In observance of what would have been Aaliyah’s birthday on Saturday, her estate posted an update on its progress in the long-overdue process of bringing her music to streaming services.
Much of the influential R&B singer’s catalog, who died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22, has never appeared legally on streaming services due to legal issues with her estate. It 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. While her image and innovative hits, mostly helmed by Timbaland and Missy Elliott, helped pave the way for countless single-named R&B singers who followed, not least Rihanna, only her 1994 debut, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” and a handful of singles are legally available on streaming services.
On Saturday, her estate basically told fans that they’re still working on it.
“We hear you and we see you,” the statement from the late singer’s Twitter account reads. “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. 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.
“In the meantime, however, we are working diligently to protect what is in our control — Aaliyah’s brand, legacy, and intellectual property,” the statement continued. “In doing so, we will continue to release unique and exciting projects to keep Aaliyah’s legacy and light shining,” it concludes. “Undoubtedly, we understand how frustration can lead to angry and disappointment. However, we ask all of you for your continued support and love as we aim to achieve these goals for all of you and our babygirl. We appreciate you.”
— Aaliyah (@AaliyahHaughton) January 15, 2021
Initially an R. Kelly protégé — the two were briefly married, allegedly via a fake ID, when she was just 15 — Detroit-born Aaliyah Haughton first hit with “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” But after her marriage to Kelly was annulled, she began working with the then-nascent team of Timbaland and Missy Elliott on the 1996 “One in a Million” album, the self-titled collection released just weeks before Aaliyah’s death, and several singles. 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.
The disarray around her business affairs in the wake of her death was complicated by the fact that all three of her albums were on the now-defunct Blackground Records, the label founded by the father-son team of Barry and Jomo Hankerson, the former of whom was Kelly’s manager for the first 10 years of the singer’s career, and was also Aaliyah’s uncle. Further complicating matters is the fact that each 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, now owned by Universal. (The two missing 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.
When the estate first announced last August that it had made some progress in bringing the music to streaming services, reps for Blackground’s distributors either declined or did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment; subsequent attempts to contact Hankerson were unsuccessful.