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Aaliyah’s Estate Slams Decision to Add Late Singer’s Songs to Streaming Services

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Aaliyah’s influence on R&B might be everywhere, but her music has been almost nowhere in the years since streaming gained popularity. That is about to change soon, according to her uncle, Blackground Records founder Barry Hankerson. Her estate has spoken out against his plan though, condemning anyone who has “emerged from the shadows to leech off of Aaliyah‘s life’s work.”

While Aaliyah’s first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, is widely available, her later albums are only available on the second-hand market and are completely missing from streaming services. On Thursday, Hankerson told Billboard this is about to change, with One in a Million (1996) being released on Aug. 20 and Aaliyah (2001) following on Sept. 10. Her first posthumous compilation, I Care 4 U (2002), will be released on Oct. 8.

#IStandWithAaliyah pic.twitter.com/Q2zgAvRAgX

— Aaliyah (@AaliyahHaughton) August 5, 2021

According to Hankerson, the reason Aaliyah’s Blackground catalog has been unavailable is that her mother, Diane Haughton, didn’t want the albums available. “There was a conversation we had that didn’t want the music out, and whatever my sister told me, I tried to do what she wanted me to do,” he 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.”

Hankerson said he is releasing the albums now, during the year of the 20th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death, because the “tenor of the conversation” changed. He believed that an Aug. 25, 2020 tweet on the 19th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death gave him the green light. In the statement from Aaliyah’s estate, they teased that “communication” started between the estate and record labels to add Aaliyah’s music to streaming platforms.

In January, the estate issued another statement, telling fans that it will take time for Aaliyah’s music to be released. “We hear you and we see you. While we share your sentiments and desire to have Aaliyah’s music released, we must acknowledge that these matters are not within our control and, unfortunately, take time,” the statement read. “Our inability to share Aaliyah’s music and artistry with the world has been as difficult for us as it has been for all of you. Our priority has always been and will continue to be Aaliyah’s music.”

On the same day Hankerson’s interview with Billboard was published, Aaliyah’s estate denounced Hankerson’s plans. They called her music’s release an “unscrupulous endeavor” without “any transparency or full accounting to the estate.” They said the plan is to “continue to defend ourselves and her legacy lawfully and justly,” they also want to “preempt the inevitable attacks on our character by all individuals who have emerged from the shadows to leech off of Aaliyah’s life’s work.” The estate’s attorney also told USA Today they were not aware of the streaming release.

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“For almost 20 years, Blackground has failed to account to the Estate with any regularity in accordance with her recording contracts,” attorney Paul LiCalsi said in a statement for the estate. “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.”

Aaliyah died in an airplane crash on Aug. 25, 2001, in the Bahamas. She was 22. Her biggest hits include “If Your Girl Only Knew,” “Are You That Somebody?,” “Try Again,” “More Than a Woman,” “Miss You,” “Back & Forth,” and “One in a Million.”

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