Today (July 17) marks 17 years since R&B legend Aaliyah released her final studio album, the self-titled magnum opus Aaliyah, here in the United States. The album has proved to be an ongoing source of influence for many musicians, both in R&B and other genres, to study, emulate and ultimately pay homage to an artist that was set up to be our future pop queen before her untimely passing a month after the album was released.
In the years since it dropped, you’d be forgiven if you either don’t own it or, quite frankly, don’t know any songs off the album. The reason? It’s been missing from the digital sphere since her label, Blackground Records, went under the radar in 2009 after the label’s last release, Timbaland Presents Shock Value II. Reasons for why this is so have ranged from the label head, Barry Hankerson, trying to protect his niece’s legacy all the way to him just wanting the biggest bite for his platinum-selling roster of albums. Either way, we want to hear some of these amazing albums in the vault — now!
Take a look below at Aaliyah and 15 other albums Blackground Records is holding hostage, including majority of Baby Girl’s discography and albums from Timbaland, JoJo, Tank, Toni Braxton, and more:
Aaliyah, One in a Million (1996)
You can’t even discuss ’90s R&B without mentioning this album, yet it’s nowhere to be found on any streaming platforms or as physical copies. One In a Million was where Aaliyah really formed a sound for herself, with props to Timbaland and Missy Elliott for mixing in that futuristic vibe with the mid-90s hip-hop soul that already existed on the other half of the project. 20+ years later and the album’s title still rings true.
Timbaland & Magoo, Welcome to Our World (1997)
With the success of One in a Million during the 96-97 year, everyone wanted that Timbaland sound. Timbo always knew he had something unique, so most of the production either stayed in-house — Aaliyah, Missy, Ginuwine, R&B trio Playa — or ended up on his own projects, like his debut joint album alongside Magoo. From front to back, the album goes through the gamut of Timbaland’s massive ear for eclectic sounds. The fam-only lineup of features help to bring the tracks together, but the beats are where the soul of these records are.
Timbaland, Tim’s Bio: Life from da Bassment (1998)
Timbaland’s clout only got bigger as the year went on. By 1998, he had given Aaliyah her biggest record at that time, the game-changing summer smash “Are You That Somebody?,” and was setting Jay-Z up with the “Jigga What, Jigga Who (Originator 99)” instrumental that would go on to create a long-lasting producer/rapper relationship for years on after. His official debut album, Tim’s Bio: Life from da Bassment, didn’t exactly prove he was a dope MC in the vain of his partner in rhyme Missy Elliott, but it really let us know that this guy knows production like his life depended on it. Innovation like this didn’t exist in music before Timbaland, and hasn’t in the same way since.
Various Artists, Romeo Must Die: The Album (2000)
2000 was the year that Aaliyah really started flexing her power as a triple threat, or as she told MTV Diary in 2001, a “full-on entertainer.” A number one record, making a Hollywood debut with Romeo Must Die, and filming the next one (Queen of the Damned) by summer’s end was all in a year’s work. Similar to the way Kendrick Lamar spearheaded the Black Panther soundtrack to perfection earlier this year, Aaliyah and Timbaland did the same for the Romeo Must Die album. The featured artists, including Destiny’s Child, Lil Mo, DMX and Joe, were all selected by Baby Girl, and Timb gave them his midas touch on the production end to create a platinum-selling project. “Rose In A Concrete Word” is still one of Joe’s smoothest deep cuts.
Tank, Force of Nature (2001)
Tank’s debut came after years of playing the role of background singer to Ginuwine and Aaliyah while on tour, and with this record he proved that he had what it took to stand center stage. While he never exactly broke out during this era where Usher and R. Kelly were dominating the R&B male category, he always had a crazy pen game that kept him busy behind the scenes. Either way, the album still topped the R&B charts and gave us this smooth record.
Aaliyah, Aaliyah (2001)
As we celebrate the 17 years since this record was released, it’s always comforting to know that Aaliyah transitioned on after dropping what is still considered to be one of the pioneering soul records from the early 2000s, helping to shape the sound of what R&B is today. Even before her death that record was hot, which was probably the reason the “Rock The Boat” video was being pushed so hard after the single started climbing the R&B airplay charts at the same rate as her former airplay-only chart-topper “Try Again.” It’s a shame she never got to see this one out.
Timbaland & Magoo, Indecent Proposal (2001)
Aaliyah’s death affected the rollout for this record for sure, as Timbaland admitted himself that he went through an immediate phase of depression, but the music itself is pretty on-point with what Timbo was always known for bringing us. Thankfully, the popularity of the album’s Fatman Scoop-led single “Drop” was revived in the B2K dance flick You Got Served in 2004.
Tank, One Man (2002)
Tank kept the same momentum going from his first album for the follow-up, but with no concrete single and promo to assist, the album kind of fell by the wayside. It still sounds as good as any R&B record released in 2002 though, and it proved to be a stepping stone for Tank to achieve much greater years later.
Aaliyah, I Care 4 U (2002)
Released in tribute to the R&B star a little over a year after her passing, I Care 4 U was led by the previously-unreleased “Miss You” which as history goes was originally a Ginuwine record to be released on his 1999 album 100% Ginuwine. It was nice to hear unheard vocals from the singer after a year of holding on to past records like “At Your Best” and the unintentionally-somber “Rock the Boat,” and the star-filled music video made the moment feel even greater. The only thing that would’ve made this album perfect is if they somehow could’ve included the Jay-Z “Miss You” remix.
Timbaland & Magoo, Under Construction Part II (2003)
Around this time, Timbaland was experimenting with a lot of Indian-influenced beats, something along the lines of Bhangra meets boom bap. It started in doses with the likes of “Big Pimpin” in 2000, “We Need a Resolution” in 2001 and “Oops (Oh My)” in 2002, but on this album he really got to show off his international ear. Tracks like “Indian Flute” were pretty dead-on for what he was trying to accomplish, but the “Cop That Sh*t” single incorporated the sound in ways that were subtle without losing the Hip-Hop edge.
JoJo, JoJo (2004)
In a sense, JoJo was brought on to hold down the torch at Blackground Records that Aaliyah left behind as their sole pop princess. Similar to Baby Girl’s 1994 debut at the age of 15, JoJo, then 13, released her debut in 2004 led by the massive pop hit “Leave (Get Out).” She also sang about young love and being a teen with strong emotions, so the legacy being passed on felt more respectful instead of feeling like a replacement. On top of everything, young Jo can sing!
Toni Braxton, Libra (2005)
It’s still confusing as to why this union never worked out. Toni Braxton had been managed for years by Barry Hankerson even before signing a recording contract, and she was considered (and still is!) to be a R&B pioneer. Unfortunately, this project was shrouded in lawsuits, manager woes, personal jabs and ultimately an album that both parties involved probably never want to see again.
Aaliyah, Ultimate Aaliyah (2005)
This UK-only release from 2005 caused a bit of a stir not too long ago when it topped the iTunes Hip-Hop charts after being illegally uploaded for purchases and streaming. Even though it was taken down shortly after, it created both a buzz and digital news fodder that proved just how much people want to hear her music again. Hopefully soon, and for real this time!
JoJo, The High Road (2006)
It’s crazy to think that for a while, this was the last album that JoJo put out. It wasn’t for lack of trying; she got caught up in an decade-spanning ugly battle with Blackground Records for her freedom as an artist. Whether or not it’s too little too late for her to have a second shot in the game has yet to be seen, but with pipes like that we’re sure there’ll always be a place in R&B for JoJo.
Ashley Parker Angel, Soundtrack to Your Life (2006)
This was an interesting turn for Blackground Records, but it showed that they were, at least at one point, serious about building a roster that crossed all genres. The former O-Town band member went solo and went rock, which didn’t sound too bad if you’re into alternative rock of the 2000s. Knowing that Aaliyah was a rock fan herself, evident on tracks like “I Can Be” and “What If” off her final album, it would’ve been interesting to see the R&B/rock element between these two musicians collide for a song or two.
Tank, Sex, Love & Pain (2007)
As one of the last Blackground Records recordings, Tank really sent the label off on a high note. The song “Please Don’t Go” was on every R&B playlist at the time, and probably would’ve become a social media challenge if Instagram was lit in 2007. One thing you can always say for Tank is that he always kept with a consistent contemporary R&B vibe, no matter how X-rated his lyrics can get.
Aaliyah (feat. Drake) – “Enough Said” (2012)
Looking back six years later, it’s quite possible that people were a bit too hard on Drake and 40 for producing this record. Yeah, it was wild that Drizzy thought he had built up enough cred at the time to produce an entire posthumous Aaliyah album, but there was something really nice about hearing a new Aaliyah record years after we thought nothing else existed in the vault. To find out now that there’s over two album’s worth of unheard stuff sounds promising, but it needs to be done, distributed and released the right way. Do better, Blackground.