FILE – In this Aug. 18, 2012 file photo, Posdnuos, left, and Dave of the hip hop group De La Soul, perform at the Sunset Strip Music Festival in West Hollywood, Calif. De La Soul is giving fans quite the Valentine’s Day gift _ a free download of the group’s entire catalog. The band released its catalog for free on its website for 25 hours starting Friday, giving fans a chance to download music that had become frustratingly hard to find through legal means through 11 a.m. EST Saturday. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — De La Soul is making it feel like 1989 all over again — for 25 hours.
The influential hip-hop group released seven albums worth of material for free on its website for 25 hours starting Friday morning to celebrate the impending 25th anniversary of its groundbreaking debut album, “3 Feet High and Rising.” The group’s music, available through 11 a.m. EST Saturday, had become frustratingly hard to find through legal means. Demand appeared to be heavy enough midday Friday to overwhelm the group’s chosen download provider temporarily.
And it wasn’t just listeners excited about the move. Folks in the music business were watching with fascination as well.
“From a creative standpoint and a marketing standpoint, I think it’s terrific,” said Sophia Chang, a manager for GZA, Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest and former record label executive. “I think everybody’s talking about them. I think they’re all over social media. I think they remind people of how incredibly, incredibly influential and innovative that album was.”
The group and its management did not respond to messages from The Associated Press. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Posdnuos said it’s been a “trying journey” to get the music cleared for release on iTunes and other similar services.
“It’s been too long where our fans haven’t had access to everything,” he told the magazine. “This is our way of showing them how much we love them.”
The group, consisting of Long Island high school friends Posdnuos, Trugoy the Dove and Pasemaster Mase had an immediate impact on hip-hop with “3 Feet High and Rising” with the help of producer Prince Paul in 1989.
The jazz-leaning music and world view espousing peace, love and understanding stood in opposition to the hardcore gangster rap that began to dominate the genre in the 1980s. Along with groups like A Tribe Called Quest and a large, like-minded community of rappers known as Native Tongues, they helped broaden rap music’s appeal to a larger audience not interested in the pervasive thuggery of the time and made alternative hip-hop commercially viable.
Yet unlike many of their contemporaries, finding their music on digital download or streaming services was impossible. Al Branch, the general manager of The Blueprint Group, which oversees the careers of Lil Wayne and Drake among others, says he saw a day when a major act might attempt to reach a fan base in such a way out of frustration.
He thinks music, and especially urban music, has been hurt by a lack of record stores.
“It’s a situation where the fans really can’t get great access to the music unless you have a digital space,” Branch said. “So I always knew as the world becomes more and more digital and smartphones come into play that this day was coming. It makes you think from the perspective, if you’re an artist, what’s more important? Is it more important for you to sell albums or is it more important for you to keep your brand afloat and tour and keep going hard?”
The business choice is not uncommon in the hip-hop world where a mixtape culture pervades and even major stars give teaser music away for free. This case is different, though. The music had already been released on physical formats long ago, but had become increasingly hard to find for several reasons: the shuttering of their original record labels, unclear contracts and myriad uncleared samples among them, Posdnuos told Rolling Stone.
“The first question that came to my mind as a person who did all the sample clearance at Jive (Records) in the early ’90s is, how did they possibly get permission from all of the writers on this album?” Chang asked. “And, of course, the other question is, do they own the masters, which I can’t imagine.”
Branch understands the contractual issues, but wonders if enough time hasn’t passed. He says record deals are essentially a loan, and he believes the group has probably reached the point where it’s paid back what’s owed.
“At which point do you become whole?” Branch asked. “To me it’s like I can dig it. I think it’s really cool because now they’re saying, ‘I can’t be a sharecropper forever.'”