Why I Question The Release of A Posthumous Aaliyah Album

March 6, 2012  |  

by Charing Ball

Over the weekend, I came across a link to Survivor, the lost novel by Octavia Butler, which had been uploaded online for free. The book is part of the Patternist series and has been a virtual hard to find as Butler herself was very ambivalent about the book and basically omitted it from the series. The Patternist series is probably one of my favorites so I was just as excited to come across a portion of the longer story, which I had never heard of. However, I’m still mulling over if I should read it considering she hated it enough to take it out of print. If this isn’t a nerd conundrum than I don’t know what is.

Then yesterday, I read this: “Aaliyah died over ten years ago and the music community still feels her loss; there’s been no lack of interest in the late singer’s story and people still speculate about what the music landscape would be like had she not died so young and tragically. However, Aaliyah passed away leaving a cache of unreleased material, and producer Jeffrey “J Dub” Walker confirmed via Twitter on Sunday that we can expect at least some of that new music to be released.” Another Aaliyah album is on the way? Cool – well on second thought, maybe not.

Of course, posthumous albums are nothing new, although producing a new album with new material years after her passing might be entering a new level of debauchery. Unfortunately, Aaliyah died at what could be best described as the beginning of the height of her career. A budding movie star with over 32 million in album sales, it is not improbable to say that she may have been on Beyonce’s status right now if she were still alive.  But that isn’t certain. The music scene has changed so much. New Jack Swing and the rest of the R&B/Hip-Hop era artists, which Aaliyah properly shined in, have already had their time.  Now is the time of dub-step, techno-beats, Euro-pop fusion and most of the 90s recording artists have either conformed to this new aesthetic or faded into obscurity. Since Aaliyah passed on prior to the change in scenery, we have no way of knowing how she would, or even could, fit into this brave new musical world. Therefore, an album of songs, which were likely produced back in the 90s, just seems, for the lack of a better word, unnatural.

This is not to say that it couldn’t work. The music scene is recording artists whose popularity not only lived on but in some instance intensified after their demise. Artist such as Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and Nina Simone have found legions of new fans thanks to the re-release and creation of posthumous albums. Marvin Gaye has seen 13.1 million in sale since his murdered in 1984 while James Brown, who died of complications associated with pneumonia on Christmas morning 2006, has had over 5 million in sales after his death. And then there is Biggie and Tupac, who both have had a series of number 1 albums since their untimely demises.

But I can honestly say that I have never bought an album from an artist posthumously.  Not Michael Jackson’s album, not any of Tupac’s six albums, and not even Biggie’s album. Generally speaking, these albums are usually thrown together, with no rhyme or reason. To make up for the fact that the songs are unfinished, producers tend to throw tons of “featured” artists, who may or may not have connection to the deceased artist. I don’t care how much I love the artist – I’m just not that interested in work that the artist or their team didn’t feel worthy enough to realize while they were in the land of living. Maybe the artists thought the songs to be a poor reflection of their talent and if alive, would not have consented to the album’s release?

There is something oddball about the hype around posthumous albums. For the second week in a row, Whitney Houston has sold over 250,000 albums and all of her catalogs are back on the Billboard top 20. While all of her albums are arguably great, nobody was really checking for The Greatest Love of All prior to her death. In fact, I rarely heard it played on the radio.  But because the artist is no longer here, we place a bigger value on their work than we did before. It’s our way of letting them live on. But if we are being honest, even in death, the desire for a comeback through posthumous albums never live up to expectations.

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