Aaliyah’s posthumous album needs female features
Image source: Getty/NY Daily News Archive
The concept of a posthumous album has always seemed like an overkill to me — it’s beyond the conceptual and creative control of the artist. On the other hand, a body of posthumous works bridges the gap between nostalgic listening to older music and craving new music reminiscent of the good old days. It also feels like a glimpse into an artist’s life that was meant to be a secret, and let’s face it: we’re all snoopers. Aaliyah’s posthumous album unstoppable, however, bothers me. The entertainer, dubbed the princess of R&B, helped pave the way for Normani, HER, SZA, Summer Walker, Teyana Taylor, Tinashe and It girls to come. She is an inspiration, drawing inspiration from talents such as Sade, Janet Jackson, En Vogue, Whitney Houston, and more. She embodied femininity.
And even, unstoppable has only male characteristics – many of whom have had problematic relationships with women. Chris Brown, Drake and Future are on unstoppable, and while the trio can ring well together with Aaliyah they feel disgusting. The Weeknd, Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg and Timbaland are also on the album; The Weeknd’s feature has already encountered some production quality backlash, but the last three make sense to me. Only time will tell.
The involvement of these female rappers makes the album’s feminist title ironic in the worst possible way.
Aaliyah’s former manager, Background Records founder Barry Hankerson said Billboard that the R&B princess “would love to get along with the current stars of the industry she cares about so much.” I imagine she would also like to get along with the powerful female leaders of R&B right now. Hankerson added, “Some of the people Aaliyah loved are on the album. She loved Snoop Dogg, who made a great record working with Future. Now they’re going to brush up on their voices. Ne-Yo gave us a great song. “; also Drake. Timbaland produced the track Chris Brown did. It’s vintage R&B with strong vocals.” That, again, makes me want to scream. “Vintage R&B with strong vocals” done right wouldn’t result in a male-dominated album.
The involvement of these female rappers makes the album’s feminist title ironic in the worst possible way. Before his death at 22 in 2001, the artist’s “mentorship” under convicted sex trafficker R. Kelly had cast a dark cloud over his career. As a mentor – and primary songwriter and producer of his debut album, Age is just a number — R. Kelly pulled a degree from Aaliyah’s agency. The disgraced singer also had a short-lived illegal marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15 and he was 27. After the annulment of the marriage at the request of Aaliyah’s family, Hankerson went on to take on a more dominant role in his career. Aaliyah’s career, in short, always seems to be exploited by men.
His agency was compromised even after his death, as the label executive and owner of his music catalog refused to release his music, except for his 1994 debut, on streaming services. “Apart from that debut album, virtually all of the rest of its catalog, including many never-before-released tracks, has been inexplicably hidden from the public by Blackground Records. Aaliyah’s Estate has always been willing to share Aaliyah’s musical legacy. Aaliyah, but was met with conflict and a gross lack of transparency,” said Paul LiCalsi, attorney for Aaliyah’s estate. People in August 2020 after the revelation that his albums ΛΛLIYΛH, I care about 4 U, and Ultimate Aaliyah would debut on Spotify. Around the 20th anniversary of his death, Hankerson revealed he would release the music through Blackground Records 2.0 and EMPIRE – a decision made without communication with Aaliyah’s estate. Its field shared a statement on Twitter starting with #IStandWithAaliyah, stating their frustration with Hankerson for using “shady tactics with unauthorized projects [targeted] tarnish.” Missy Elliott, who has also mentored and collaborated with Aaliyah, retweeted the statement, per Fork.
I also agree with Aaliyah. And I hope that one day his new music will be presented and recommended by women.