De La Soul’s Digital Availability Grounded By Sample-Clearance Delays

Maura / February 16, 2007

3feethigh.jpgToday’s Forbes takes a look at albums that aren’t available on digital music stores; the usual roster of online holdouts (AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Garth Brooks) is trotted out before the discussion turns to other reasons for digital delays:

Sometimes complications over the licensing of other artists’ work can hold things up. A prime example is hip-hop group De La Soul. The group’s early albums on Tommy Boy Records, including the 1989 classic 3 Feet High And Rising, aren’t available anywhere as paid downloads.

Much of the fun of the group’s early work stemmed from the inventive way it weaved together numerous samples to build a kaleidoscopic backdrop for its rhymes, particularly on the sample-dense 3 Feet High. But the sheer number of those samples can also create headaches when it comes to clearing the legal rights for digital downloads.

“It’s frustrating because I hear it from people all over the world, fans, other people in the music business,” says Tom Silverman, founder and chairman of De La Soul’s former label Tommy Boy. “That was a seminal record.”

A spokesman at Warner Music’s Rhino Records, which acquired the rights to the Tommy Boy catalog in 2002, declined to comment. Despite the absence of De La Soul from iTunes and other online vendors, Rhino has managed to clear the necessary rights for other Tommy Boy recording artists, including Queen Latifah and Digital Underground.

Call it the WKRP In Cincinnati problem; sample-clearance contracts were signed before new delivery platforms were developed, and some of the samplees may want to renegotiate their deals to get a bigger slice of the pie. (Also notable: 3 Feet High isn’t available Stateside on CD, either.) What’s interesting to us is that one of the samples on 3 Feet comes from the aforementioned digital holdouts Led Zeppelin; not to sound like conspiracy theorists, but we can’t help but wonder if the bit of “The Crunge” that’s looped in “Magic Number” could be part of the reason for the hold-up.

De La Soul – Magic Number [MP3, link expired]
De La Soul – Me Myself And I [MP3, link expired]
Music’s Online Holdouts [Forbes, via Largehearted Boy]