Producer Noah “40” Shebib has called off the posthumous Aaliyah album he had been working on with Drake. In an interview with Vibe, Shebib said, “The world reacting to Drake’s involvement so negatively, I just wanted nothing to do with it. . . Ultimately, I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t like the stigma.”
Drake announced the album in August 2012, when he released “Enough Said,” a track that featured his voice alongside that of the R&B singer Aaliyah Haughton, who died in a plane crash at the age of 22 in 2001. A few days later, Aaliyah’s family distanced themselves from the album. Her brother, Rashad Haughton, said at the time, “There is no official album being released and supported by the Haughton family.”
Shortly after that, longtime Aaliyah collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott said that they were not participating in the album’s production. Instead, Blackground Records – a label run by Aaliyah’s uncle and cousin, Barry and Jomo Hankerson – announced the album would consist of 16 unreleased tracks and “fragments” that would be produced by Drake and Shebib. At the time, the label said the record would come out by the end of 2012.
But while those announcements made it sound like the album was conceived as a collaboration between Drake and Shebib, the producer is now saying that wasn’t the case. “Aaliyah’s label Blackground – the Hankersons, her uncle and cousin – came to me and said if she was around, she’d want you to do this project,” Shebib told Vibe. “I’ve been obsessed with Aaliyah forever, and I know Drake has his relationship with her. But that opportunity was mine. Drake said, ‘Can I do it with you?’ And I was like, ‘Of course, we’ll do it together.'”
The negative attention directed at the project, including Timbaland’s statement, ultimately turned the producer off the project. “That was a very sad experience for me,” Shebib said. “I was naïve to the politics surrounding Aaliyah’s legacy and a bit ignorant to Timbaland’s relationship and everybody else involved and how they’d feel. Tim said to me, ‘Don’t stop. Make the album.’ I think that was Tim taking the position of, ‘I’m not going to stop you. If you’re not going to do it, that’s your decision.'”
But Shebib said that the real reason he abandoned the project was that he received criticism from someone even closer to Aaliyah. “We released [‘Enough Said’], but I was seven songs deep,” the producer said. “[Aaliyah’s] mother saying, ‘I don’t want this out,’ was enough for me. I walked away very quickly.”
A month ago, Drake posted an Instagram video that featured Aaliyah music. But as the Guardian points out, Drake said “things went downhill with [the project]” in an interview at NYU’s Skirball Center last September.
Blackground has yet to comment on whether another producer will take on the project. But last June, an artist Drake is not close to, Chris Brown, released his own Aaliyah duet, “Don’t Think They Know” on his album X. The video featured an actor who looked a lot like Drake.