No matter how good it is, her family should decide when we hear her music.
Modernizing the legacies of the dead is a tricky game. Today, a rare posthumous collaboration between Aaliyah and The Weeknd called “Poison” was released — and it’s good for all the wrong reasons.
On the surface, there’s nothing really wrong with the song. For a little under three minutes, Aaliyah and The Weeknd trade enchanting falsettos while bemoaning about the person they’re in love with breaking their heart. The Weeknd is his usual, sardonically enthralling self, comparing love to drugs again and making “tears and pain” sound exquisite. The Nick Lamb and DannyBoyStyles co-production sounds like sunshine pouring onto marble floors, illuminating and decadent. All in all, “Poison” is a good song, but it shouldn’t exist because posthumous collaborations are inherently disrespectful.
Death not only removes someone from the present and future, it also imprisons all they’ve done in the past. For Aaliyah, who tragically perished in a plane crash 20 years ago, that means any vocal recording of hers still in existence was created using presumably outdated technology. The Weeknd recorded his After Hours album using a Universal Audio Apollo Twin audio interface, which has become standard in the music industry and didn’t exist a decade ago. People collaborate using different equipment all the time, but the sound quality of Aaliyah’s vocal performance on “Poison” is noticeably less dynamic than The Weeknd’s singing, a gripe people on social media have pointed to.
A bigger gripe with “Poison” is nothing about its creation suggests Aaliyah would’ve given her blessing on the song if she was alive. When it was revealed in August 2012 Drake would be co-producing a posthumous Aaliyah album after releasing his “Enough Said” collaboration with the singer, many people closest to Aaliyah were outraged he would do such a thing without their involvement, including her historically protective family. Past Aaliyah collaborator and Romeo Must Die co-star DMX voiced his disapproval of the album for that very reason. "I'm kinda feelin' some kinda a way about the fact that you been commissioned, that you been blessed, you've been given the opportunity to do the Aaliyah album yet you don't include anybody that she worked with personally," he told MTV.
Outside of the late Static Major, who produced some of the best Aaliyah songs while she was living, no one involved in the making of this song has ever worked with Aaliyah. Even Mike Dean, who has worked with everyone from Scarface and Monica to Drake and Kanye West over his illustrious 30-year career, never mixed an Aaliyah record until “Poison.” Although the song was officially released by the same Blackground Records label behind every album Aaliyah’s ever made, her estate has not publicly shown support for the posthumous collaboration and likely won’t. The estate vehemently disagreed with Blackground Records over releasing Aaliyah’s back catalog onto streaming services earlier this year.
“For almost 20 years, Blackground has failed to account to the Estate with any regularity in accordance with her recording contracts. In addition, the Estate was not made aware of the impending release of the catalog until after the deal was complete and plans were in place,” the estate said in a statement following the news of Aaliyah’s music appearing on streaming services.
It’s more than likely “Poison” was created without the blessings of her family, which makes the listening experience feel intrusive. Drake and his longtime engineer Noah “40” Shebib stepped away from the planned posthumous Aaliyah album after Aaliyah’s mother expressed her desire for the album to not come out, according to Shebib in a 2014 interview with VIBE magazine. Unless her family is comfortable with their dead family member’s legacy being modernized and shared, any posthumous Aaliyah collaboration will be bad, no matter how good it sounds.