their lyrics took on a easygoing, abstract tone compared to material boasts or inner city chronicles, and a much lighter bank of samples and beats at their disposal. (3 Feet High featured samples by Funkadelic, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Steely Dan, Johnny Cash and The Turtles.) De La Soul would crystallize this style into their own subculture that they called the "D.A.I.S.Y. Age" - short for "Da Inner Sound, Y'all." Though subsequent albums would find this lighthearted approach evolving in reaction to gangsta rap and other sounds emerging from rap in the '90s, Three Feet High and Rising in particular became a touchstone of the genre. The album went platinum, earned places on many greatest album lists, and spun off international hits in "Me Myself and I" (the group's sole U.S. Top 40 hit), "Say No Go" and "The Magic Number" (recently resurrected in the end credits to the 2021 blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home).
Most of De La Soul's catalogue was released on Tommy Boy Records, who for many years were distributed by Warner Bros. Records. (In 2001, 3 Feet High was feted with a rarities-packed 2CD deluxe edition.) But years later, as digital music became part of the business model, De La Soul's works were missing in action on download (and later streaming) services, thanks to the vagaries of the group's contract likely requiring clearing the album's many, many samples all over again.
Demand reached a fever point several times, first in 2014 when the trio celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut by giving their entire catalogue away digitally for free. After Tommy Boy reacquired its recordings from Warner in 2017, plans to unveil the albums digitally in 2019 were stalled when De La Soul balked at the meager portion of revenue the label was offering. Boycotts ensued and talks broke down, only to restart in 2021 after music rights group Reservoir Media acquired Tommy Boy and set out to reunite De La Soul with its music. (They now possess their own master recordings, and are reissuing them through the Reservoir-owned Chrysalis Records.)
This weekend finally brought one big fan question into clearer focus: how many of the original samples would remain? After a source confirmed to writer Shawn Setaro that some samples would be replaced with meticulous replays, Setaro spoke with Deborah Mannis-Gardner, head of the clearance group that worked with De La on untangling all the samples, for a revealing conversation. "In some of the handful of songs where they replayed the uses, the conversation we had was: 'Hey guys, this is a copyright holder who may not be understanding; or it might financially drain you; or you have so many samples, and a sampled master holder takes a percentage of artists' net or gross receipts for third party licensing, and you want to leave a piece for yourself,'" she said. "I know maybe some of the fans are disappointed if something was replayed, but the cost of samples are a lot different now."
But any frustration over the post-production alteration pales next to Sunday's shocking news that Trugoy the Dove, born David Jolicoeur, died at 54 of undisclosed causes. (It was he who provided one of the group's most memorable guest verses, on Gorillaz' 2005 smash "Feel Good Inc.") The loss of Jolicoeur is not only a tragic continuation of how many Black men and hip-hop artists simply fail to reach old age, but robs old and new fans of getting to celebrate the (re)discovery of De La Soul with Dove present to enjoy it.
In any event: this is the time to embrace the De La Soul discography as it comes into clearer focus in 2023 - both digitally and with planned physical reissues throughout the year. You can pre-order 3 Feet High and Rising (in stores March 3) and follow-up De La Soul is Dead (available physically April 7) below. Additional 7" vinyl and cassingles are available through the group's official store.
3 Feet High and Rising (originally released as Tommy Boy TB 1019, 1989 - reissued A.O.I/Chrysalis, RMM-045-1/2, 2023)
- The Magic Number
- Change in Speak
- Cool Breeze on the Rocks
- Can U Keep a Secret
- Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)
- Ghetto Thang
- Transmitting Live from Mars
- Eye Know
- Take It Off
- A Little Bit of Soap
- Tread Water
- Potholes in My Lawn
- Say No Go
- Do As De La Does
- Plug Tunin' (Last Chance to Comprehend)
- De La Orgee
- Buddy (feat. Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip)
- Me, Myself and I
- This is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)
- I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)
- D.A.I.S.Y. Age
De La Soul is Dead (originally released as Tommy Boy TB 1029, 1991 - reissued A.O.I./Chrysalis RMM-052-1/2, 2023)
- Oodles of O's
- Talkin' Bout Hey Love
- Pease Porridge
- Skit 1
- Johnny's Dead AKA Vincent Mason (Live from the BK Lounge)
- A Roller Skating Jam Named "Saturdays"
- WRMS: Dedication to the Bitty
- Bitties in the BK Lounge
- Skit 2
- My Brother's a Basehead
- Let, Let Me In
- Afro Connections At a Hi 5 (In the Eyes of a Hoodlum)
- Rap de Rap Show
- Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa
- Who Do U Worship?
- Skit 3
- Kicked Out the House
- Pass the Plugs
- Not Over Till the Fat Lady Plays the Demo
- Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)
- WRMS: Cat's in Control
- Skit 4
- Fanatic of the B Word (feat. Dres)
- Keepin' the Faith
- Skit 5