Posthumous Aaliyah album in the works?
More than 10 years after the death of Aaliyah, fans could be getting their hands on a posthumous album consisting of vaulted works from the late R&B songbird.
On Sunday, producer-songwriter Jeffery "J. Dub" Walker tweeted that a disc was in the works. No surprise that the tweet has since been taken down, but screen grabs are floating online. "Just got great news today; the smash unreleased song called 'Steady Ground' I produced on #Aaliyah is gonna be on her upcoming album," his tweet read.
Walker penned "I Refuse" and "What If" for Aaliyah's self-titled 2001 third album, which was released a few months before she died in a plane crash in the Bahamas. He later said that the track “Steady Ground,” which featured her longtime collaborator Static Major, was supposed to be on her final album but that it didn’t make the cut. A demo of the song is one of her few unreleased works to have leaked.
After Aaliyah's death, executives at her label, Blackground Records, told The Times that she had “recorded enough material for at least one more album.” Outside of “I Care 4 U,” a posthumous greatest-hits package featuring six previously unreleased songs, additional archived works are still untouched.
In a retrospective on the 10-year anniversary of her death, Pop & Hiss wrote that the singer’s legacy has largely had to rest on the small catalog she released during her lifetime. And while an entertainer’s premature death brings an immediate curiosity over unreleased work -- as we’ve seen recently with Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and now Whitney Houston -- releasing the works can be complicated.
The question of why there hadn’t been a proper posthumous release from Aaliyah is something fans have been asking for years, and something a former Virgin Records employee who was working closely with the singer at the time of her death called “weird and frustrating.”
“I don’t think we’ll ever hear anything,” said the former employee, who requested anonymity for legal reasons, “and I hate to say that. But I don’t even know if we will because there was so much internal beef between family, producer and label. Timbaland at the time was trying to get released from the label … so it’s hard to know who owns everything, because [he] obviously did [a lot] of her music.”
Complicating matters are legalities, according to the former employee, that possibly exist between the singer’s immediate family and Blackground -- which was founded by her uncle Barry Hankerson and is run by her cousin Jomo Hankerson.
Aaliyah's brother, Rashad Haughton, wrote on his protected Twitter account that "no official album [is] being released and supported by the Haughton family.”
One of the disputes, according to the former employee, is ownership of the singer’s estate including music. Canadian singer Keshia Chante, who bears an eerie resemblance to the singer and who reportedly has been tapped to star as Aaliyah in a biopic, confirmed in a recent interview that the singer's family was struggling with estate issues.
VH-1 is set to run an updated “Behind the Music” about the singer in April. A rep for the network didn’t return a request for comment on what the updated content included.
A handful of unreleased tracks have made their way online in recent years, including “Giving Up,” a ballad taken from ’70s musical "Sparkle." In a sad twist of irony, Aaliyah had been tapped by Houston and co-producer Debra Martin Chase to star in the film, but they shelved the project after her death. The film was relaunched late last year, with Houston starring, in her return to the big screen. Aaliyah's role went to “American Idol” alum Jordin Sparks. "Sparkle" is now Houston’s final film appearance.
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: Promotional photo of Aaliyah courtesy of her official website.