Shut the internet down – now.
… Picking our brains from off the wall and our hearts from off the floor – it’s probably important we share our thoughts on this. Not only because it’s a pretty seismic event, but because it’s transformed into a huge topic among music fans and Aaliyah admirers over the past few weeks…
Well, it’s here. A brand new Aaliyah single has arrived a decade after her last. But what to make of it? Well, produced by Noah ’40’ Shebib, it uses previously unheard vocals from our beloved Baby Girl and features a guest verse from Drake. Slyly titled ‘Enough Said’, it opens with the expansiveness 40 has become known for creating well: a sound that cunningly fits in near-perfect harmony beneath the clean, airy vocals that Aaliyah so effortlessly commanded (ahem, as said here). Honouring the love Houghton had for her sensual, time-capsule ad-libs, he builds his moment slowly… Respectfully. The beat slow burns before swelling into crisp snares, trademark filtered drums, sustained synths and guess what? Aaliyah sounds f*cking incredible over it. Her voice drifts like some spiritual seance, her ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’s’ are tear-inducing and her melody so classically sexy I could cry. Her heartfelt lyrics are brought to life because Shebib is a master of creating such a strong sense of widescreen, studio-polished ambience and atmosphere, while still ingeniously paying homage to the essence of staples like ‘One in A Million’.
… And yes, those dues are riddled everywhere within this. Listen to how much space is created between each breath Aaliyah takes; listen to the off-kilter production she’s singing over; listen to how the beat shows restraint and irrevocable cool. ‘One in A Million’? 2012 updating.
‘Enough Said’ is not faultless though. It has one unfortunate downside. And despite (seemingly) popular opinion, it has nothing to do with the exclusion of Timbaland and Missy Elliott. The main issue with the record, rather unfortunately (god bless him, we do love him, but) is Drake. His “feature” isn’t the issue, it’s more to do with his overall presence. What Drizzy did on Thank Me Later worked because Aaliyah’s voice was sampled around what he created – she was very much the feature artist, he the star.
But this is supposed to be Aaliyah’s record, she’s the star and Drake should have harnessed his efforts to respect that; instead his verse becomes overbearing and intrusive. His appearance jolts the composure and instead of complimenting, self-indulges. Perhaps Drake needed to employ that emotional, grown man steeze he’s become noted for by approaching this more tenderly: consider how sensitive the issue’s been and listen to the fans. This song shouldn’t have been about anyone but Aaliyah although it’s understandable, taking into account she is one of his musical idols, and that he may have even wanted to use his superstardom in this era to introduce the R&B deity to a younger Pop generation, that he’s opted to make his mark on it. I feel though, he should have stepped back slighly and either not featured at all or delivered his vox more appropriately – softer, more baritone, more complimentary. Even the inclusion of the OVO Owl on the cover-art could be argued as a little indulgent…
That said – I’m so very happy this has materialized, that it’s even in existence. Some generation’s have their Edith Piaf’s or their Janis Joplin’s – for us here at PinBoard, as school kids in the 90s, we were self-raised on this figure. It’s an emotional, heart warming, respectable tribute to an icon and her legacy. We’ve championed our case and expressed our opinion as to why we felt Drake & 40 were the right team for this (near impossible) task of taking the Aaliyah sound ahead and after hearing ‘Enough Said’ – I’m hoping you’ll agree we weren’t wrong. We’ve lived through So Far Gone, ‘CMYK‘, House of Balloons, The xx… times change, technology changes, as do the sonic interpretatives.
After all, the expectation that Timbaland and Missy Elliott would be able to recreate the magic they once produced with Aaliyah is both unfair and unrealistic. In fact, lets not forget (because most seemingly have) Aaliyah’s final, biggest and most revealing album before passing at the dawn of the millennium was not produced entirely by Timbo (two tracks out of fourteen). She made a very strategic and deliberate move to work with relatively unknown, new producers – a sign that even amidst her commercial and creative peak, she was an artist wanting to evolve, adapt and think forward. The greatest thing about Aaliyah was her fearlessness to try new things and that’s why this works, that’s why fans need to support it and look beyond their own interpretation of her legacy.
In a time in commercial R&B music when we need more than just bandwagonry, as much as we support the authentic effort and the best intentions of that output – we also need legitimate iconography to inspire the next wave. We need a new album. Who wants Aaliyah circa 1996, if you can have Aaliyah circa 2012?
P.s For those curious, listen to ‘Enough Said’ without Drake’s verse here.