The lengthy contractual battle between iconic rap group De La Soul and Tommy Boy Music founder Tom Silverman may have just come to a grinding halt. According to an SEC filing, Reservoir, one of the leading music-rights companies in the industry, has acquired the groundbreaking hip-hop label for close to $100 million and is reportedly open to working with De La to extricate their early recordings from digital streaming purgatory.
Under the agreement, Reservoir receives ownership of the rights to over 6,000 master recordings in the Tommy Boy vaults, including seminal rap hits like Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock,” all of which have been licensed and used in seismic ad campaigns for various services and products over the years. Reservoir, which also owns the rights to the catalog of Chrysalis Records, will continue to market and promote Tommy Boy as its own entity, albeit out of the company’s New York City office. Industry veteran and Reservoir EVP Faith Newman, who famously signed Nas to his first record deal, will helm Tommy Boy’s A&R and Creative division, while international marketing and distribution will be led by Reservoir’s Chrysalis Records brain trust in the U.K.
A Reservoir rep told Variety they have already reached out to De La and “will work together to the bring the catalog and the music back to the fans.” De La Soul has yet to release a statement regarding news of the acquisition, but the group did react on their official Instagram account, posting, “Woke up feeling a sense of greater peace of mind…”
For De La Soul, Reservoir’s acquisition of Tommy Boy Music could potentially open the door for the Long Island natives to receive the rightful ownership of their recordings, a mission they’ve been fighting for years on end. Tommy Boy Music—which Silverman reacquired from Warner Music in 2017—previously held the rights to De La Soul’s first six studio albums and seminal releases including Three Feet High and Rising, De La Soul Is Dead, Buhloone Mindstate, and Stakes Is High.
However, upon discovering that they would only receive 10% of revenue generated by streaming of their albums, while 90% would go to Tommy Boy, De La launched a “Boycott Tommy Boy” campaign in 2017 upon news that the label planned to make their catalog available on streaming services. This prompted Silverman and Tommy Boy to cancel such plans, resulting in De La’s catalog being unavailable in light of several failed attempts at a renegotiation between the group and Silverman.
Founded in 1981, Tommy Boy was one of the pioneering rap labels of the ’80s, housing legendary acts like Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature, Digital Underground, and Force MDs. Branching off into joint ventures with imprints like Penalty Recordings, Stepsun, Beyond, and Ignition during the ’90s, Tommy Boy was ultimately hit with litany of copyright infringement cases involving its earlier releases, particularly “Planet Rock” and De La’s “Three Feet High and Rising,” which included numerous uncleared samples and interpolations. These legal issues, along with other powerful imprints emerging coincided with Tommy Boy’s wane in popularity, however, it is regarded as one of rap’s heritage labels and with Reservoir’s recent acquisition, has the potential to celebrate and build on to its legacy for years to come.