On artist morality dilemmas
Last night on my Tumblr I posted a new song. It was the new Aaliyah song, ‘featuring’ Drake, and I posted it mostly because I liked what Drake had done with the vocal and production, and because hearing new Aaliyah is, in itself, a good thing.
Even last night, though, I expressed reservations. Namely, whether it was appropriate for Drake to be reappropriating material for his own ends in a manner which Aaliyah almost certainly could not have intended; and just as pertinently, whether it was right for Drake to shut out Timbaland and Missy Elliott.
I don’t actually like letting my personal hang-ups get in the way of whether I like a song or not; this is why I actively avoid That Certain Hip-Hop Twonk. I don’t want to have to get into an internal debate as to whether it’s okay to like his music despite the fact he’s convicted of an assault on his then-girlfriend. I don’t like his character, I have never on the whole liked his music either, so for me the easiest response is to avoid it altogether and not give him the air of publicity. I don’t tend towards the idea that if they write it, they are it; this is why I have such difficulty blanket calling Aaron Sorkin (and Pinter and Mamet before him) a misogynist just because they often write misogynistic characters. Regardless, I don’t want my music, or film or TV or whatever to come with a side dish of Morality Dilemma. Which is exactly what the Aaliyah/Drake song is.
I stand by my assertions that the production values are nice enough, and Aaliyah’s vocal is good. But how much of that is simple nostalgia? Well, if I’m honest, probably quite a lot; ‘Try Again’, ‘More Than A Woman’ and ‘Are You That Somebody’ are all unequivocally brilliant. It is a crying shame she’s not here any more so that we might have seen how much more she had left to give, and that it arguably took her not being here any more for everyone else to wake up to just how incredible an artist she was.
I already had huge issues with the idea of Timbaland and Missy Elliott not being involved in any new material, because simply put, Aaliyah was a trio, and an incredible trio at that. I’ve now got other questions: namely, how did Drake get permission to use the material in the first place, given everybody directly concerned is claiming there’s no way this is official? I mean… how?
And to do… that with it? I mean, that rap? Which is, literally, some fanboy rapper deciding he can get his mitts on his favourite dead singer’s unreleased tapes, so he’s going to use some words in her vocal as an excuse to do some I’ve-got-fucking-beef-with-the-world rant and dress it up as a duet? No. The context has already shifted from an Aaliyah/Drake ‘duet’ to Drake dissing the aforementioned twonk. Again. At the very least, I would call that disrespectful of Aaliyah. At the very least.
This is why I don’t like bringing assessment of artists’ personal morality into my assessment of their art if I can help it. Because it never ends well for anyone concerned, and I invariably end up loathing the artist concerned for making me go there. Art should, actually, be a safe place to explore and confront the murkier side of life; when an artist’s morality comes into question, that safe space is decimated. Drake’s turned Aaliyah’s material into a murky place to be. Enough so that a song I thought was okay on a first listen, I now actively dislike. And I can’t really forgive him for that.