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LI Sound: Why you still can't stream De La Soul's landmark album

Kelvin Mercer (Posdnuos) of De La Soul performs

Kelvin Mercer (Posdnuos) of De La Soul performs onstage during the Meadows Music And Arts Festival - Day 2 at Citi Field in 2017 in Flushing, Queens. Credit: Getty Images/Roy Rochlin

De La Soul should be celebrating the 30th anniversary of its landmark debut “Three Feet High and Rising,” which almost immediately influenced hip-hop when it was released on March 3, 1989, and has only grown in stature since then, even though it has never been sold digitally and hasn’t been made available on any streaming services. 

That was supposed to change on March 1, when Tommy Boy Records planned to put “Three Feet,” which became the second hip-hop album to become part of the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2011, on all the major streaming services. However, according to De La Soul, the record company hadn’t solved the sample clearance issues that has kept the album from being re-released for years. The trio from Amityville was also unhappy with the way the earnings would be split so Posdnuos, Trugoy and Maseo decided to fight the release and take their battle to the public.

“After 30 long years of good music and paying their debt to hip-hop, De La Soul unfortunately, will not taste the fruit of their labor,” De La Soul posted on Instagram. “Your purchases will go 90% Tommy Boy, 10% De La.”

De La’s battle drew plenty of support. Jay-Z told them his streaming service Tidal would not carry the group's catalog until the disagreement was resolved. Nas and Questlove organized a boycott of Tommy Boy Records. “This narrative has been going on since the blues, since jazz, since rock n roll, since disco, since soul,” Questlove posted on Instagram. “I’m proud of De La for using their voice. Let’s fix this. For the greater good.”

The controversy led to Tommy Boy postponing the streaming release of the album, telling Variety in a statement, “We know fans are eager to hear these amazing recordings and we are hopeful for a quick resolution.”

However, the issues surrounding “Three Feet High and Rising” only get tougher to solve with time. Because the album’s samples weren’t completely cleared by the label in 1989, when the costs were less, the price of securing the samples could be prohibitively expensive. (To get around the issue for the album’s 25th anniversary, De La Soul offered the album as a free download to fans for 25 hours in 2014.)

We can still hope that with all the attention, though, maybe 30 will become “The Magic Number.”

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