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Why De La Soul Is Giving Away All of Its Music for Free

Why De La Soul Is Giving Away All of Its Music for Free

Photograph by David Livingston/Getty Images

Native Tongues! Assemble!

On the 25th anniversary of De La Soul’s landmark debut album, 3 Feet High and Rising, the hip-hop group is said to be releasing its entire music catalog, for free, for 25 hours only. All tracks will be available at from 11 a.m. ET today until noon Saturday. “It’s about allowing our fans who have been looking and trying to get a hold of our music to have access to it,” group vocalist Posdnuos explained to Rolling Stone. “This is our way of showing them how much we love them.”

One of the most important acts to come out of the early and adolescent days of rap music, De La Soul has been digitally MIA over the past decade, with few of its tracks available for legal purchase or streaming. Even while longtime holdouts like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin ultimately sold their music online, fans of Me, Myself and I, Buddy, Bitties in the BK Lounge, and other classics were left in silence.

Why the absence from digital platforms? Members of the group cite vague contract language that has made rights clearance a problem. What also may contribute to the holdup is the tremendous amount of sampling the group did in recording its music. From the beginning, De La Soul (and its frequent collaborator, producer Prince Paul) wove rich tapestries of beats and melodies, often pulled from unlikely sources such as children’s songs and advertising jingles. Untangling all the permissions to that source material is like trying to find the Ark at the end of Raiders.

Giving away the music for free sidesteps some of those legal issues. Doing so over a 25-hour period also gives the gesture some buzz. Indeed, De La Soul is working on a new album that’s expected later this year, and the group plans to release an EP, Preemium Soul on the Rocks, next month. The six-track mini-album consists of three tracks produced by DJ Premier of Gang Starr, as well as three tracks from equally legendary hip-hop producer Pete Rock. Releasing their existing catalog for free gets the group more attention for these upcoming efforts.

Besides, the money that’s made by actually selling music has dwindled considerably. More cash can be made in touring, merchandising, and other activities. De La Soul is arguably getting more press and attention than if its music had quietly shown up on iTunes or Spotify. In spite of the title to the group’s second album, we are keenly aware that De La Soul is not dead.

Grobart is a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek and the managing editor of Bloomberg Digital Video. Follow him on Twitter @samgrobart.

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