Twenty years after multiplatinum R&B singer Aaliyah’s untimely death, her music is finally being released on streaming services — without the blessing of her estate.
While the “Ultimate Aaliyah” hits collection was available for 24 hours on Apple Music in 2017, the music was quickly taken down and updates about streaming went quiet. Until now.
Blackground Records 2.0, a label founded by Jomo Hankerson and Barry Hankerson, Aaliyah’s uncle, advertised that “Aaliyah is coming” on its website Wednesday.
The next day, Spotify tweeted, “Baby Girl is coming to Spotify,” with release dates for multiple albums, starting with “One in a Million” (Aug. 20), followed by “Romeo Must Die” (Sept. 3), “Aaliyah” (Sept. 10) and the posthumous compilations “I care 4 U” and “Ultimate Aaliyah” (both Oct. 8).
Hankerson, who started Blackground Records in the 1990s to release Aaliyah’s music, told Billboard for a story published Thursday that he’s working with distribution company Empire to make her catalog accessible for streaming for the first time.
Her estate, however, opposes such a move, dismissing it as an “unscrupulous endeavor.”
“For 20 years we have battled behind the scenes, enduring shadowy tactics of deception with unauthorized projects targeted to tarnish,” the estate wrote in a statement posted Thursday to Aaliyah’s official Instagram page. “We have always been confused as to why there is such a tenacity in causing more pain alongside what we already have to cope with for the rest of our lives.”
Hankerson owns the majority of Aaliyah’s catalog, meaning that Blackground Records 2.0 will be able to release her songs regardless of the objections of her estate, which is run by Aaliyah LLC and operated by her mother, Diane Haughton, and brother Rashad Haughton.
However, the estate’s attorney, Paul LiCalsi, said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times that the estate was never even made aware that Blackground Records was planning to release Aaliyah’s albums for streaming.
“For almost 20 years, Blackground has failed to account to the Estate with any regularity in accordance with her recording contracts,” LiCalsi said.
“In addition, the Estate was not made aware of the impending release of the catalog until after the deal was complete and plans were in place,” he added. “The Estate has demanded that Blackground provide a full account of its past earnings, and full disclosure of the terms of its new deal to distribute Aaliyah’s long embargoed music.”
The estate had made some promises of its own in August 2020, telling fans through an Instagram post that it was “working with various record labels about the status of Aaliyah’s music catalogue, as well as its availability on streaming platforms in the near future.”
No such updates ever came, though, leaving fans uncertain of when Aaliyah’s music would be available to stream.
The singer — known for hits such as “One in a Million,” “Try Again” and “Rock the Boat” — died Aug. 25, 2001, in a plane crash. She was 22.
In January, the estate acknowledged on Twitter fans’ long wait for access to Aaliyah’s music.
“We hear you and we see you,” a statement read. “Our inability to share Aaliyah’s music and artistry with the world has been as difficult for us as it has been for all of you. Our priority has always been and will continue to be Aaliyah’s music.”
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