Despite reservations from Aaliyah’s estate, the singer’s music will finally start arriving on streaming services this month.
On Wednesday, Alliyah’s estate tweeted for the first time in months to share a statement criticizing the “unscrupulous endeavor to release Aaliyah’s music without any transparency or full accounting.” While the statement didn’t mention Aaliyah’s label Blackground Records or its co-founder, Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson, by name, a lawyer for the estate was more specific in a follow-up statement Thursday.
“Since the early 2000s, only Aaliyah’s first album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number has been available on streaming platforms because the right to distribute that record has been held by major record companies under contract with Aaliyah’s record label, Blackground Records,” Aaliyah LLC lawyer Paul LiCalsi said in a statement. “Other than that first album, virtually the entire remainder of her catalog, including many never released tracks, has been inexplicably withheld from the public by Blackground Records.”
On Thursday, Billboard published an interview with Hankerson where he discussed Blackground Records’ new partnership with music company Empire that will finally bring Aaliyah’s albums — and LPs by Blackground artists like Toni Braxton, Timbaland & Magoo, and Tank — to streaming services.
The newly rebranded Blackground 2.0 first hinted at their planned release schedule in a tweet Thursday morning, then later confirmed the rollout: Aaliyah’s One in a Million will arrive on streaming services on August 20th, followed by her Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds soundtracks on September 3rd. Her 2001 self-titled and final album hits streaming on September 10th, and then a pair of compilations — I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah — on October 8th.
We gone show you how to party 😉 pic.twitter.com/mBLiB6b1sG
— Blackground Records 2.0 (@Blackground) August 5, 2021
As Billboard reported, Blackground and Aaliyah’s estate attempted to reach a compromise in recent months, but — as the estate claims — only after the Empire deal was already closed; Hankerson owns Aaliyah’s masters, allowing him to make deals without the estate’s approval.
“Aaliyah’s Estate has always been ready to share Aaliyah’s musical legacy but has been met with contention and a gross lack of transparency,” LiCalsi added. “For almost 20 years, Blackground has failed to account to the Estate with any regularity in accordance with her recording contracts. 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. 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.” (Hankerson teased that the long-rumored, long-in-the-works posthumous album — featuring Chris Brown, Timbaland, Snoop Dogg, and many more — might finally see release as part of the Empire deal.)
As for why Aaliyah’s albums have long been out-of-print and unavailable to stream over the past decade, Hankerson claims he was honoring the wishes of his sister and Aaliyah’s mother Diane, who alongside her son and Aaliyah’s brother Rashad run the singer’s estate.
“There was a conversation we had that [Diane] didn’t want the music out, and whatever my sister told me, I tried to do what she wanted me to do,” Hankerson told Billboard. “As a parent, I would understand if she did not want the music out. Because who wants to hear the voice of your daughter who’s gone? So when she said that to me, I said, ‘OK, we’re not putting it out. I don’t know when, but one day we will.’ We literally packed everything up and went on to something else.”
With the impending release of Aaliyah’s albums, “the estate compels our hearts to express a word — forgiveness,” Wednesday’s statement said.