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Aaliyah estate hits out at plans to finally release singer’s catalogue on streaming services

By | Published on Friday 6 August 2021


Blackground Records yesterday announced plans to reissue a large part of its catalogue via a new partnership with label services business Empire. This includes plans to bring Aaliyah’s full catalogue to streaming services for the first time. However, her estate quickly objected to the announcement.

Set to begin on 20 Aug, the weekly run of Blackground reissues is set to include albums by Timbaland, JoJo, Toni Braxton, Ashley Parker Angel and Tank, as well as the ‘Romeo Must Die’ and ‘Exit Wounds’ movie soundtracks. The label’s crown jewels, however, are the Aaliyah albums, which have long been out of legal circulation due to ongoing disputes between Blackground – owned by Aaliyah’s uncle and former manager Barry Hankerson – and the late singer’s estate.

The newly published release schedule includes Aaliyah’s ‘One In A Million’ and ‘Aaliyah’ albums, plus greatest hits compilation ‘Ultimate Aaliyah’. Also listed for release on 8 Oct is a compilation called ‘I Care For U’, thought to be a posthumous Aaliyah release executive produced by Drake and featuring contributions from Kanye West, Timbaland, Lil Wayne and more, which was recorded nearly a decade ago.

Commenting on the announcement, Hankerson said: “Blackground Records has always been about independence and ownership. From day one, we set out to shake up the music industry and partnering with a company like Empire continues that legacy. This is Blackground Records 2.0”.

Empire CEO Ghazi added: “Blackground Records redefined popular music as we know it. We’re happy to provide a home for Blackground Records 2.0 and help build upon their independent story”.

It was a year ago when Aaliyah’s estate announced that it had begun speaking to “various record labels about the status of Aaliyah’s music catalogue, as well as its availability on streaming services in the near future”. However, in January this year another statement suggested that legal issues continued to hold up plans to make the singer’s music available.

After yesterday’s announcement from Blackground and Empire, the estate issued a new statement, hitting out at what it called an “unscrupulous endeavour to release Aaliyah’s music”.

“Protecting Aaliyah’s legacy is and will always be our focus. For 20 years, we have battled behind the scenes, enduring shadowy tactics of deception with unauthorised projects targeted to tarnish. 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”.

“Now, in this 20th year [since Aaliyah’s death]”, the statement continued, “this unscrupulous endeavour to release Aaliyah’s music without any transparency or full accounting to the estate compels our hearts to express a word – forgiveness”.

Whether that offer of forgiveness means that the estate will allow these releases to go ahead despite the ongoing issues remains to be seen. It has not yet said if it will attempt to block Aaliyah’s music from finally being available to stream and download – her debut, ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’, being the only album that has ever been legally available digitally.

In a new interview with Billboard, Hankerson speaks about why most of Aaliyah’s music has remained offline for so long. “Since the death of my niece”, he says, “I don’t have the same relationship I used to have with my sister [and estate head Diane Haughton]. We were very close when we grew up. I don’t know if anybody can imagine, but when you lose a child, or a niece, that you really loved, it was difficult for my family. So a lot of things in my family changed”.

“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”, he goes on. “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”.

The accuracy of that explanation for why Aaliyah’s catalogue has been out of circulation for so long is also a matter of dispute. However, if her music is finally made available on digital services, it will be a relief for fans and an opportunity for more people to discover these incredibly influential records.