After many years of speculation and bitter dispute over the rights to her legacy, new music from Aaliyah, the late R&B star from Detroit, is finally here.
Blackground Records 2.0, the revived version of the label started by her uncle and music mogul Barry Hankerson, dropped a new track titled “Poison” on Friday, featuring the popular Canadian singer The Weeknd.
You can listen to it below.
The track is reportedly from Unstoppable, a forthcoming posthumous album slated for early 2022.
“I’m so excited to share this new song by Aaliyah and the very talented The Weeknd,” Hankerson said in a statement. “I wanted her adoring fans to get a special gift before the holidays and felt it was the perfect time to release a never-before-heard offering.”
The singer died in a plane crash in the Bahamas 20 years ago in August. She was only 22, and left a vault of unreleased music that has been the subject of interest throughout the years.
Blackground released I Care 4 U in 2002, which included the singer’s greatest hits along with some unreleased tracks and demos. A decade later, Canadians Drake and Noah “40” Shebib were reportedly tapped by Hankerson to work on a posthumous album and released a track called “Enough Said,” but the project was opposed by Aaliyah’s family and was ultimately scrapped in 2014.
“[Aaliyah’s] mother saying, ‘I don’t want this out,’ was enough for me,” Shebib had previously told Rolling Stone. “I walked away very quickly.” Meanwhile, in 2013, Chris Brown released a track called “Don’t Think They Know” using previously recorded Aaliyah vocals, and even featured her in hologram form in the music video.
So here we are again, a decade later. “If at first you don’t succeed, you can dust yourself off and try again,” as Aaliyah sang.
For sure, in many ways, The Weeknd is a perfect artist to sign onto such a project. He’s at the top of his career, coming off a Super Bowl appearance earlier this year and scrapping a pandemic-postponed arena tour for an even bigger stadium tour in 2022. His airy falsetto is clearly inspired by Aaliyah, and he even sampled her “Rock the Boat” on his 2011 breakthrough mixtape House of Balloons.
But some fans aren’t feeling the new track, in which The Weeknd’s vocals appear to be far clearer than Aaliyah’s.
“Why does Aaliyah sound like she left The Weeknd a voicemail and he decided to record it himself ??? Fix it now!” the fan Twitter account @AaliyahLegion tweeted, adding, “The lyrics are beautiful. It’s just the mixing of the song that throws everyone off. My girl should NOT be sounding like she’s calling from a jail cell…”
“Honestly...this song had so much potential...*sigh*,” @AaliyahArchives, another fan Twitter account, posted. “I've listened to it using headphones, and it's blatant that the pitch is off. When you've been listening to #Aaliyah for decades, you just know her tone and range naturally.”
Others welcomed any new Aaliyah music, however. “i won’t lie, i’ll take any aaliyah music. any collaboration, any release,” @icarefouryou tweeted earlier this week. “i just want to hear babygirl’s voice.”
While writing this article, I found myself deleting phrases like “The Weeknd and Aaliyah collaborated” and “Aaliyah and The Weeknd duet.” It’s not a collaboration, because it goes one way. Aaliyah is dead.
That was a sticking point for writer Imani Mixon, who reflected upon Aaliyah’s legacy for Metro Times earlier this year.
“Even after Aaliyah’s passing, men have laid claim to her image and her legacy in a very forward, sometimes touching but always presumptively cringey manner,” Mixon wrote. “Listeners who weren’t even born when Aaliyah was around are likely to hear her name dropped from the lips of a male rapper or hear her voice in a posthumous, nonconsensual ‘feature’ or ‘collaboration’ before actually engaging with her catalog. As the conversation around consent and justice continues with a revised look at Y2K pop icons like Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, the lines get even more blurred (and intrusive) when we think about the future assumptions that male artists in particular have pushed on Aaliyah. This infinite loop of grieving, craving, and accessing Aaliyah is not exclusive to a handful of male artists; it permeates the culture and its commitment to nostalgia.”
She added, “You can liken the artists and producers in possession of Aaliyah’s posthumous releases and features to vintage collectors. Music industry folks thirsting for her unreleased gems desire the never-worn-with-tags version of her discography with minimum scratches, no wear, and no tear. In order for Aaliyah’s voice to call us back in time, it needs to sound just like it used to — in its purest, most untouched form before today’s artists twist and flip it into a chorus, refrain, or duet.”
The pattern of men inserting themselves into her music is even more problematic considering the reason for the rift between Aaliyah’s family and Hankerson — Aaliyah’s illegal marriage to singer R. Kelly, who Hankerson introduced to her, when she was only 15 and he was 27. Earlier this year, R. Kelly was convicted of sexual exploitation of a child, among other charges, and as part of the trial Aaliyah was officially identified in a federal courtroom as one of Kelly’s victims for the first time in history. The abuse occurred while they were working together on her debut, Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number.
For many years Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number was her only available music, until Blackground 2.0 finally released the rest of her critically acclaimed catalog to streaming services earlier this year. For the fans she already has and her future fans who haven’t heard her yet, it’s good that Aaliyah’s music is now more available than ever. But there are limits to the amount of access that fans crave. It seems that plenty would prefer to let Aaliyah rest.Stay connected with Detroit Metro Times. Subscribe to our newsletters, and follow us on Google News, Apple News, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit.