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De La Soul and Aaliyah: Black Legacies In the Age of Streaming

By Stereo Williams

Music fans are understandably excited.

Two of the most beloved acts of the 1990s/2000s, De La Soul and Aaliyah finally arriving on streaming platforms means a lot to those who grew up with these artists. It's also being celebrated as a chance to expose a new generation to two great acts whose work they may have only marginally heard up until now.

In an Instagram live, Dave aka Trugoy the Dove of De La Soul shared: “We have come to a deal between ourselves and Reservoir to release our music in 2021 — our catalog will be released this year, we are working diligently with the good folks at Reservoir, and we sat down with them and got it done pretty quickly actually. Our music will be released in 2021 on all streaming platforms…we’re trying to get the whole catalog out there. It’ll take a minute…little minute… November.”

Since her tragic 2001 death, Aaliyah has loomed large as a cultural figure. Even without her music on major streaming platforms, the "One In A Million" singer's legacy has remained intact:  she influenced an entire generation of artists like Kehlani and Jhene Aiko; her story was adapted into a Lifetime movie; and her image remains one of the most iconic amongst stars of her era. From 1994 to 2001, Aaliyah carved out a mark in popular culture that hasn't wavered. Adding her music to streaming only amplifies her standing. And gives newer fans some much-needed context for all that reverence. 

Aaliyah's One In A Million album, in particular, stands as the first major hit project from hitmaking duo of Missy Elliott and Timbaland. It's an important album in 90s R&B, urban music overall, and in cementing Aaliyah's legacy. Her eponymous 2001 follow-up stands as her last official release and evidence of her maturation as an artist, while also providing a template that would influence the aforementioned generations. This is music that needs to be heard by the masses, even with Aaliyah's cultural omnipresence showing no signs of waning. Sometimes it's good to have an easy reference for why an artist is significant. 

In the case of De La Soul, they saw their commercial standing slide in the early 2000s, despite consistent critical acclaim. They are the longest running act in the Native Tongues collective, and while their "Golden Age" music was more visible and commercially successful, it was their latter years that cemented De La as torchbearers for both quirky, "alt-rap" sensibilities and for a certain kind of Hip-Hop traditionalism devoted to a spirit of creativity. Pos, Dave and Maseo have been doing dope shit for more than 30 years, and in the post-Y2K musical landscape, scored high-profile successes (like "Feel Good, Inc.," their chart-smashing collaboration with Gorillaz.)

De La Soul and Aaliyah may seem to sit on opposite sides of our cultural consciousness, but their legacies have been more parallel as two of the most high-profile Black musical acts who aren't on most streaming platforms.

With their impending return to Spotify, TIDAL, etc. it helps affirm the greatness of classic artists by making them readily accessible to young fans who only know such platforms as the source for music. One of the most unfortunate casualties of the streaming era is the way so many older Hip-Hop and R&B artists haven't had catalogs on streaming or they're still battling for the rights to music that publishing companies and record labels have held. Anita Baker's music remains off of streaming because of her battle for the rights. 

Prince is a famous artist who had reservations about putting his material across such platforms. He signed a deal with TIDAL, but expressed apprehension about streaming. In the wake of his 2016 death, the legendary artists catalog has been available virtually everywhere. The fans can hear his work, but there is conflict over whether or not this was the way he wanted them to gain access to it. It's an uncomfortable situation for anyone who claims to love an artist. 

“Baby Girl is coming to Spotify,” Spotify announced on Twitter, with a picture of Aaliyah. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

Aaliyah and De La Soul are two artists who deserve to be heard. But its a complicated fight; one that stretches between artists, ownership and easy access for fans to hear those artists. We want our favorites to be readily available, but not the expense of respect and compensation.