By 22, Aaliyah had become one of the most celebrated entertainers of her time- the long running poster child for cross-over R&B.
Now, more than a decade after her passing, her former label ‘BlackGround Records‘ ready the release of her first posthumous album, to be executive produced by ‘Practice’ Prince Drake and his long time collaborator Noah Shebib.
So, ever eager to serve the answers you want the questions to, That Grape Juice met with BlackGround CEO Barry Hankerson for a tell all interview on the controversial release.
TGJ ( David Asante): Hey Barry, thanks for agreeing to speak with us.
Barry: Thanks! We’re excited to talk about the album.
TGJ: Alright, let’s get started.How recently did BlackGround decide to launch a posthumous LP by Aaliyah and what- if anything- triggered the idea?
Barry: Aaliyah left a huge fan base behind when she passed and her legacy really does live through the music, but more importantly her fans. For us, it was only right to show our appreciation to these fans for supporting her for all these years.
TGJ: Were you initially apprehensive about starting it?
Barry: You know what, we were a little (laughs).We were fearful of the response from the media, Aaliyah’s family and how the project would affect her legacy. It was an uneasy anticipation of what the future held.
TGJ: Young Money’s Drake and Noah Shebib have been named as the project’s executive producers, how did this arrangement come to be and how happy are you with the work they’ve produced for the album thus far?
Barry: Drake and Noah did an exceptional job with “Enough Said”.
The intent was too be creative with one song at first and see how the fans would react. We look forward to them hearing the rest of the album next year.
TGJ: Likewise. So, could you run us through the creative process, exactly how are the new songs being crafted and how much unreleased material do you have to work with?
Barry: Sure. We’re working with 16 never before heard songs that were part of an album she was recording before she died. Fans will hear the same angelic tone they loved so much in these new songs.
TGJ: Upon confirmation of the project’s arrival , there was come confusion as to whether Aaliyah’s mother and brother were in support of it, could you explain what that was about for those who don’t know… and let us know how they feel about it as it stands today.
Barry: We always expected an unpleasant welcome this album.Due to the fact we have control over the estate and authoritative over royalties we will be moving forward with this album.
We never wanted the bad press that’s come with the album. The family might of made statements about us not supporting their “daughter” but the fan support and peaceful intent behind it is the reason we’ve decided to go forth with it.
The Aaliyah Biopic is currently on hold until the Haughton family agree to go forward with it. Before the controversy Warner (who would fund the movie) wanted Keshia Chante to play the lead role, and Aaliyah friends play themselves. We can’t go forward until Aaliyah’s family agree to let us.
We’ve always been sympathetic to Aaliyah’s mourning, and we’ll always love the graceful and angelic girl she was to the Haughton family. To us, she’ll always be ‘baby girl’.
TGJ: Thanks for answering that one, we know it can’t have been easy. Missy Elliott, Timbaland and DMX- all of whom Aaliyah considered friends- have all shared their thoughts on the release, was there any particular reason they weren’t called to collaborate with Drake and Noah Shebib?
Barry: Due to circumstances, we can’t control the emotional toll of healing of her legacy like others. The intent is not to disrespect the family, nor do BlackGround Records want to shed any bad light around Aaliyah’s legacy.
We’d like to go in a different direction with the 16 tracks and have been more than open to work with past collaborators.
So, Damon Dash – her ex fiance- is more than willing to assist Drake and Noah in producing the album.
TGJ: Oh wow. That’s great news. Let’s talk about money now. How much financial backing and strategy are in place to push the album upon release, and if so- how important are sales to you at this point?
Barry: Our finances will be spent on pushing Aaliyah’s music to a new generation, but sales aren’t important to Blackground. What we’re interested in doing is uplifting her legacy and enjoying another decade #1 hits.
TGJ: You house ‘Jumping Trains’ singer JoJo, as long standing supporters of both you and her, we’ve watched the label come under fire for a number of baseless rumors. For the record, could you explain her situation as it currently stands with Blackground and when we can expect her new LP?
Barry: We love JoJo! Her album is coming really soon, as will her video for ‘Demonstate’.
TGJ: That’s good to hear because we’ve been waiting a long time (laughs). So back to Aaliyah, how much pressure is there- if any at all- is there for you to match your previous successes in today’s market, and how beneficial do you feel this new project will be to the label holistically?
Barry: We really just want to give her fans new 16 unreleased tracks, in honor of her legacy and the fact this music deserves to be heard. Yes, today’s market is more of commercial but Aaliyah has already left her mark in time, so we see this album as a way to just repave history. It’s well over due considering all the negative controversy that’s surrounded her name since she did.
TGJ: Could you tell us what the album is called?
Barry: We’re actually still working on it, but we do have several album artworks that will come as part of the package.
TGJ: With any performer who passes as young as she did, the question of “what would they have done…” is an ever pressing one. What can you tell us about her plans before she died, and were there any potential projects in the pipeline around the time of her leaving?
Barry: She had just finished shooting ‘Queen Of The Damned’ and was in the process of filming for The Matrix and had actually signed on to star in its sequel.
The 16 unreleased tracks you’ll hear on this album were a part of an album she was working on at the time. We’ve always wanted her to be number 1 and to continue to release material following the success of her final album.
TGJ: Finally, in the grand scheme of things, how do you want Aaliyah to be remembered?
Barry: We’d like for her to be remembered as the world’s greatest entertainer.
TGJ: Barry, it’s been a pleasure.
Barry: Thank you. We really want the fans to know that this album is not about fighting or money, but us wanting to give fans the opportunity to hear all this music we have of hers. It’s really about us giving them what they want.
*Interview by David Asante ( That Grape Juice, London)