Aaliyah: Dead Or Alive
She’s first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of edgy producers everywhere. On any list of superstars stopped short or just of babes with voices, Aaliyah also comes first alphabetically by a marvelous coincidence that might be called the Hank Aaron Principle. She was the Rory Gilmore of RnB who escaped the clutches of R. Kelly, joined Timbaland in one of the most inspired collaborations in the history of pop, and died way too early. And she’s back in a way that’s got the trolls trolling and the RTs rolling.
Ever since the return of ripped-jeans RnB to tasty blogs and dancefloors, in studios and on laptops, Aaliyah’s BOW has been nipped, tucked, and referenced by the hottest names in music, to the point of inevitable backlash. The tenth anniversary of her death last February brought a multitude of #babygirl tweets and retrospectives, none of which prefigured the Tupac hologram and its attendant lamesourcing. Hip-hop, we discovered that night at Coachella, finally has enough history to start eating it, and Aaliyah’s been both bread and cake to the same necrophiliacs who consider Dilla the greatest gadfly since Plato.
On Sunday night the wheelchair-vacating, troposphere-dwelling rap boss Drake upped a found Aaliyah vocal to his blog. He came by it via some strange alchemy or straight-up stole it, being in either case a sort of self-appointed executor of the late starlet’s estate. He rhymes grousily, like he do, over a beat by 40 that doesn’t bring the house down so much as it rocks the house gently, like a widdle bb. Aaliyah, because the rest of us are still alive, sounds amazing. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already shaped an opinion based on your fidelity to Aaliyah, Drake, or Timbaland, INPO. If you’re part of the early consensus, you probably disapprove.
Drake is a sensitive dude—he’s renowned for it. He has Aaliyah tattoos on his person and has spoken rather fiendishly about his devotion to her, which makes for sparkling copy except that if she were alive you know he’d just be fucking her. No disrespect to Rihanna but it’s like the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson. Drake really wishes he could fuck Aaliyah and that’s why this proposed project, further stylizing a demigoddess into some kind of superrelevancy, goes a meme too far. If he’s not playing her legacy, he’s at least playing too loose with it. And it’s insensitive.
If he hadn’t gone the full Yamaha and put her actual face on his actual back, none of it would be so disconcerting. Or if Enough Said were one-quarter as good as Yamaha, even. He had one shot at this, at getting us on board, and he blew it with some half-ass shade at Chris Brown, his Rihanna-ex bête noire. At least that’s what the pros are calling lines like “Selling under 150 you niggas gotta be kidding/Is this even still a discussion?” Could it be any clearer how hot Drizzy is for a dead chick?
Timbaland and Missy Elliott cautioned Drake against doing this without including them, probably less because they consider themselves caretakers and more because they know how easily Drake, the EZT-loopiest star around, can stray from reality. The more he works with the Aaliyah demos, the more he’s likely to start mistaking them for a bunch of bespoke interfaces with his own private identity. What the internet at large is dealing with right now, that a pulsar like Drake plus a dryad like Aaliyah maybe doesn’t make any changey arithmetic, is what Tim saw coming when he said the following: “To put it on his (Drake’s) record or whatever, however it be, it would just not be right.”
Cult beat-artist Flying Lotus tweeted a passy-aggressy diss Monday, comparing 40’s beat to his (FlyLo’s) “first beat in reason” and adding “real shit.. when I’m dead, don’t mess with my music. Don’t be having whoever ‘finish’ my demos n shit. fuck all that” (sic). Is this the most resourceful response to the notion of posthumous carnage, by which fans and pupils seized by ardentia jackalize everything they love? Or is FlyLo shooting at the wrong fish in the right barrel? Someone who @mentioned him, whom he had the grace to retweet, suggested “one day some 13 year old white kid is gonna rap over cosmogramma in its entirety u gonna be so mad” (sic).
Maybe that guy’s on to something. Maybe everything on or off Spotify is up for sampling grabs and if you die it’s better than superannuation. What’s bracing about that analysis is what’s implied, that Flying Lotus can have his shit stole anytime and there’s nothing he can do about it. Dead or alive.