Image source: Getty/NY Daily News Archive
The concept of a posthumous album has always felt somewhat exploitative to me – it’s beyond the artist’s conceptual and creative control. On the other hand, a posthumous body of work bridges the gap between nostalgic listening to older music and longing for new music reminiscent of the good old days. It also feels like a peek into an artist’s life that was meant to be a secret, and let’s face it, we’re all curious. Aaliyah’s posthumous album unstoppable, however, bothers me. The artist, also known as the Princess of R&B, helped pave the way for the arrival of Normani, HER, SZA, Summer Walker, Teyana Taylor, Tinashe and It girls. She is an inspiration, influenced by talents such as Sade, Janet Jackson, En Vogue, Whitney Houston and more. She embodied femininity.
And yet, unstoppable has only masculine features – many of whom have had problematic relationships with women. Chris Brown, Drake and Future are on unstoppable, and while the trio might sound nice in combination with Aaliyah, they feel dirty. The Weeknd, Ne-Yo, Snoop Dogg, and Timbaland are also featured on the album; The Weeknd’s feature has already gotten a response on production quality, but the last three make sense to me. Time will tell.
The involvement of these 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 princess of R&B “would love to join the current stars of the industry she cared about so much.” I imagine she would also love to hear herself next to the powerful leading women in R&B right now. Hankerson added: “Some of the people that Aaliyah liked are on the album. She loved Snoop Dogg, who did a great record in collaboration with Future. They’re going in now to brush up on their vocals. “Ne-Yo gave us an excellent song, Drake too. Timbaland produced the song Chris Brown did. It’s vintage R&B with strong vocals.” This makes me want to scream again.” Vintage R&B with strong vocals” done right wouldn’t result in a male dominated album.
The involvement of these rappers makes the album’s feminist title ironic in the worst possible way. Before her death at age 22 in 2001, the artist’s “mentorship” under convicted sex trafficker R. Kelly had cast a dark cloud over her career. As her mentor – and the primary songwriter and producer of her debut album, Age is nothing but a number — R. Kelly has taken away some of Aaliyah’s agency. The disgraced singer also had a brief illegal marriage to Aaliyah when she was 15 and he 27. After the marriage was annulled at the request of Aaliyah’s family, Hankerson took on a more dominant role in her career. In short, Aaliyah’s career always seems to be exploited by men.
Her agency was endangered even after death, as the label manager and owner of her music catalog refused to release her music on streaming services, except for her 1994 debut. “Except for that first album, virtually the entire rest of her catalog, including many unreleased tracks, has been inexplicably withheld from the public by Blackground Records. Aaliyah’s Estate has always been willing to share Aaliyah’s musical legacy, but has encountered controversy and a great lack of transparency,” said Paul LiCalsi, a lawyer for Aaliyah’s estate. People in August 2020 after revealing that her albums LIYΛH, I care about 4 U, and Ultimate Aaliyah would debut on Spotify. Around the 20th anniversary of her death, Hankerson revealed that he would be releasing the music under the labels Blackground Records 2.0 and EMPIRE – a decision made without communication with Aaliyah’s estate. her estate shared a statement on Twitter, starting with #IStandWithAaliyah, expressing their frustration with Hankerson for using “shady tactics with unauthorized projects [targeted] tarnish.” Missy Elliott, who also mentored and worked with Aaliyah, retweeted the statement, per Pitchfork.
I also support Aaliyah. And I hope that one day her new music will come out and be advised by women.