Aaliyah’s Family Locked in Heated Battle Over Release of Her Music
After a mysterious website, seemingly belonging to Aaliyah’s uncle, teased the release of the late singer’s catalog, her estate blasted the move as an “unscrupulous endeavor.”
As we near the 20th anniversary of Aaliyah’s shock plane-crash death, it seems the long-awaited release of her music catalog is imminent, with a mysterious website popping up on Wednesday with the message: Aaliyah is Coming.
The tease was met with excitement from her longtime fans, as the lone Aaliyah album available on streaming platforms is Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, now marred considering the album was written and produced by the man who preyed on an underage Aaliyah, R. Kelly, who also appears on the cover lurking in the background. This month, the embattled R&B singer heads to trial over charges related to the sexual abuse of minors, including Aaliyah, who is a Jane Doe in the case.
Spotify finally confirmed the speculation on Thursday, announcing that the Princess of R&B’s second album One in a Million would be coming to the streaming platform on Aug. 20, followed by the Romeo Must Die soundtrack and her third album Aaliyah in September. In October, Spotify plans to release her posthumous compilation albums I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah.
But Aaliyah’s estate and immediate family members appear to be opposed to the release of the late 22-year-old’s discography, putting out a statement on Wednesday night calling the move an “unscrupulous endeavor.”
The matter is complicated because the new website’s social media accounts link back to verified pages for a revived Blackground Records, founded by Aaliyah’s uncle and former manager Barry Hankerson.
“For 20 years we have battled behind the scenes, enduring shadowy tactics of deception with unauthorized projects targeted to tarnish,” Aaliyah’s estate said in a statement. “We have always been confused as to why there is such a tenacity in causing more pain alongside what we already have to cope with for the rest of our lives.”
“Now, in this 20th year, this unscrupulous endeavor to release Aaliyah’s music without any transparency or full accounting to the estate compels our hearts to express a word – forgiveness,” it added. “Although we will continue to defend ourselves and her legacy lawfully and justly, we want to preempt the inevitable attacks on our character by all the individuals who have emerged from the shadows to leech off of Aaliyah’s life’s work.”
The Daily Beast reached out to Hankerson and Aaliyah’s estate for further comment.
It’s no secret that Hankerson has been trying for years to release Aaliyah’s music, which he has claimed to have the rights to. All three of her albums—Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, One in a Million, and Aaliyah—were under Hankerson’s Blackground Records, although each album was distributed by different labels.
He has also been trying to release a posthumous Aaliyah album produced by Drake, which is said to have 16 unreleased songs with features and contributions from Drake, her former producer and close friend Timbaland, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne.
Hankerson again seemed to be at odds with Aaliyah’s immediate family over her music, telling That Grape Juice in an interview, “We always expected an unpleasant welcome to this album. Due to the fact we have control over the estate and authority over royalties we will be moving forward with this album.”
And while the single “Enough Said” featuring Drake dropped in 2012, the album has never been released.
Hankerson confirmed this week that he was rebooting his record company, calling it Blackground Records 2.0 and saying it would be based in Atlanta, where he was seen shooting a music video for the new artist Autumn Marini.
According to California business records, Blackground Records 2.0 was incorporated last March by attorney Virgil Roberts—whose law firm Bobbitt & Roberts previously repped Hankerson’s original Blackground Records. Roberts is also listed as treasurer and secretary for another of Hankerson’s defunct companies, Barry & Sons, according to New York records.
Since her death, Aaliyah’s family has remained out of the public eye and are famously mum on the singer’s 1994 marriage to Kelly. It was Hankerson who discovered Kelly in Chicago and later introduced him to Aaliyah. Kelly faces charges over allegedly bribing an Illinois official to secure a fake ID for Aaliyah that listed her age as 18 on their marriage certificate, instead of her actual age of 15. Kelly was 27 at the time.
Kelly has also refused to talk about the nature of his relationship with Aaliyah, saying in 2016, “Out of respect for her mother who’s sick and her father who’s passed, I will never have that conversation with anyone.”
Hankerson cut all ties with Kelly in 2000, as the sexual-abuse allegations against Kelly began to grow. At the end of the year, The Chicago Sun-Times dropped a bombshell report that accused Kelly of having sexual contact with girls as young as 15.
It’s unclear what’s causing the apparent dispute between Aaliyah’s estate and Hankerson, but if the family’s statement is any indication of the fight that will ensue, things are bound to get messy.