The tragic death of Aaliyah in 2001 left a massive gap in the music industry and in pop culture as a whole. But what ultimately made the singer’s death even more painful was her increasingly difficult to access music catalogue. Now, just when passionate fans were getting excited about the prospect of finally being able to stream her full discography, Aaliyah’s estate is drawing the line yet again — and we need a resolution.
In the near 20 years since Aaliyah's death on August 25, 2001, fans haven’t been able to easily access her rich music catalogue because of ongoing legal complications between her family’s estate and her former manager Barry Hankerson’s Blackground Records 2.0. Currently, Aaliyah’s debut project Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number — which also happens to be an album produced by R. Kelly — and a smattering of other singles are the only offerings from her discography, but it looks that might actually change in the near future.
On Wednesday, August 4, a mysterious social media account teased that Aaliyah’s music would hit streaming platforms, and the rumours have been confirmed by music distribution company Empire. The company has reportedly signed a partnership with Blackground Records 2.0 that will allow them to release all of the singer’s catalogue in a big rollout from this month all the way to October, giving the public access to One in a Million and her self-titled final album.
“It has been a long time since the fans could enjoy Aaliyah and other artists on our catalogue, and there has been a lot of changes in the music business since we took the music off the market,” Hankerson told Billboard of the business move. “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.”
Spotify confirmed that it will in fact be hosting Aaliyah's catalogue as early as this month, excitedly sharing the news in a tweet.
"Baby girl is coming to Spotify," tweeted the company, punctuating the announcement with the praying hands emoji.
Unfortunately, what should be an exciting development doesn’t exactly line up with the wishes of the Haughton estate. In a scathing new statement shared across social media, the estate alleged that Blackground Record’s plan was not previously approved and that the label was acting without their support, further exploiting Aaliyah’s talent and her legacy.
“Protecting Aaliyah’s legacy is, and will always be our focus,” reads the statement. “For 20 years we have battled behind the scenes, during shadowy tactics of deception with unauthorised projects targeted to tarnish."
The statement implies that people had emerged to "leech off of Aaliyah's life's work," which is antithetical to the estate's main desire to "inspire strength and positivity for all creeds, races, and cultures around the world."
On the upside, it looks like we might actually get to listen to classics like "Try Again" and "Rock the Boat" on our respective streaming platforms. But on the other hand, the circumstances of the album releases are clearly very shady. Considering the fact that the Haughton estate has not signed off on this deal and has been clashing with Hankerton for years over Aaliyah's music, it's obvious that this isn't the way that they wanted the world to reconnect with their daughter. That tension casts an unfortunate shadow over the excitement we have over being able to stream the catalogue because we're now stuck between a rock and a hard place — if we tap in for the music as soon as it hits Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music, are we disrespecting Aaliyah's family, and ultimately, Aaliyah?
The current chaos surrounding Aaliyah's catalogue is yet another example of how the princess of R&B's legacy has been plagued by controversy and drama. It's also a reminder that the business side of music too often complicates and corrupts the whole point of making music: sharing it with the world.