Pioneering hip-hop group De La Soul landed the kind of song placement in a blockbuster film that most artists dream of: A major spot for their 1989 song “Three Is a Magic Number” in the end credits of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which, with more than $1.4 billion thus far in ticket sales, has been a rare runaway success in the pandemic film industry.
Yet, to the disappointment if not outrage of many fans, the song is not available on streaming services and will not be anytime soon, due to longstanding legal issues that last year made major steps toward being resolved, but still are not.
Reservoir Music, which last year acquired the catalog of Tommy Boy Records, the group’s original label, pledged that the music will be “coming to fans” — but in a statement to Variety on Friday, a rep for the company wrote: “Unfortunately, no update on the status of De La Soul coming to streaming. We’re still working through it, but aren’t at a place where we can share anything yet.”
As noted in an article on Okayplayer.com, there has been no shortage of outrage online, particularly on TikTok, about the song’s unavailability (although unofficial versions can be found on YouTube). “My son, a Spider-Man fan has discovered that The Magic Number by De La Soul is not on Spotify,” one wrote. “A whole new generation as disappointed as the rest of us have been about this…”
So what’s the problem? In a word: samples. De La Soul’s galvanizing 1989 debut album, “Three Feet High and Rising,” was one of the truly groundbreaking albums in hip-hop history, both in terms of its overall theme and the happy, psychedelic vibe it brought to a genre that had largely been musically and lyrically aggressive and/or self-aggrandizing up to that point. It was certified platinum, reached No. 1 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart (and No. 24 on the Billboard 200 albums chart) and is universally recognized as one of the best and most influential albums in hip-hop history.
Yet it was made during the dawn of the sample age, and to their considerable detriment, the group ended up being guinea pigs for the creation of laws around them — not only did the ensuing legal battles rack up untold thousands in lawyer fees and effectively sideline the group’s career, their music has never legally been available on streaming services. (Head here for more on the long legal back-and-forth.) The music of “The Magic Number” is based around a sample from “Three Is a Magic Number,” written by the late Bob Dorough and featured in the 1970s educational TV series “Schoolhouse Rock.”
But when Reservoir acquired the Tommy Boy catalog — including “Three Feet High” and other De La Soul albums — for $100 million last year, they promised to work with the group to “bring the catalog and the music back to the fans”; in August the group said they hoped the music would be posted by November, and their website currently says, “Stay tuned, catalog coming soon.”
Clearly, something has moved forward legally, since the song would have to be licensed to be used in the film, let alone so prominently; reps for the film and the group did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.
In the meantime, there’s YouTube, and for those of us a little bit older…
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