Aaliyah, Drake, And Why We Lie When Famous People Die

Aside from the whole biracial Jewish-Canadian who first became popular by playing a pouty paraplegic on a teen soap opera that was only watched by the type of kids who forged doctor’s excuses to get out of gym class thing, perhaps the most interesting thing about Drake is how he tests the limits of his diehard fans’ fandom.

For instance, I have a friend who happens to be a diehard Drake fan. And, by being very pretty, very educated, somewhat emo, occasionally hipster, slightly Delta, and the type who “loves hip-hop, but not rap,” also happens to fit what I imagine to be the typical diehard Drake fan profile. On numerous occasions, she’s brought up the fact that Drake’s obsession with beef, boning strippers, and saying ridiculous things has made it difficult for her to continue to be his fan. But, a bit of cognitive dissonance allows her to get right back on the bandwagon.

I wonder, though, if Drake fans will be able to forgive him for being haughty enough to release an album featuring tracks from the patron saint of Urban Emo herself, the late Aaliyah Haughton.

We don’t have to wonder, though, how most Aaliyah fans seem to feel about this.

Below is a few tweets curated at AllHipHop.com

You can find a longer list of anti-Drake/Aaliyah collaboration tweets here. 

And, if interested, you can read one of the several articles published this week denouncing this duo.

That there’s been such pushback isn’t surprising. There are few artists who’ve received the type of posthumous reverence that Aaliyah has — it must be a rite of passage for all male hip-hop artists to record an interview saying they had fallen in love with her — and even Drake has turned his body into a bizarre Aaliyah shrine. And, given that she was more “cool” than she was talented — which is saying a lot because she was definitely very talented  — this unusual reverence is understandable

Thing is — and this is a phenomenon that goes much further than Aaliyah — I think we have a tendency to allow our reverence for dead celebrities to assign a certain mystique that almost transubstantiates them. Basically, when they die, we start to lie.

Usually, this process starts with saying something like “If Aaliyah were still alive, she’d…” a way of thinking that’s absurd on two different levels.

1. It presumes that you have any f*cking clue what the hell a dead person would be thinking/doing if they were still alive

In Aaliyah’s case, how do we know that she wouldn’t have wanted to collaborate with Drake?

If you’re old enough to remember listening to Aaliyah in high school, while Brandy had the pop charts and Monica resonated a bit more with the current and future ratchets, she seemed to be the go-to female R&B choice for the counterculture Black kids. Let’s forget for a second that Drake has become such a convenient person to snark. The type of music that populates his albums — moody, emo, occasionally haunting (basically, the type of music produced by people who either rock black eyeliner or date people who rock black eyeliner) — is exactly the type of music Aaliyah was known for. In fact, I can’t think of another current rap artist who’d be a better feature on an Aaliyah album than Drake. But, our mystical appreciation for her doesn’t allow us to fathom the idea that she’d even consider making music with him.

2. It completely disregards the possibility that the artist could have done what most other artists eventually do: fall off

Whenever I hear someone mention how different the rap game would be today if Biggie or Tupac were still alive, I always point back to the same person: DMX.

Why? Well, there may not have been another rap artist who was as universally revered as DMX was in 1997 and 1998. He debut album sold a trillion records and dominated the airwaves. People bought and fought over Clue and Flex mixtapes just to hear a new DMX track. As hard as it is to believe now, when people first purchased Jigga’s Hard Knock Life, “Money, Cash, Hoes” was the track people were most anticipating. He was even cast as the lead character in the biggest (and most ridiculous) hip-hop movie ever made.

Today though, 15 years later, DMX is equal parts punchline and crackhead. No one lists him on any “Top 20″ rankings, and a DMX release today might go double cat litter. It’s as if 97-99 didn’t even exist.

I’m bringing this up because DMX’s descent is the most obvious example of the fact that we have absolutely no clue what shape Aaliyah’s or Biggie’s or Tupac’s career would be in today if they stayed alive. They could have very easily fallen off just as DMX did. For all we know, Aaliyah could have had a Maia Campbell-esque breakdown, Biggie could have lost weight, moved to Nashville, and decided to do country gospel, and Tupac could be f*cking Khloe Kardashian. He might even have a reality show called “All Eyez On Me…and Khloe”

We just don’t f*cking know. But, not knowing is and will always be better than pretending that we do.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)