Oh hey boat-rockers! (Is that a thing? No? OK, cool, let’s move on.) I’m Sam Lansky, and this is my column “Pop Think,” and the only thing on my mind this week is the posthumous release from the late R&B chanteuse Aaliyah, revered for the legacy she left as a trailblazer in R&B, hip-hop and electronica despite her tragic and untimely death in 2001. But now, more than a decade after her passing, a new posthumous release is in the works, spearheaded by her longtime fan, Drake, and one of the most cutting-edge producers in the game, Noah “40” Shebib.
And although Aaliyah’s had several posthumous releases in the past — 2002’s I Care 4 U went platinum — this album promises to be the first release of entirely new material since 2001. The first track from the album, the Drake-assisted song “Enough Said,” premiered this weekend. It’s a gorgeously spaced-out, ambient R&B track that suggests the upcoming album is going to make excellent use of the remaining recordings. The Princess of R&B may be gone, but this new release will just help reinforce her legacy as one of the industry’s finest talents.
Aaliyah in July 2001.
When Aaliyah died in a plane crash in 2001, her relatively brief career, marked by a density of rich talent and innovation that was virtually unparalleled, was tragically cut short. Mentored by Timbaland and Missy Elliott, she produced one brilliant single after another, including the iconic “Are You That Somebody?” with its eerie crying baby sample; the lush, sensuous “Rock the Boat”; and the slick, skittering “Try Again,” which earned Aaliyah her first and only No. 1 on the Hot 100. Her potential seemed endless.
Aaliyah’s sound was futuristic but consistently soulful, characterized by unexpected production elements that made her music more haunting than her counterparts. And notes of that breathy, electro R&B can still be heard in the songs that catapulted Timbaland to superstardom in the last decade, albeit in a more pumped-up, ultra-radio-friendly mode. But Aaliyah’s finest moments were always the silkiest, the most melancholy — which is why it makes perfect sense that Drake and 40 would be at the helm on this posthumous release.
Read more about why Drake and 40 are right for Aaliyah’s new album after the jump.
It’s not just because Aaliyah is Drake’s hero (he has her face tattooed on his back!), but because Drake might be the most likable bummed-out artist in the game, at his best when he’s meditating on the emptiness at the heart of excess and the challenges of intimacy. His go-to producer Noah “40” Shebib has helped him execute that, on the openly aspirational “Successful,” the withering “Houstatlantavegas” and the drunk-dial anthem “Marvin’s Room.” 40’s other work has been equally compelling. His work on Alicia Keys’ “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” was a masterpiece of trembling vulnerability, and he produced JoJo’s new single “Demonstrate,” which instantly became the most critically adored song of her career. Together, their passion for the project and sonic sensibilities are incredibly well-suited to handle Aaliyah’s album with the grace and respect she so deserves.
And despite reports that Timbaland was upset with Drake for forging ahead with this project without his and Missy’s involvement, Drake assured MuchMusic that won’t be the case: “We’re gonna pull in some classic people, like anybody who used to work with Aaliyah or that was essential in her career, we definitely hope to have them involved,” he said. I’m crossing my fingers that he sticks to his word, so this album sees all those folks working together to extend Aaliyah’s legacy even further. Her fans deserve it, and so does she.
Photo credit: D. Kambouris/ WireImage