In early August, a new Aaliyah track hit the Internet, setting off a whirlwind of speculation about a posthumous Aaliyah album. The song -- "Enough Said," featuring Drake and produced by Noah "40" Shebib -- is the result of more than a year of negotiations between Aaliyah's label, Blackground Records, and independent publisher Reservoir Media.
Last month, Blackground forged a partnership with Reservoir, bringing its 500-song catalog to the boutique company. As part of the deal, Reservoir acquired the publishing for music and albums by Aaliyah, Timbaland, Magoo, JoJo, Tank and Static Major. Within a month, the companies set to work on an Aaliyah album and released "Enough Said," which racked up almost 600,000 listens on Soundcloud in less than a week's time. Though Aaliyah's immediate family appeared to have distanced themselves from initial reports of a posthumous album this spring, the project is moving forward in hopes of a release later this year.
Aaliyah's cousin Jomo Hankerson, who runs Blackground with his father, Barry Hankerson, says the label is using 16 songs and "fragments" to assemble an album of contemporary songs from the singer, who died in a plane crash in August 2001. He denies rumors that Drake will executive-produce the album, but says he'll have a hand in the project, which will also heavily feature production from Shebib. Aaliyah's longtime collaborators Missy Elliott and Timbaland, who declined to comment, will also participate.
Hankerson sees the album as a way to introduce Aaliyah to a younger demographic, as well as to appease fans who crave new and unreleased material.
"There's going to be a mixture of old and new on the project, but we're really trying to make a contemporary album that will stand up to everything that's out right now, and that will be a worthy representation of her musical legacy," Hankerson says. "The idea is to reintroduce her music to a new generation that maybe doesn't understand the influence that they're listening to in the music today. We just thought it was time."
Reservoir, founded in 2007, adds Blackground's archive to a catalog that includes top 40 hits from 50 Cent, Beyonce and Madonna. For Blackground, the benefits of partnering with Reservoir were clear. In June, Reservoir became one of the first independent music publishers to strike a content management deal with YouTube called Content ID, which will allow Blackground to claim revenue from original material and covers. The deal also allows for Reservoir to administer master and synch licenses, the latter often ignored with major-label deals. Additionally, Reservoir will service catalog albums to streaming services like Spotify, as well as online retailers like iTunes and Amazon, where many Blackground releases cannot be found.
"We've moved from distributor to distributor and it's hurt the digital side in terms of the albums," Hankerson says. "In the coming months, we're going to get all of the catalog records out. They're going to help us administrate the digital side and get the catalog records up on Spotify and iTunes. Not only for Aaliyah, but also for Timbaland and Magoo. We're going to roll out the Blackground catalog."
Reservoir executive VP Rell Lafargue says the opportunities in licensing Blackground's catalog are vast. "We'll be able to also take that and bring it to market as well. Whether that means TV, film, new covers -- there are a lot of things we plan to do," he says.
Blackground hopes to release a new Aaliyah album in the fourth quarter. The project will be executive-produced by Jomo and Barry Hankerson, though there's a possibility of adding another production credit to the LP. In the meantime, Reservoir has been fielding requests for sampling -- Dr. Dre has inquired about using Aaliyah's "Rock the Boat" for a track -- but the focus is on bringing the catalog back to life.
"Details will obviously come out as far as things develop, but we're a publishing partner first and foremost," Lafargue says. "We're also here to support Blackground for whatever promotion, via online and marketing, that they do."