“We need a resolution”: Morality in streaming Aaliyah

Lillian Nero, Opinion Editor

August 20 was supposed to be the greatest day ever: my seventeeth birthday and the re-release of international popstar and fashionista, Aaliyah Haughton’s, music.  

Instead, I realized the crazy amount of weight the four words, “Never work with family” holds.  

Haughton, better known by her mononym Aaliyah, tragically perished at the age of 22 in 2001. 

After her death, her music could not be found on streaming services as her uncle-doubled record label owner served as the head of her masters.  


Her uncle, Barry Hankerson, started his label Blackground Records in 1994 to help propel his niece’s career.  

After the release of her debut album in 1994, Aaliyah released two borderline perfect, dare I say classic albums: 1996’s One in a Million and 2000’s Aaliyah. 

For twenty years, Hankerson has had the option to publish Aaliyah’s music on streaming services or withhold it, and he chose the latter.  

Well, up until a month ago.  

On August 5, Blackground Records 2.0 (FKA Blackground Records) announced via Instagram that Aaliyah’s albums will be available on all streaming services starting Friday, August 20. 

I actually screamed. Literally. 

If you could have seen my reaction to the news, you would have thought I won the lottery or got a full ride to my dream school. 

But the thing is, I did win the lottery: the musical lottery. 

I mean, there is no better gift than getting a perfect album released on your birthday.  

So not only do I get to celebrate my birthday, but I can celebrate it by listening to One in a Million at that.  

To me, this was a win-win situation.  

Well, I was wrong. 

Unbeknownst to me, Aaliyah’s estate posted via Instagram referring to Aaliyah’s music re-release being an “unscrupulous endeavor to release Aaliyah’s music without any transparency or full account to the estate…” 

The other shocking part was the fact that this was posted a day before Blackground Records 2.0 made the announcement about the re-release. 

This is where guilt began to eat me, even before the releases. 

Just the simple fact that I even thought to listen to her music and betray her mother’s wishes made me feel sick to my stomach.  

Especially when I was fully aware of her mother’s wishes. 

I felt as if I breached an unspoken moral obligation to enjoy her music knowing that her family would not reap the benefits. 

Between August 6 and August 20, I debated downloading her music and when August 20 came, I woke up questioning the morality of listening to an album that I have been dying to hear for years.  

I ultimately made the decision to listen and while enjoying it, I felt joy but right after I finished the album, I felt as if I betrayed Aaliyah and her family by enjoying something that would only benefit the man who has caused them extra and unnecessary pain for decades.  

Fans are now left questioning if listening to the albums are even worth it. 

Well, is it? 

I myself have been having a personal conflict because I want to experience Aaliyah’s music in full for the first time, but I also want to respect her mother, someone she adored dearly, and not take part in listening.  

On one hand, the re-release of her music allows fans who may not have known her in their lifetime to enjoy her, but the other issue is that her family is not able to reap the benefits from that. 

When thinking about the facts of the situation, I came to the conclusion that I do not know what the right thing is to do.  

I will not lie and say I have not listened to One in a Million in its entirety, but I will say that there is a piece of me forbidding me from listening to Aaliyah.