Streaming Gives New Life to the Legacy of Aaliyah

Mack Mendenhall

It’s been 21 years since the tragic death of rising R&B star Aaliyah. Her music in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially with producers Missy Elliott and Timbaland, defined a new era of R&B that combined heavy elements of hip-hop and pioneered the neo-soul genre. Beyond the music, Aaliyah – or “Baby Girl” – became a cultural and fashion icon, known for her cool, sultry style that was both fresh and mature beyond her years.

Surprisingly, the only Aaliyah album available for decades was her 1994 debut, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. If you know anything about Aaliyah’s life and career, you probably know she was married to singer R. Kelly, who produced the entire album. R. Kelly’s abuse of Aaliyah and dozens of other women that has come to light in recent years makes it somewhat painful to listen to Aaliyah’s debut, but her later work outshines the former imprint of R. Kelly on her artistry. That’s why fans have begged Barry Hankerson, Aaliyah’s uncle and the founder of her former label Blackground Records, to release the late singer’s entire catalog online. And in 2021, they finally got their wish.

Aaliyah’s iconic studio albums One In A Million and Aaliyah, along with the movie soundtrack Romeo Must Die and two posthumous compilation albums I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah, were re-released last fall along with over a dozen other albums on the Blackground label in both physical and digital formats. Beginning in August 2021, One In A Million appeared on streaming services for the first time ever, followed by the rest of the Aaliyah catalog in the subsequent months. Other artists whose music was re-released through Blackground’s distribution deal with independent music company Empire include Toni Braxton, Timbaland, JoJo, and Tank.

After Aaliyah’s passing in 2001, the music industry evolved along with technology into a digital format. Blackground Records slowly ceased to produce new music, and much of its artists’ work has been absent from streaming services. But Barry Hankerson’s new deal with Empire has allowed the bulk of Aaliyah’s music to be available again. New and old Aaliyah fans are jamming to revolutionary hits like “One In A Million,” “Hot Like Fire,” “If Your Girl Only Knew,” “Are You That Somebody,” “We Need a Resolution,” “More Than a Woman,” and “Try Again.” In addition to streaming, brand-new CD and vinyl copies of the albums have been released.

Two decades without her, and Aaliyah’s music is still “one in a million.” We miss you, Baby Girl.