Aaliyah’s Catalog Is Coming To Streaming Services, And Work On A Posthumous Album Has Resumed
Most of the late R&B superstar Aaliyah Haughton’s music has never been available on digital service providers — one of the great omissions from the library of your favorite streaming service or online retailer. That’s finally, officially about to change.
For years, only Aaliyah’s 1994 debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number has been available on DSPs. And for years, many people have wondered why her uncle Barry Hankerson — who founded her record label Blackground Recordings, and who controls the master recordings for most of her catalog — has not made the rest of her discography available to stream. There seemed to be some movement on that front a year ago when Aaliyah’s estate announced they had been in communication with “various record labels.” But apparently the estate and Hankerson are operating independently of each other.
In response to reports that Hankerson was moving forward with an Aaliyah reissue campaign at last, this morning her estate — run by Aaliyah LLC on behalf of her mother, Diane, and her brother Rashad — released another statement condemning “this unscrupulous endeavor to release Aaliyah’s music without any transparency or full accounting to the estate.” It is the latest controversy among many for Hankerson, who has faced numerous lawsuits over the years from former Blackground artists including Braxton, Timbaland, and JoJo.
Nonetheless, Hankerson is moving forward with it. As Billboard reports, Hankerson has struck a deal with the Bay Area record label, distributor, and publishing company EMPIRE to bring the entire Blackground catalog to DSPs — Aaliyah’s final two studio albums and two posthumous compilations, as well as releases from Timbaland & Magoo, Tank, Toni Braxton, and JoJo. EMPIRE has also posted a release schedule on Twitter, which reveals Aaliyah’s 1996 album One In A Million will stream on 8/20 and her 2001 self-titled LP will follow on 9/10. Additionally, the soundtracks to Romeo Must Die and Exit Wounds will be online 9/3, and the comps I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah are coming to DSPs on 10/8.
Furthermore, Hankerson is once again working toward releasing an album of Aaliyah’s unreleased material. At one point, Drake and Noah “40” Shebib were pursuing such a project, but that work halted according to Aaliyah’s mother’s wishes. According to Billboard, lately Hankerson has been in the studio overseeing work on unreleased tracks, including features by Drake, Future, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, and Snoop Dogg. Timbaland has remixed and produced some of the sessions, and Hankerson says Tank may get involved as well.
Hankerson tells Billboard he waited so long to bring the music online because he was honoring his sister Diane’s wishes. Although he hasn’t been in regular contact with Diane since Aaliyah’s death, “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.” The estate contends this conversation never happened. Hankerson also says that when the estate released its statement about bringing the music to DSPs last summer, he considered it a green light to move forward.
Along with bringing Blackground’s music to streaming, Hankerson is reviving the label with a new signing, Autumn Marini, and launching a streaming app called Music360. As for why he chose EMPIRE, run by the DJ/producer Ghazi, Hankerson says, “They’re a smaller company with very hands-on executives. Ghazi is almost a reflection of what I would be doing if I just came into the music business — I would try to have my own distribution company. So he was just a match for me, and when we sat down and talked in San Francisco it was a no-brainer to give him the opportunity of working our music.”
The estate disputes Hankerson’s take on all this. “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,” Aaliyah LLC attorney Paul LiCalsi said in a statement to Billboard. “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 rep for Blackround says the estate will receive all due compensation, but Hankerson says he has not been in communication with Diane or anyone else from the estate.
Sounds messy! But whatever else is happening behind the scenes, it looks like the music will be out there soon. If at first you don’t succeed…