It's been nearly two decades since Aaliyah tragically died in a plane crash at the age of 22. While her legacy lives on, much of her music has been kept off digital music services and out of print.
But on Aug. 5, her record label Blackground Records announced that, through its new partnership with distributor EMPIRE, the late singer's music will be made available on all major digital streaming platforms and physical albums, starting with One in a Million on Aug. 20. Aaliyah's work—including the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, her 2001 self-titled album and two compilations I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah—will then be rolled out over the following weeks.
For years, fans have called for the catalog's release. And while there were glimmers of hope, they never came to fruition. The reason for this isn't fully clear. But in a statement shared to Instagram just hours after the announcement, The Estate of Aaliyah Haughton gave its reaction to the most recent news.
"Protecting Aaliyah's legacy is, and will always be, our focus. For 20 years we have battled behind the scenes, enduring shadowy tactics of deception with unauthorized projects targeted to tarnish," the statement, without naming names, read. "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."
While the estate vowed to "continue to defend ourselves and her legacy lawfully and justly," it noted "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."
"Ultimately, we desire closure," the statement concluded, "and a modicum of peace so we can facilitate the growth of the Aaliyah Memorial Fund and other creative projects that embody Aaliyah's true essence, which is to inspire strength and positivity for people of all creeds, races and cultures around the world."
The estate is run by Aaliyah LLC on behalf of her mother Diane Haughton and brother Rashad Haughton. Meanwhile, Blackground Records was founded by Aaliyah uncle's Barry Hankerson. In a new interview with Billboard, he said he hasn't spoken to his sister or nephew regularly since Aaliyah's death.
According to the magazine, Hankerson started taking meetings for the distributor deal after seeing an August 2020 tweet from the estate that announced communication had "commenced between the estate and various record labels about the status of Aaliyah's music catalogue, as well as availability on streaming platforms in the near future."
But in January, the estate shared a new message with fans. "We hear you and we see you," it tweeted. "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. "While we understand this may be challenging, we need the support of the fans Aaliyah loved so dearly, until we can resolve all the issues in freeing her music."
According to Billboard, the estate reached out to Blackground Records asking to be involved in finding a distributor. But per the magazine, the estate said it learned the EMPIRE deal was happening after it was final and without any input. A rep for Blackground Records told the outlet Hankerson "has made several efforts to share his plans directly with the estate and those efforts were met with silence."
"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," Aaliyah LLC attorney Paul LiCalsi said in a statement to E! News. "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."
Blackground Records' response? "The estate will receive everything that it is entitled to receive pursuant to the terms of our agreement," a representative said to the magazine, adding that a royalty payment was made earlier this year. "Blackground has shared our rollout plans with representatives for the estate and provided them with the opportunity to participate and provide input and the estate elected not to do so."
E! News reached out to all parties involved for comment.