Aaliyah’s music is finally set to make its streaming debut nearly 20 years after the singer’s tragic death thanks to a partnership between her uncle and label, Empire — but the news is not without controversy, as the singer’s estate has expressed reservations about the deal.
Spotify confirmed in a tweet that the singer’s album One In a Million is set to be released on Aug. 20, Romeo Must Die Soundtrack on Sept. 3, Aaliyah on Sept. 10 and two compilations, I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah, on Oct. 8.
Through the partnership, projects from other artists such as Timbaland, JoJo, Toni Braxton, and Tank — who have music under the label — are slated to be released on a schedule alongside Aaliyah’s releases, since Aaliyah’s former manager, Barry Hankerson owns their masters.
A website affiliated with Blackground Records 2.0 (run by Hankerson) went live Wednesday, with its social media accounts promoting the hashtag #AaliyahIsComing.
Hankerson partnered with music distribution company Empire to release Aaliyah’s music on streaming services.
The social media campaign prompted Aaliyah’s estate — run by her mother Diane and brother Rashad Haughton— to release a statement against the “unscrupulous endeavor” to release her music without any prior knowledge.
In a recent interview with Billboard, Hankerson claims he had a conversation with Diane Haughton in which she expressed that she did not want Aaliyah’s music to be released.
The estate’s attorney Paul LiCalsi said in a statement that her estate has “always been ready” to release Aaliayah’s music to the general public but was “met with contention.” Representatives of the estate claim that the conversation between Hankerson and Diane never took place.
“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,” LiCalsi said in a statement given to Pitchfork. “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.”
R&B/pop superstar Aaliyah Houghton died on August 25, 2001, after her plane went down in the Caribbean. Following her death, her label Blackground Records underwent several lawsuits from Braxton, JoJo, and more for breach of contract. All three of Aaliyah’s albums were released under Blackground’s label but were distributed through different labels: Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number was released in partnership with Jive Records (R. Kelly’s former label), One In a Million was distributed by Atlantic Records and her self-titled album by Virgin (now owned by Universal Music Group). Her debut album is on streaming due to the fact that Jive owns the masters to the album. As streaming began to dominate music distribution, fans of the singer were calling for her music to be released on the platforms. Aaliyah’s estate released a statement on Jan. 15 acknowledging fans’ want to have her discography on streaming services, and work was being done to make it a reality. Hankerson worked to keep the artist’s legacy by releasing a posthumous album of unreleased songs, but aside from a song featuring Drake, the project never saw the light of day after Aaliyah’s family, Timbaland and other parties separated themselves from it.
Since Aaliyah didn’t write her own music, her estate doesn’t apparently stand to profit from the streaming release.
Blackground 2.0 said in a statement that artists will be compensated for “everything” according to their agreement. Grammy-winning singer JoJo tweeted a response saying she does not receive anything from the streams of her original releases.