FADER Explains: The New Aaliyah Album

August 09, 2012

After a swirl of rumors, deleted tweets, a new Aaliyah single featuring Drake and finally, a confirmation from Aaliyah's record label, it looks like a new, posthumous Aaliyah album will be released by year's end. So who's involved, and who's not? We've collected everything we know so far. For more on Aaliyah's life and music, read the oral history from FADER's 2008 Aaliyah Icon Issue, featuring stories from Missy Elliott, Dame Dash, Aaliyah's BFF Kidada Jones, her uncle Barry Hankerson and her cousin Jomo Hankerson.

There's a new Aaliyah album?
Yes. In March, producer Jefferey J-Dub Walker sparked rumors that a posthumous Aaliyah album was in the works when he wrote, in a since-deleted tweet, that "Steady Ground," a song he produced for Aaliyah, would appear on "her upcoming album." A new single called called "Enough Said" was released last week, featuring never-before-heard Aaliyah vocals, a Drake guest spot and production by longtime Drake collaborator Noah "40" Shebib. Today, Aaliyah's cousin Jomo Hankerson told Billboard that the album is definitely happening. Hankerson said the project is still in the works, and will feature 16 unreleased songs, "contemporary artists" and archival "fragments." "We really felt like it was time," he said. "We didn't want to make it a nostalgic project…The idea was to release new music for her diehard fans, and also to reintroduce her music to a new generation that doesn't really understand how much influence she has."

And Drake is executive producing it?
Yes. In March, when Drake told British DJ Tim Westwood that there was some "great Aaliyah news coming soon." On August 1st, HipHopDX reported that Drake was "at the helm" of a new Aaliyah album. Last Sunday, Drake confirmed he's involved, telling Much Music, "'Enough Said' [is] off of an Aaliyah project that me and 40 are commanding…40's doing some incredible music right now, so to get 13-14 new Aaliyah songs, I mean, everybody should be excited." Aaliyah's cousin Jomo Hankerson confirms that 40 is "heavily involved" in the project, and that both 40 and Drake will be billed as co-executive producers, along with Barry and Jomo Hankerson.

What's Drake's deal with Aaliyah, anyway?
He's adored her, very publicly, throughout his career. He has two Aaliyah tribute tattoos: One on his back depicts her face, and another on his ribs references her birthday, January 16th. Thank Me Later’s "Unforgettable" sampled Aaliyah's "At Your Best (You Are Love)," and Drake credited his success to Aaliyah on Take Care track "We'll be Fine." In 2010, on the ninth anniversary of her passing, Drake published a public letter to Aaliyah (he referred to her using her government name, Dana) on Rap Radar. He sweats the small stuff, too; the earpieces he wears on stage have her face on them. In a 2011 interview with SoulCulture, he explained how he built his musical identity and career strategy in her image:

When I started singing I needed something to reference, I needed someone to be like, I wanna be like that…I found comfort in all of Aaliyah's music; her melody choices and the things that she talks about and how she always conveyed these amazing emotions but never got too sappy.

What about Timbaland and Missy? Are they involved in the new album?
Yes. In an April interview with New York's Power 105.1, Timbaland clearly expressed his wish to be a part of the project. Responding to reports that Drake was taking charge, Timbaland said, "The proper way for him to do that would be for me, him and Missy to be all on the record. The best decision, what the fans would want to see is all three of us. It can't be something to make money off of cause I think it's wrong to make money off the dead." Now, Miss Info reports Timbaland worked on two songs, and Drake said that he and 40 have solicited help from "classic people, anybody who used to work with Aaliyah or was essential in her career." Jomo Hankerson confirms that both Timbaland and Missy are "definitely involved."

Who's releasing this thing?
Though there's been no official announcement, it's likely the album will be released by Blackground records, the label run by Aaliyah's uncle and former manager Barry Hankerson and cousin Jomo Hankerson, which released her albums, as well as two posthumous Aaliyah records, 2002's I Care 4 U and 2005's Ultimate Aaliyah compilation. The art that accompanied "Enough Said" bore Blackground's logo, and they uploaded it to Soundcloud. The label thanked Drake for his work on Twitter and posted a Photoshopped picture of Drake snuggling up to Aaliyah on their official Facebook page. Blackground also recently released JoJo's new single, "Demonstrate," which, like "Enough Said," was produced by Noah "40" Shebib.

How does Aaliyah's family feel about all of this?
Hard to say. When news of a posthumous Aaliyah album surfaced in March, Aaliyah's brother Rashad Haughton said her family would not be involved. "There is no official album being released and supported by the Haughton family," he said in a statement posted to his private Twitter account. That statement was re-posted verbatim to Aaliyah's Facebook page on August 6th, the morning after "Enough Said" was released, leading to a number of reports that the family didn't condone the album. Responding to the confusion, a spokesman for Blackground records told Miss Info, "it's family stuff that we're working through now, but Aaliyah's mother wanted us to do this." Drake thinks Aaliyah's family is definitely on board. He says he's honored that, "everybody from her family to her old management and label were just like, If there's anybody out that can do it right now, it's [Drake] and 40."

So when does the album drop?
Sometime in 2012, according to Jomo Hankerson as well as Drake, who says, "You get a new Aaliyah album this year on top of everything."

FADER Explains: The New Aaliyah Album