Aaliyah’s catalogue of music may be relatively small, but her music has achieved an outsized influence in modern popular music, from contemporary R&B and rap (Drake has an Aaliyah tattoo) to indie-pop. But since the advent of iTunes, and the development of streaming services, most of her music has been unavailable—most notably, her second two, and best, studio albums, 1996’s One in a Million and 2001’s Aaliyah, the latter of which was released just before her untimely death.
Now, as The Fader reports (and following the publication of a lengthy Complex piece on the murky circumstances that have kept Aaliyah’s material offline) previously-unavailable Aaliyah music has materialized on iTunes and Apple Music. The 2005 career retrospective collection Ultimate Aaliyah is available to stream and download now, exclusively via both Apple services. (The album does not appear on Spotify or Tidal). The double-disc compilation consists of a selection of her biggest hits, with some loose tracks—contributions to film soundtracks, various features—appended at the end.
But it seems possible, if not likely, that this miraculous act of musical preservation may be a short-lived blessing. The album is listed with a sound recording copyright to “Craze Productions”—likely the same Craze Productions that was sued by music publishers Reservoir Media (in cahoots with Blackground Records co-founder and Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson) for posting One in a Million and Aaliyah to iTunes in 2013. Reservoir claimed that they had bought the rights to Aaliyah’s music (outside of her long-streamable 1994 Jive/BMG-released album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, to which Hankerson does not own the masters) in 2012, and that Craze had no claim to it.
The albums were eventually removed after litigation, adding to a list of past offenses for copyright infringement leveled against Craze Productions—these days, more primarily known as “Craze Digital”—a company that became notorious for getting their YouTube account shut down for posting non-copyright-attributed music and video and then suing YouTube/Google over unpaid ad revenue and slander, among other things. The London-based company’s website claims that they specialize in “distribution of digital audio and digital video via online stores and digital content platforms,” and own rights to a library of approximately 10,000 movies and 15,000 songs. They also appear to sell a highly illegal-sounding TV streaming tablet, apps and a TV “Dongle Android Box.”
Meanwhile, Reservoir Media’s music catalogue currently displays 95 Aaliyah songs, offering options to “Play” (free 90-second samples), “Download” (with a log-in) and submit a licensing request. The Ultimate collection itself is not posted there, though the songs drawn from other albums (i.e. almost all of them) are included in the listing.
The appearance of Ultimate raises a few questions, most notably: Is Craze provoking another suit, or has some odd new deal been struck? Neither Craze Digital or Reservoir Media have responded to requests for comment.
Update: On Thursday afternoon, the Ultimate Aaliyah collection was removed from iTunes and Apple Music. Rell Lafargue, Reservoir Media’s COO, spoke to Complex before it disappeared: “Our lawyers are handling it… I don’t think you’ll see it there long.”