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Aaliyah’s music and the question of posthumous releases

Aaliyah’s music is back on the Billboard 100. (ThoughtCo)

Two full decades after her tragic passing, 90s R&B sensation Aaliyah finally has her albums on streaming services. And, twenty years later, she is back on the charts. 

The young superstar was an instant icon and pioneer in the music scene, making a name for herself among the R&B/Neo-Soul following of the 90s. The songs “Back and Forth” and “Rock The Boat” were two, out of a handful, that helped her gain stardom. 

Her sophomore album, titled “One in A Million,” was her most successful, and her most anticipated work to make its appearance on streaming services. Following its release in 1996, the RIAA certified the album double platinum in the summer of 1997, after selling two million copies.

She released three albums before her untimely death.

Almost immediately after the streaming release of “One in A Million” on August 20, it reached the number 10 spot on Billboard Top 100 chart.

An article released by Variety reported that the R&B singer’s music was taking so long to hit streaming platforms due to a longstanding dispute between her estate and former label, Blackground Entertainment. 

The owner of Blackground, Barry Hankerson, who formerly managed alleged sexual abuser R. Kelly, says that he has all the legal clearance in order to release Aaliyah’s albums to streaming. 

There has long been discussion about how an artist who has passed should have their music handled, whether it be unreleased demos or albums that are not yet on streaming services. 

The precedent for posthumous releases depends on the late artists’ estate and their wishes for the music. When it comes to unfinished demos or songs in a vault, more often than not, they were not meant for public listening before the artists’ death. 

The late rapper Mac Miller worked on albums “Swimming” and “Circles,” before his passing. 

Miller’s family and estate were comfortable with “Circles” release, because they knew he had finished enough for a polished album. They stated that the album’s release would have been what the artist wanted. 

Alternatively, we have posthumous releases like Pop Smoke’s “Faith”, which came out this summer. It was not the first posthumous release for the rapper since his passing, but it was the most artificial feeling.

This release caused some controversy, as many said it felt quickly thrown together, and that it was the label’s way of profiting off of Pop Smoke’s name after this passing. It was quite clear that this album, aided with features from a plethora of artists, was full of unfinished songs from the rapper. Most of the songs on “Faith” were initially just demos, not intended for public audiences. 

Aaliyah fans can continue to rejoice that her music is now available to stream, but sometimes it can be hard to enjoy music of an artist who has passed without truly knowing their own wishes.

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