Aaliyah's cousin, Jomo Hankerson, denies that Drake is contracted to executive produce the project.
Update (4:00 pm): Following publication of this article, Blackground reached out to Billboard.biz to officially confirm that Drake and Noah '40' Shebib will be co-executive producing the album alongside Blackground. The story has been changed to reflect the update.
Last week, a report claimed that a posthumous Aaliyah album was in the works and that Drake would executive produce the project. Additionally, the Young Money rapper was supposedly set to feature the late singer, who passed in August 2001, on his latest single.
Instead, this past Sunday (August 5th), Blackground released Aaliyah's "Enough Said" featuring Drake to Soundcloud. The ghostly cut touted previously unheard vocals, a smoldering beat from producer Noah "40" Shebib and a verse from Drake. Three hours after it was posted, the song racked up more than 100,000 clicks. As of press time, it has more than 620,000 listens.
The song ignited debates about the possible existence of a new Aaliyah LP. Many fans speculated that Aaliyah collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott would not be involved with the project. Some criticized the fact that Drake, who has continuously expressed his love for her music, would oversee an album when he had never actually met her. Aaliyah's brother Rashad Haughton posted an official statement on Facebook that her immediate family will not support this project, which Drake later countered by claiming that "everybody from her family to her old management and label" were behind the record. Billboard.biz reached out to Haughton but had not received a response as of press time.
Aaliyah's cousin Jomo Hankerson, who runs Blackground with his father Barry Hankerson, spoke with Billboard.biz about the posthumous release, confirming that an album is in fact in the works. Using 16 unreleased songs and "fragments" from Aaliyah's archive, Blackground hopes to release the LP by year's end, enlisting "contemporary artists" to color the project and help repackage her vocals. This marks the first release from the late singer since 2002's "I Care 4 U," a compilation album featuring previously heard and unheard recordings, and is intended to introduce her to younger listeners by updating her sound.
"We really felt like it was time. There's a real new generation that doesn't know her necessarily, and we wanted to continue her musical legacy with this new generation," explains Hankerson. "That's one of the reasons why we wanted to do very contemporary music. We didn't want to make it a nostalgic project; we already did that with the 'I Care 4 U' album. The idea was to release new music for her diehard fans, and also reintroduce her music to a new generation that doesn't really understand how much influence she has in the music that they're listening to today."
Hankerson denies that Drake is contracted to executive produce the project (he says that he and his father will executive produce the album, but that they are considering adding others to the fold), but says that he will appear on "more of the records" and that Shebib is "heavily involved" in reshaping the music. After moving its publishing to Reservoir Media in July, Blackground reached out to the Canadian producer on the strength of his work with Alicia Keys ("Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready)") and his unique sound. It seemed only "natural" that Drake would contribute to what would become "Enough Said." Blackground was so pleased with the result that they released the stream before having a marketing plan or radio strategy in place.
While the album is in the early stages, Hankerson confirms that Timbaland and Missy Elliott will participate in assembling the LP. "Timbaland will be involved with this project. One of the records that we had that was never released was a Missy record that we obviously are going to be refreshing," says Hankerson, who did not clarify if Timbaland has already produced songs for the project. "This record ['Enough Said'] really kind of came sooner than we thought it was going to come, so it's really the beginning of the creative process for us. We've got a record out while we're still creating the project. A lot of that is still up in the air, but I can tell you that Timbaland will definitely be involved, Missy will definitely be involved." Timbaland declined to comment for this story, while Elliott did not respond to Billboard.biz's request as of press time.
Reservoir Media Management EVP Rell Lafargue estimates that there is enough leftover material for two posthumous Aaliyah albums, while Hankerson says that approximation might be "a little premature." Talks between Blackground and Reservoir began roughly 15 months ago for the latter to acquire the 500-song catalog that includes Aaliyah's archives, music from Static Major and albums from JoJo, Timbaland, Magoo and Tank. As part of the deal, Reservoir, a boutique publishing company with top 40 hits from 50 Cent, Madonna and Justin Timberlake, will market Aaliyah's music to television and film, as well as release songs to online services like iTunes and Spotify where much of her music cannot be currently found. Additionally, the company will assist with licensing of songs for covers and sampling (Lafargue notes that there are talks of Dr. Dre sampling "Rock the Boat" for a new song).
"Part of taking new music to market is to release old music as well in different forms. There are tons of old interviews, video, things that were shot before her passing will be part of any and all repackaging. There are alternate takes and different remixes that never got released," says Lafargue. "The one thing that was just confirmed, the demand, was Aaliyah's 10-year anniversary of her passing. The ratings on the BET special were huge for that network and there's a demand for it. I believe that we recognize the demand and want to give her fans what they want."