For several years now, Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson has promised that the late R&B pop star’s music would finally be uploaded to streaming services. This time, it’s actually going to happen. In an interview with Billboard, Hankerson revealed that all of Aaliyah’s music will be available on Spotify, Apple Music, and the like starting on August 20th.
Technically, fans have had access to Aaliyah’s 1994 debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number and a few early singles for a while now. But the majority of her catalog, including 1996’s One in a Million and 2001’s self-titled album, have been unavailable to stream this whole time. According to Hankerson, who owned the original Blackground Records and the majority of Aaliyah’s masters aside from her debut LP, that decision was in accordance of the wishes of Aaliyah’s mother, Diane Haughton.
“There was a conversation we had that she 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 each passing year, however, fans demanded to know why Aaliyah’s music wasn’t widely available to listen to online, and the late star’s estate claimed that it was a matter of time, over and over again. Eventually, Hankerson took the matter into his own hands and tweeted that he would figure out the rights issues back in 2019. Since then, he and the estate have been in a nonstop argument over how and when to bring Aaliyah’s discography to streaming services.
“It has been a long time since the fans could enjoy Aaliyah and other artists on our catalog, and there has been a lot of changes in the music business since we took the music off the market,” Hankerson told Billboard. “We wanted to be sure to be with the right people, the right executives, and to give ourselves the right time to do the different things. So when you add all that up, it was a couple of years before we could even really consider putting the music out.”
Ultimately, Hankerson inked a distribution deal with EMPIRE Records on behalf of Aaliyah. On August 20th, EMPIRE will release One in a Million, followed weekly by various other Blackground releases, including records by Timbaland, Ashley Parker Angel, Toni Braxton, and JoJo. On September 3rd, Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” single will hit streaming services, followed by Aaliyah on September 10th and two Aaliyah compilations, I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah, on September 24th.
According to Billboard, fans may also get to hear previously unreleased music by Aaliyah in time. “The final piece of the Blackground puzzle is more fraught with tension: the release of Aaliyah’s unheard music, which has been sitting around for years and has been the reason behind much of the public rancor over the past decade,” reads the article. “There are plans to release a posthumous album of new Aaliyah music, though a release date has not been announced, and Hankerson has been hard at work on new songs — staying late at sessions and keeping himself away from other distractions, like interviews, for example.”
Not everyone is happy about this news, though. Paul LiCalsi, an attorney for Aaliyah estate, has issued a statement condemning Hankerson’s actions: “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.”
A representative for Blackground contends that a royalty payment was made to the estate earlier in 2021. “The estate will receive everything that it is entitled to receive pursuant to the terms of our agreement,” the representative told Billboard. “Blackground has shared our rollout plans with representatives for the estate and provided them with the opportunity to participate and provide input and the estate elected not to do so.”
Blackground Records 2021 Release Timeline:
August 20th: Aaliyah – One In A Million Album
August 27th: Timbaland & Magoo – Welcome To Our World, Indecent Proposal and Under Construction, Part II Albums + Timbaland – Tim’s Bio Album
September 3rd: Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds Movie Soundtracks
September 10th: Aaliyah – ΛΛLIYΛH Album
September 17th: Tank – Force of Nature, One Man and Sex, Love & Pain Albums
September 24th: JoJo – JoJo and The High Road Albums | Ashley Parker Angel – Soundtrack To Your Life Album
October 1st: Toni Braxton – Libra Album
October 8th: Aaliyah – I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah Compilation Albums