Categories: MusicOriginals

Decades Since ‘3 Feet High & Rising’ & De La Soul Still Isn’t In Control Of Its Legacy

In an age where countless veteran rap acts are benefiting off of nostalgia, pioneering hip-hop group De La Soul hasn’t fully been able to do the same.

De La Soul‘s debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, turned 30 on March 3rd, 2019. The occasion should’ve been celebratory: a rollout of its proper introduction to digital and streaming services, a tour, and any of the other indicators that often come with an album’s anniversary.

Instead, De La is in an ongoing battle over not only 3 Feet High but the five albums that came after it. The rap trio claims that Tom Silverman, CEO and founder of the Tommy Boy record label that released their first six albums, offered them a 90/10 split of the profits if he were to take their music to streaming services after reacquiring the albums from Warner Bros. De La has criticized the deal as “unfair” on social media and have received support from Nas, Questlove, and Pete Rock. JAY-Z’s Tidal also released a statement saying the service wouldn’t stream De La’s early catalog until a deal was settled between the group and Silverman.

The albums’ placement on streaming services has been postponed. In an age where countless veteran rap acts are benefiting off of nostalgia, it’s unfortunate that De La isn’t fully able to do the same.

The unfair split between De La and Silverman stems from the mishandling of sample clearances for the group’s albums, particularly 3 Feet High and Rising. The 24-track release features over 60 samples that helped De La create a distinct sound that spoke to the cultural and educational value of sample culture. When 3 Feet High was selected for the Library of Congress’ 2010 registry, the album’s use of samples was cited, the registry reading:

“For the album, the group marshaled an astonishing range of samples that included not only soul and R&B classics by Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays, but also Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’ and cuts by Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Kraftwerk, Hall and Oates, and Liberace. Perhaps the most far-flung sample is a snippet of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia reading the comics over the radio in 1945.”

The trio had reportedly cleared most of the samples for the album. But not all of them. Months after 3 Feet High was certified gold, the Turtles filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against De La for using their song “You Showed Me” on “Transmitting Live From Mars.”

According to a Los Angeles Times article from 1989, the band’s lawsuit charged that “De La Soul used a four-bar section of the Turtles song (lasting 12 seconds) and ‘looped’ it so that the riff served as the music for the entire 66 seconds of the De La Soul piece.”

Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, former members of the Turtles, had sued Prince Paul and De La for $2.5 million. The case was settled out of court, with Kaylan and Volman reportedly receiving as high as $1.7 million (although De La claim they never paid that much).

“For argument’s sake, let’s say we accept the split. Why are we doing this with potential infractures? It’s not quite clear,” Maseo said in an interview with Billboard. “[Tommy’s] words exactly, ‘If somebody comes, we’ll deal with it exactly as we dealt with in the past.’ And how was that? We settled with whatever we settled with out of court, whether it be a million dollars, $100,000, $50,000.”

While legacy acts from that era like Wu-Tang Clan and Public Enemy celebrate anniversaries for their respective classic albums — Wu’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back — De La doesn’t have the liberty. They have to abide by the latter, not by choice but circumstance — a legacy act that can’t properly celebrate their most cherished and beloved album.

Elijah C. Watson

Elijah Watson serves as Okayplayer's News & Culture Editor. When he's not writing he's listening to Sade and crying or watching My Hero Academia with his partner.

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