UPDATED: A long-running battle between the estate of the late R&B singer Aaliyah and her uncle/ former manager and label chief Barry Hankerson broke into the open on Wednesday after teasers about forthcoming music were posted online.

Aaliyah — a former R. Kelly protégé who was briefly married to him at the age of 15 in a quickly annulled ceremony — died in a 2001 plane crash when she was just 22. She is arguably the most popular and prominent artist whose most-successful recordings are not available on streaming services, apparently due to a conflict between Hankerson and the estate that has gone on for the better part of two decades.

On Thursday, Hankerson’s label Blackground announced a distribution deal with Empire accompanied by a release schedule that includes four Aaliyah releases: Her previously released, double-platinum albums “One in a Million” (1996) and “Aaliyah” (2001) — which have never been legally available on streaming services — along with a greatest-hits compilation and one called “I Care 4 U” that may be a posthumous collection, executive produced by Drake and featuring cameos from him, Kanye West, Lil Wayne and others, that Hankerson has been trying to release for nearly a decade.

The albums are scheduled to be released beginning on August 20 and continuing through October. It remains unclear why, if Hankerson controls the rights to the recordings, previous efforts to release them were not successful.

Reps for Blackground and the estate did not immediately respond to Variety‘s requests for comment, but the estate posted a blistering message on social media late Wednesday that was clearly aimed at Hankerson.

“For 20 years we have battled behind the scenes, enduring shadowy tactics of deception,” the estate’s statement reads, “now, this unscrupulous endeavor to release Aaliyah’s music without transparency or full accounting to the estate compels our hearts to express a word – forgiveness,” but pledges to “continue to defend ourselves and her legacy lawfully.”

After the releases were announced on Thursday, Paul LiCalsi, an attorney for the estate, placed the blame for the music’s long unavailability on Blackground: “Since the early 2000’s, only Aaliyah’s first album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number’ has been available on streaming platforms because the right to distribute that record has been held by major record companies under contract with Aaliyah’s record label, Blackground Records. 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.

“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.  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.” He did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Variety about whether the estate will try to block the releases.

The statement was a response to a social media post from Blackground promising “Aaliyah is coming.” (The social media accounts were launched last month.)

In a long interview published by Billboard on Thursday, Hankerson addressed the specifics of the dispute between himself and his sister, Aaliyah’s mother Diane, only briefly: “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 said. “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 estate has been largely silent since the singer’s death in 2001, and few details have emerged about the exact nature of the points of contention that have prevented her final and most successful albums from appearing on streaming services (read more about that here). However, in recent months social media posts from both the estate and Blackground had an optimistic tone and said they were working to resolve the situation.

The estate’s post reads in part, “To our loyal fans: We are excited to announce that communication has commenced between the estate and various record labels about the status of Aaliyah’s music catalogue, as well as its availability on streaming platforms in the near future,” it reads. “Thank you for your continued love and support. More updates to come!” However, in a January 2021 post it asked for patience “until we can resolve all of the issues in freeing her music.”

Hankerson said that he took the first statement to be a green light to move ahead with the re-releases. However, based on this week’s events, his perception seems to have been premature.

Most of Aaliyah’s official discography has never appeared legally on streaming services — and remains arguably the most popular catalog not to do so, since all three of her albums have been certified double platinum and would have racked up much bigger numbers had two of them not been essentially unavailable since the advent of streaming. Her sleek, street-savvy image and innovative, Timbaland and Missy Elliott-helmed hits helped pave the way for countless single-named R&B singers who followed — not least Rihanna. Yet only her R. Kelly-helmed 1994 debut, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” and a handful of singles are legally available on streaming services.

Initially an R. Kelly protégé — the two were briefly married, allegedly via a fake ID, when she was just 15 — Detroit-born Aaliyah Haughton hit immediately with “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” But after her controversial (and illegal) marriage to Kelly was annulled, she began working with the then-nascent team of Timbaland and Elliott on the 1996 “One in a Million” album, along with several singles and a self-titled collection released just weeks before Aaliyah’s death. Perhaps most notable is the 1998 song “Are You That Somebody,” from the Eddie Murphy-starring “Dr. Doolittle” remake, which featured a memorable video and one of Timbaland’s most innovative productions, based around a loop of a baby cooing. (That song is the only one from Aaliyah’s later catalog available on streaming services.)

The disarray around Aaliyah’s business affairs in the wake of her death was complicated by the fact that all three of her albums were on Blackground, the label founded by Hankerson and his son Jomo. Barry also was Kelly’s manager for the first 10 years of his career and introduced Aaliyah to the singer.

Always a mysterious figure, Hankerson was said in a 2016 Complex article to be devastated first by his niece’s illegal marriage to Kelly, with whom he finally severed ties in 2000, and then by the subsequent revelations of the extent of Kelly’s widely reported sexual misconduct involving young women. However, he kept the label up and running for a decade following her death.

Further complicating matters is the fact that each Aaliyah album was distributed by a different label: “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number” is on Kelly’s former label Jive (which still holds the rights to that album, hence its presence on streaming services), while “One in a Million” was distributed by Atlantic; and the self-titled 2001 album by Virgin, which is now owned by Universal. (The latter two albums appeared on iTunes for a matter of hours a few years ago, but were quickly removed.) Blackground, which at various times also had Timbaland, Toni Braxton, JoJo and Tank on its roster, has not released an album since 2013 and has been mired in lawsuits over the past few years.

The posthumous Aaliyah album Hankerson has been attempting to release reportedly contains 16 unreleased songs, was executive produced by Drake and his longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shehib, and includes posthumously recorded contributions from Timbaland, Lil Wayne, Kanye West and Drake. It was announced by Hankerson in 2012 and a single, “Enough Said” (featuring Drake), was released that year, but Timbaland and Elliott and Aaliyah’s family distanced themselves from the project.

At the time of this article’s publication, it remained unclear whether Blackground will actually be able to release the Aaliyah albums it announced on Thursday — or whether her deeply influential music catalog, which, between streaming and licensing deals alone, could be raking in millions of dollars in revenue every year, will continue to languish.