Aaliyah’s Music Will Finally Be Streaming. What Took So Long?

Aaliyah’s Music Will Finally Be Streaming. What Took So Long?
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Aaliyah’s Music Will Finally Be Streaming. What Took So Long?

Aaliyah’s Music Will Finally Be Streaming. What Took So Long?

For years, this has been one of music’s most notable and confusing absences: the majority of Aaliyah, the groundbreaking R&B singer of the 1990s and early 2000s, has been absent from the services. digital – making the work of one of the most influential pop stars of recent decades largely invisible, and robbing her of a proper legacy. The singer, whose full name was Aaliyah Haughton, died in a plane crash in 2001 at the age of 22.

But on Thursday came a surprise announcement that her music will be hitting streaming platforms soon, starting with her second album, “One in a Million” (1996), on August 20.

Fans, including Cardi B, celebrated online. But Aaliyah’s music return remains difficult, with a battle still ongoing between her succession and the music impresario who signed her as a teenager and retains control of most of her catalog. Here is an overview of its long unavailability on the services that dominate music consumption today.

Blackground Records, founded by producer Barry Hankerson – Aaliyah’s uncle – has announced that it will re-release 17 albums from its catalog over the next two months, on streaming services as well as on CD and vinyl. They include the bulk of Aaliyah’s production – her studio albums “One in a Million” and “Aaliyah”, as well as the soundtrack “Romeo Must Die” and two posthumous collections – as well as albums by Timbaland, Toni Braxton. , JoJo and Tank.

The releases, made through a distribution deal with independent music company Empire, will introduce a new generation to Aaliyah’s work. In the 1990s, she established herself as a powerful voice in the emerging sound of hip-hop: an outspoken young woman – she was only 15 when she released her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing.” but a Number ”(1994) – who sang like a street-smart angel on some of the most innovative backing tracks of the time.

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“Where most divas insist on being the center of the song,” New York Times Kelefa Sanneh wrote in a 2001 review, “she knew how to disappear into music, how to match her voice to the bassline. – it was sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Hankerson is an elusive, powerful and divisive figure in the music world. He was once married to Gladys Knight, and then discovered and directed R. Kelly. He made Blackground one of the most successful black music companies of its time, but clashed with artists. Braxton, JoJo and others sued the label, with Braxton accusing Hankerson of “fraud, deception and double-dealing,” according to a 2016 article on the music site Complex titled “The inexplicable absence of the best music online. ‘Aaliyah’.

In 1991, Hankerson introduced his 12-year-old niece to Kelly, who was twice her age. Kelly, then a singer, songwriter and emerging producer, would become the main force shaping the start of Aaliyah’s career, writing and producing much of her material and making Aaliyah a part of her entourage.

It later emerged that Kelly secretly married Aaliyah in 1994, when she was 15 and he was 27. In the criminal case Kelly now faces in Brooklyn – which is expected to start jury selection next week – prosecutors alleged Kelly bribed an Illinois government. employed at the time to obtain a fake ID for Aaliyah which gave him the age of 18. Their marriage was called off.

After Hankerson moved the distribution of the Jive label’s Blackground releases to Atlantic in the mid-90s, Aaliyah began working with two young songwriter-producers from Virginia: Timbaland and Missy Elliott. Their first collaboration, “One in a Million” (1996), went double platinum and spawned the hit singles “If Your Girl Only Knew” and “The One I Gave My Heart To”.

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By the time Aaliyah passed, she seemed on her way to a major career. But as the music business moved into the digital age and Blackground’s production slowed down, its music has largely disappeared.

Aside from the album “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number”, which remained in the Jive catalog via Sony Music, and a handful of other tracks, most of Aaliyah’s songs were not available in streaming. Used CDs and LPs of his work at breathtaking prices.

Its influence has persisted, even if it is sometimes more imaginary than real. Last month, singer Normani released a song, “Wild Side,” with Cardi B, which contained what many fans thought was a sample of an Aaliyah drum break. (Billboard said no, although Hankerson said he would have his blessing anyway.) And interest in his story was spurred by the 2019 documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which deepened their relationship. .

While the streaming catalog has almost reached the long predicted “heavenly jukebox” level of completion, there are still other notable absences. De La Soul’s early work, including his 1989 debut classic “3 Feet High and Rising”, is not online, apparently due to sample erasure issues. (The new owners of this music have committed to making it available, although no concrete plans have been revealed.)

It is not clear what led to the current release of Aaliyah’s music.

According to a new Billboard article, Hankerson began looking for a new chord for his music about a year ago, after Aaliyah’s estate made a move. cryptic announcement that “communication has started” between the estate and “various record companies” about putting his music online. “More updates to come,” he said.

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But the estate does not control Aaliyah’s records; Hankerson does this, thanks to his ownership of the Blackground label. For months, fans have been following more mysterious statements from the field, including one in January, around what would have been Aaliyah’s 42nd birthday, that “these matters are not in our control”.

When Blackground announced its reissue plans, the estate responded with another puzzling statement, claiming that for 20 years it had “endured obscure tactics of deception in connection with unauthorized projects aimed at tarnishing”, while expressing ” his forgiveness ”and his desire to move. on.

A more direct explanation of what happened behind the scenes came from an estate lawyer, Paul V. LiCalsi, who said: “For almost 20 years, Blackground did not report to the estate. with any regularity in accordance with its recording contracts. Additionally, the estate was not made aware of the catalog’s impending publication until the deal was done and the plans were in place. “

Billboard quoted a representative from Blackground in response, saying the estate “will receive whatever it is entitled to” and that a royalty payment was made earlier this year.

For fans, the backstage fights may be less important than the music finally becoming available online

“Baby Girl is coming to Spotify”, the service announcement on Twitter, with a photo of Aaliyah. “We have been waiting for this for a long time. “

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