It's the reissue announcement a generation wanted but nobody expected - and it's honestly hard to parse how to feel about it: Blackground Records will release its long out-of-print catalogue, including albums by the late R&B singer Aaliyah.
Record producer Barry Hankerson started Blackground in the '90s as a vehicle to score his niece, Aaliyah Haughton, a record deal. After years of being turned down, Jive Records signed the 15-year-old singer, and debut Age Ain't Nothing But a Number spun off the Top 10 hits "Back & Forth" and a cover of The Isley Brothers' "At Your Best (You Are Love)." (Haughton later left the label amid allegations that the album's producer, R. Kelly, had illegally married her and annulled the union; Kelly has been accused of similar behavior through his entire career and awaits sentencing later this year on 22 criminal charges including child sexual exploitation.)
The singer bounced back from the controversy, teaming up with a raft of talented producers (including up-and-comers Timbaland and Missy Elliott) for follow-up One in a Million (1996). Third album Aaliyah (2001) topped the Billboard 200, and Aaliyah found a larger audience on soundtracks, including an Eddie Murphy-led remake of Dr. Doolittle ("Are You That Somebody?") and Romeo Must Die, in which she co-starred (that soundtrack's "Try Again" remains her biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100). Blackground in turn secured deals with first Atlantic and then Virgin, retaining their own recording rights and releasing records by Timbaland (with rapper Magoo) and R&B singer Tank.
Immense tragedy struck in the summer of 2001, when an overloaded twin-engine plane carrying Aaliyah and seven other passengers crashed in the Bahamas, killing everyone onboard. The singer was only 22. A posthumous collection, I Care 4 U, featuring hits and unreleased material, was released in 2002 as part of a new deal with Universal Records, and Blackground kept attracting talent, both established (Toni Braxton's sixth album, 2005's Libra) and up-and-coming (teen rocker Ashley Parker Angel, formerly of boy band O-Town; big-voiced pop singer JoJo, whose "Leave (Get Out)" topped Billboard's Pop Singles chart when she was only 13).
But things didn't get easier for Blackground and Hankerson; the label's distribution deals dissolved, artists moved heaven and earth to extricate themselves from their contracts, and Aaliyah's estate began vocally opposing a potential album of outtakes assembled by and featuring Drake and producer Noah "40" Shebib. (One ill-received single was issued in 2012.) Meanwhile, none of the 17 or so albums Blackground issued were legally available, either physically or digitally. (JoJo, now signed to Atlantic, ended up re-recording her two albums entirely in 2018; Aaliyah's estate indicated that detentes were close to being reached in 2020 and early 2021.)
The situation looks ready to change with the announcement that Blackground struck a deal with independent distributor EMPIRE - known primarily for one-off deals with up-and-coming rappers like Kendrick Lamar and XXXTentacion - for digital and physical releases beginning this month. Aaliyah's estate has expressed frustration with Blackground as recently as this week - telling Billboard they have not gotten proper financial accounting requested for some time - but seem to be, if not exactly endorsing the announcement, not ready to put the kibosh on it.
Thus, the digital roll-out for all the titles is as follows:
August 20: On the Friday before the 20th anniversary of Aaliyah's passing, her second album One in a Million will come to streaming. It features the Top 10 hit "The One I Gave My Heart To."
August 27: A week later, Timbaland & Magoo's three studio albums - Welcome to Our World (1997), Indecent Proposal (2001) and Under Construction, Part II (2003) - will be made available, as will Tim's first solo album Tim's Bio (1998). Like the producer's later albums - which Blackground does not control - Tim's Bio is heavy on guest appearances, including Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Nas and, for the first time on any recording, Dirty South rapper Ludacris.
September 3: The third Friday in the roll-out is devoted to two Blackground soundtracks: Romeo Must Die (2000) and Exit Wounds (200), both action films starring martial artist Jet Li. In addition to Aaliyah's chart-topping "Try Again," these albums feature rare tracks by the late rapper DMX, Destiny's Child, Nas, Ginuwine and more.
September 10: It's back to Aaliyah with the digital release of her self-titled effort - her third and final album, featuring the hits "More Than a Woman" and "Rock the Boat."
September 17: The fifth week in Blackground's rollout is devoted to the work of Tank, a former background singer for Ginuwine whose first three albums were all Top 5 hits on Billboard's R&B charts.
September 24: The label next turns to its pop efforts: two albums by JoJo (featuring hits like "Leave (Get Out)" and "Too Little, Too Late") and one rock effort by Ashley Parker Angel (featuring production by pop legend Max Martin).
October 1: Just one album this week: Toni Braxton's Libra, her sixth album (and fourth Top 10).
October 8: The Blackground catalogue completes with a pair of Aaliyah compilations. 2002's posthumous I Care 4 U was a greatest hits album with some new songs (like the Top 5 hit "Miss U"), while 2005's Ultimate Aaliyah, available only in Europe, was a double-disc hits collection with a few rarities sprinkled in for good measure.
As for physical releases, CDs for all titles are slated to ship around the digital release dates. Vinyl will be available for all titles from March to June 2022, with exclusive D2C color splatter vinyl variants prepared for One in a Million and Aaliyah. (Merch bundles will be available for those albums as well - featuring CD copies with a sticker and t-shirt.) Cassettes of One in a Million, Aaliyah and Timbaland & Magoo's Welcome to Our World and Under Construction Part II will also be available. (Clicking on the drop-down menus in each link below will reveal each type of format, including MP3 and lossless digital downloads.)
This is all a very sudden turn of events, and given the sensitivity around this music - not to mention the demand for it - over the last few decades, it's bound to remain a hot topic through the next few months. Pre-order links are below, and we will update this story as more information is made available.
Timbaland & Magoo, Welcome to Our World (originally released as Blackground/Atlantic 92772, 1997 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Timbaland, Tim's Bio: From the Motion Picture "Life from Da Bassment" (originally released as Blackground/Virgin 72438 10775 2 8, 1998 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Various Artists, Romeo Must Die: The Album (originally released as Blackground/Virgin 72438 49052 2 4, 2000 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Tank, Force of Nature (originally released as Blackground/Virgin 72438 50404 2 9, 2001 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Various Artists, Exit Wounds: The Album (originally released as Blackground/Virgin 72438 10192 2 1, 2001 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Timbaland & Magoo, Indecent Proposal (originally released as Blackground/Virgin 72438 10946 2 4, 2001 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Tank, One Man (originally released as Blackground/Universal 440 064 692-2, 2002 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Aaliyah, I Care 4 U (originally released as Blackground/Universal 440 060 097-2, 2002 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Timbaland & Magoo, Under Construction Part II (originally released as Blackground/Universal B0001185-02, 2003 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
JoJo, JoJo (originally released as Blackground/Universal/daFamily B0002672-02, 2004 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Aaliyah, Ultimate Aaliyah (originally released as Blackground SMDCD581, 2005 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Toni Braxton, Libra (originally released as Blackground/Universal B0005441-02, 2005 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Ashley Parker Angel, Soundtrack to Your Life (originally released as Blackground/Universal B0006474-02, 2006 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
JoJo, The High Road (originally released as Blackground/Universal/daFamily B0007500-02, 2006 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)
Tank, Sex Love & Pain (originally released as Blackground/Universal B0008982-02, 2007 - reissued Blackground/EMPIRE, 2021)