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Aaliyah Week: Remembering Aaliyah's Final Musical Journey

To round out VIBE's Aaliyah Week, those involved with her last album share their stories from the studio to the video set.

When Aaliyah released her self-titled album in 2001, I was so excited that I scratched the CD while hastily placing it in my Walkman. Because of that eagerness, Timbaland's opening vocals on "We Need A Resolution" skips right after the first repetitive line, "I'm tired of arguing, girl." It angered me every time I played the song back, hoping that the CD would somehow correct itself.

But the more that I got used to hearing that distortion, the more it seemed to fit the original beat of the song. The unintentional, three-second remix prepared my ears for the rest of the puzzling beats that somehow found a way to fit perfectly with Aaliyah's clean cut voice. You could tell the beats were tailor made just for her, showcasing her knack for tackling challenging beats while pushing the envelope even further in the world of sound.

Aaliyah reached new heights on "I Care 4 U" while sending you on a dream with the simplicity of "It's Whatever." The Static Major-penned "Loose Rap" showcased Aaliyah's boastful side, and "Rock the Boat" restated why you were a fan of her in the first place.

To round out VIBE's Aaliyah Week, those involved with her last album share their stories from the studio to the video set.

Bud'da: Producer, "Never No More," "Read Between The Lines," "I Can Be"
Eric Seats: Producer, "Loose Rap," "Rock The Boat," "Extra Smooth," "U Got Nerve," "It's Whatever," "Those Were The Days," "Messed Up," "Erica Kane"
Warren Fu: Album Cover Designer
Jeffrey "J-DUB" Walker: Producer, "I Refuse," "What If"
Benjamin "Black" Bush: Songwriter, "U Got Nerve," "Messed Up"
Dave Meyers: "More Than A Woman" Video Director
Paul Hunter: "We Need A Resolution" Video Director
Albert Watson: Album Cover Photographer

Bud’da: When I first met Aaliyah it was casual. We were in New York and I was working on Tank’s record. Either Jomo [Hankerson, Aaliyah’s cousin] or Barry [Hankerson, Aaliyah’s uncle/manager] had come to the studio and introduced us. I didn’t get a chance to really know her until we were in Australia where there was more time and we were literally over there for a month and some change. Just being over there for so long, seeing somebody not necessarily everyday, but a whole lot every other day, getting to know them, we were able to grow like that. But initially I was very nervous, like, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s Aaliyah!’ She just said, ‘Hey,’ sweetly and they walked into another room because she may have been doing an interview or something. That was my first time meeting her. All the times after that we really got a chance to sit and talk with her, an incredible spirit.

Eric Seats: My partner, Rapture Stewart at the time and I were doing our production together. We were just doing it on the side for fun. We didn’t plan on having official meetings or anything. We ended up being in a band for that whole Blackground camp: Timbaland, Aaliyah, Ginuwine, that whole crew. While on the road with them all the time, and all these different places, Timbaland overheard our tracks. It got his attention and we weren’t trying to get his attention but we got his attention. I remember him saying it didn’t sound like him, because that was during a phase where a lot of producers were starting to sound like the very thing that he brought to the table as far as beats are concerned. We stood out. That was the year of 1996. He signed us to a production deal and that snowball kicked in. We ended up doing a lot of work for a lot of artists, more notable Aaliyah for sure. The bulk of that red album we did about nine songs, and then two on the one that came after that one. It was a beautiful thing.

Warren Fu: Aaliyah was just so cool. She was a visionary because she managed to have this mystique and aura around her, yet the weird thing was that she was also humble and sweet. I can’t think of anyone that has been able to pull that off the way she did, and at the same time, it was not fabricated or planned. She really was that person. She was the first artist I ever worked with, so I gotta admit, I was pretty nervous. But she was so down to Earth with everyone, that after a few minutes you kind of forgot that you were dealing with a big star.

Jeffrey “J-DUB” Walker: I think the first time that I met Aaliyah was in the studio when we were doing the Romeo Must Die soundtrack. We didn’t actually work together but I met her. She was just such a sweet spirit. She was like the coolest artist, endless star ever. A lot of times you deal with an artist that might have an ego or attitude, but with her she was down to Earth. Then she had to go to Australia to do Queen of the Damned. We had started her last album in New York, so basically it was a team of producers that were signed to Blackground. I was signed, Bud’dha, Overdose and Caviar, and Static and we just basically went to Chung King’s Studios in New York and just set up shop and started an album. I would be in one room, Bud’dha was in another room, Static and them would be in another room so we were just vibing off of each other like that.

Bud’da: We were all hard critics on each other and if I did something that wasn’t kosher, it would be said. If somebody else did something that was wack, you would be like, ‘That’s wack, that’s not going to work.’ Just creating and knowing that if I could say anything to anybody at any point in relation to creativity and trying to be something classic, just creating without boundaries. You could go up the same lane as everybody else and win or lose, and if you win and you sound like somebody else. Now you’re going to have to be stuck to that sound. But if you create your own sound, your own path then you’re going to be a trendsetter and people are going to do what you want to do and then you’re going to be able to change and make some kind of a movement versus just doing something that everybody else is doing. Aaliyah didn’t want to do that and nobody involved with the project wanted to do that. I know Timbaland never wanted to do anything like that. For myself, coming from Dre, that’s a no no. As well as Seats, Rapture, Dub, none of us. Just be creative. Creativity without limits, without bounds.

Seats: I think that she knew that she was not the girl to be blended in with the herd. At the end of the day, she chose all of the records that are on that record. She had to give the okay. She had to like them. She was not a push over to where an A&R was going to come and say, ‘Baby Girl, you got to put this one on there.’ She was running her stuff. Her ear, for her to hear those sounds and say, ‘Aha!’ that’s what I mean by that. Tim didn’t do that. Static didn’t do that. That’s Aaliyah’s work. That’s her executive mind, so what you hear are the songs that she chose to sing. That makes her a genius, to not play it safe. She didn’t come like that.

#Aaliyah #RIP #ES3?3?3?

A photo posted by Eric Seats #3?3?3? #Sidiooo (@ericseats) on

Benjamin "Black" Bush: Working on the Aaliyah album, I did a lot of vocal production on the record. Her uncle and cousin who owned the label [Blackground], they always wanted to create her own sound so if you notice on that last album, there’s wasn’t a whole bunch of different writers. I think it was me, Static, Missy [Elliott] and Tank. We were all in the same camp. Barry wanted to develop her sound and once we did the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack, they knew where they wanted to go. They knew that we were the dudes for the job. By the time we got to the "red album" she was a grown woman. We knew that we could push the envelope a little bit.

Dave Meyers: She was the triple threat: professionalism, beautiful and she had gravitas. She could command big budgets, she could deliver professionalism and she was sweet as could be. She was forward thinking. Some artists stay within the box and she was someone who wanted to push the box. I think that usually hands down is a memorable thing that any director could have the opportunity to work with someone like that.

J-DUB: It was her first album not working with one producer. But I think she learned so much from Timbaland and R. Kelly, she was ready to jump out there and start doing her own stuff and working with different producers. I think she took a lot that she learned with R. Kelly, Missy Elliott and Tim and brought it to this project. By the time she got to us, she already had an identity musically, and in her head she knew what she wanted to do. It was the right time and the right place for her. We were all blessed to meet each other at the same time on the same vibe basically. Once she heard our music it wasn’t a hard fit. It wasn’t like something that we really had to work on. We did a beat and she loved it, they’d write it and we’d cut it. I think by her working with Missy Elliott and Tim and Kells helped her come into her own musically.

Traveling To The Land Down Under

J-DUB: Virgin was very adamant about getting this album wrapped up so they flew all of the producers out to Melbourne, Australia so Aaliyah could cut the movie [Queen of the Damned] during the day and then at night she would come in and finish the album. It was a ball though. We were like superstars in Melbourne (laughs). When we got to Australia we basically knew which songs we were going to cut, so she would just come in and lay the vocals. But some sessions we would bounce ideas off of each other. I still have a few songs in my vault that we did that’s unreleased. We would sit in and cut records that we figured we would get back to, but unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to do that.

Seats: That Australia experience was beautiful because they took us away from everything that was going on. That might have to do a lot with the sound too. They took us away from here. We were over there at least six months. We got very comfortable. We joined the gym and everything. We became citizens of Australia and I love that place to this day. Maybe it’s because of the memories associated with it, I’m not even sure, but we went over there and we felt a way enough to probably be a little more creative as opposed to being in New York. It could’ve happened there too, but something about taking you away, the focus becomes greater on that subject matter.

J-DUB: It was all of our first time in Australia. The people were wonderful, the steaks are great, the studio that we was in was dope. The hotel that we stayed in ... Melbourne is like the Beverly Hills of Australia. We had a ball because during the day all we did was shop and hang out or ball the city. At night we would be in the studio with Aaliyah. After the studio we would hit the club every night and listen to the music and check out the scenery and the people. By the time we left there everybody knew our name (laughs).

Seats: Before we would start recording Aaliyah would always come back and tell us what she filmed that day. To hear the excitement in her voice from doing something else, she came to the studio with energy from what she had just done. We would listen to her talk about that stuff – I wish I would’ve gotten that on footage– she would talk about the scenes and then we would just get into the music. The sessions wouldn’t last all night because she’s quick in the lab. There’s a difference between seeing it live and a studio session singer, because not all singers I don’t care how good they are, can’t go in there and tame themselves enough to do studio work. There’s two different mindsets, going in the lab and being on stage. Just because you can sing doesn’t mean you can sing in both places. Usually people are better at one than the other, but others have that switch that they can turn it on or off. She was equipped with that already so our sessions didn’t last long. We pushed them out and got it right back. Sometimes we would go out after the sessions and sometimes we wouldn’t.

Bud’da: There was this one beautiful place, and I don’t remember the exact name, but I think they called it the 12 Apostles and it’s on the coast. There’s these 12 massive rocks that at some point they were connected to the land and through time and weather they disconnected themselves. They’re now off into the ocean. I can’t even describe it. They’re like little islands but they’re high up and they sit off in the water. That was really cool and us all not necessarily thinking about music, just living and being over there, experiencing Australia. All of that stuff was part of the creative process and us getting to know each other in a different fashion and enjoy living, being there, creating and looking forward to whatever was in the future.

Taking ‘Aaliyah’ From The Paper To The Boards

"Loose Rap"
Seats: I love the changes on “Loose Rap.” There’s a drum machine called the MPC 3000 and 2000. Rapture and I used both of them. “Loose Rap” started out when Rap did something, and then I would go to the machine and do something. I would walk away and he comes back and do something. I’d walk over there and do something. “Loose Rap” happened just like that. It happened in no time at all. We knew how each other thought. We knew everything was okay.

"Rock The Boat"
Seats: I almost deleted “Rock The Boat” because I’m the kind of guy that once I start producing a track and I don’t feel it right away sometimes, I would delete it and just start something over fresh. Thank God, this day my headphones were so loud and Static overheard what was going on in the headphones. He asked ‘What’s that Seats?’ And I said, ‘It’s nothing.’ And he’s like, ‘Let me hear it.’ I put the headphones on him and I went to the restroom. By the time I got back, and it was very raw, not even all the drums are in it yet or nothing. When I came back he already had the hook. Since he had an interest in it, I said, ‘Let me go and continue building on it, let me embellish it, make something happen since you’re feeling it.’ We didn’t know it was going to end up being “Rock The Boat.” Then I told him that and he said, ‘Don’t delete that, save it.’ He rescued “Rock The Boat” for sure and after that day I stopped deleting stuff so fast. I would put it away and come back to it later, come back with a fresh ear. But he rescued “Rock The Boat” for sure. I had to embellish on that after I saw that Static had some attention to it. I wanted to beef it up so we ended up calling Dave Foreman to play guitar, who was touring with us at that time with Ginuwine and Rapture added some strings, and “Rock The Boat” happened. Aaliyah made “Rock The Boat” the next single because politically Timbaland was supposed to have the singles to the records because that’s just the politics of it. He’s the guy, so it was supposed to be his name on the next Aaliyah single and I believed that was going to be “More Than A Woman.” But Aaliyah herself refused to have “More Than A Woman” come out before “Rock The Boat.” I remember those couple of weeks, the back and forth with her and Tim and she was like ‘No, it’s this one. I don’t care who did what. This one is the next one.’ That’s how it got chosen. I remember hearing her saying, ‘It has to be next.’ She wasn’t aggressive in that way where if she didn’t like something it would be handled, but it wouldn’t be handled in front of 20 people. It’s not her style, but I only know so much about it as a producer. But I know she had to go with Tim and Blackground to make some decisions, but we see who won.

Bud’da: This is how sweet she was. She was actually debating on whether or not to use the line on “Rock The Boat” “Feels like I’m on dope.” I think that was the line or it might’ve been in another line within there or another song, but I think it was that one. She was debating on having that line in there. I thought that showed a lot as far as character, knowing that she has influence and she could possibly stumble somebody, would that be a good choice?

Fu: At the time, "More Than A Woman" was my favorite. But over a decade later, I heard "Rock The Boat" at a bar and I was amazed at how well her music has held up. It sounded as current and relevant as ever.

"Never No More"
Bud’da: I did “Never No More” maybe a year prior to recording the song with Aaliyah and I was just creating at some point and came up with the chord progressions with the Finger Roads and did the drums and everything and then thought to myself, ‘Hey, I want to put some live strings on here.’ Went to the studio and did the live strings. The musical elements with the exception of small tweaks and the mixing came prior to the actual song and when Static heard it he went crazy. When he wrote to it, he embodied everything and beyond what I thought the beat by itself could bring forth. He gave it a whole new life, the metaphorical subject matter. I’m always a person that just loves melody, and coming from a world of being self taught in hip hop transitioning into R&B, and then moving from R&B into doing cartoons like The Proud Family, creatively my mind just thinks melodically. I like lush melodies. Once I put the strings on there, and did the bass line, it pretty much sat for a minute.

I didn’t necessarily have someone in mind for that, but when he heard it he knew from day one, he said he had something to it and wrote it. We went back and forth a couple of times and it was done from that point. I did add some percussion stuff after Baby Girl laid some of her vocals, just to embellish certain transitions in the song to make it more powerful. I think I might have done a cymbal roll as well, but the majority of the production of the music happened prior to, with the exception of all of the vocal production, which Static did the vocal production while we were in the studio. Static demoed it in L.A. at Larry Studios, and we all were in the studio like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ She hadn’t heard it yet. I think she was on set somewhere and Barry called me and said she heard it and liked it. I was definitely excited. We didn’t record the vocals until Australia and it was one of those late nights where she would come in after shooting and at times she would take a quick power nap on the couch then she was back at it. I remember her recording it and she had to have been listening or meditating on it. When she went in there, there wasn’t any paper and she knew the song. Static and I were in there and he was articulating certain ways she should do things, or the way she might like her runs in certain places and it was incredible. That process was incredible. Thinking about the content matter and thinking about how many people that song… people hit me up constantly all the time telling me that was their favorite song. They say thank you for this song, and thinking about “Never No More” versus me hoping another song made it on there, I’m blessed that made it on there because I know somebody’s life was changed by that song.

"Extra Smooth"
Seats: I did “Extra Smooth” in my closet one day on my MPC 2000 and I used to do a lot of tracks on that. I put my MPC in the closet because I liked the way it sounded in there. I did “Extra Smooth” in about five minutes. I love that track. I get a lot of compliments about “Extra Smooth” still. That was one of Static’s favorites. You know how much he likes something when he dances. That’s when you know he felt it. No words needed. If he starts bopping so hard that you think he’s about to hit his head on the mixing board, then he loves it.

"Read Between The Lines"
Bud’da: That song is really fun. I had fun going through that process. The studio I was recording at had a midi grand piano. I thought it would be cool if she did something Latin. The beat that Static wrote to initially had a Latin time signature to it. It had the bass line and the drums, and he wrote to that. In him writing to that, I was able to build around his voice in which I brought in live horns, saxophones, trumpet and trombone. A good friend of mine, Ron Blake, put a horn section together. I played the piano from 150 feet away. I was in the control room with the keyboard, the mini cable that stretched all the way into a live room where there was a piano microphone in there and I was able to play the piano from in the studio in a whole other room. Once Static had his vocals, I did the piano, had the horns playing and then I played around with what interesting things could happen with the vocals. If you noticed that song in the beginning of some of the verses, it stutters certain things in her voice or some backwards effects, just trying different things out. Just trying to get all those types of things out of the way in pre-production. She hadn’t necessarily heard it yet, and Static had the liberty to mess around with it for a little bit to get it a certain way before she actually got a chance to hear it. Once she heard it, she got the full picture of where it could go. I don’t remember her mentioning it, but when I talked to her, she said, ‘I love this song. This song is so fun!’ That definitely was inspiration for me. I was like I want to do 900 more (Laughs). We recorded that in Australia as well. Her schedule was such a way, between all of our schedules, doing different things, it was difficult to link up. I think that’s why we ended up doing the Australia trip just to have everybody in one location with the exception of Tim, to be there and just get the record done.

"U Got Nerve"
Seats: Rapture started that track and I did very little on “U Got Nerve.” I’ll tell you why, because I wasn’t really feeling it (laughs). I let him do the bulk of that. I don’t want to dissect it, but the overall thing didn’t hit me. Maybe it was the sound, maybe it was the day, I don’t remember specifically what I didn’t like about it. I’d probably skip it still. I’m just being honest.

"I Refuse"
J-DUB: I actually did that beat at Music Grinder in Hollywood, California. It was right when Blackground told us that we were going to start on her album so I started doing tracks for her. I think it was raining that night too, and I went back to the studio. It was raining already and I was playing with some sounds and I heard the horses. I put the horses on and the rain, and from there I started playing the piano. I built from the piano to the strings and then after I really got the hook going I put a live guitar in it. The live guitar off set the theatrics of it. It was theatrical but then you have a live guitar blazing it. I think Static was in the studio that night with us, and Static heard it and he immediately went in the booth and wrote it. Whatever that first verse is, he started singing and said, ‘That’s it!’ We knew it was it, and when we played it for her she went crazy. From there she cut it, and after she cut it that’s when I went in with the orchestra and we did our part. The mix was huge. I think we did 106 virtual tracks in that mix. We had a SSL board plus an extension. It was a huge mix, but it was huge record and I’m really happy how it came out. I’m really happy with that record.

"It's Whatever"
Seats: That whole track started with those bells and I just did the beat. I asked Rapture to play piano on it. I knew we wanted a simple piano on it so not a lot, not a solo, just the subtleties. I love how basic that track is but it’s so crazy effective though. That’s the one track that we did that had the least amount of tracks. Let’s say there were 56 tracks, “It’s Whatever” probably had like seven. It was beefy still, there wasn’t a lot going on but we need that space sometimes. That worked. Everybody liked that one. From that first line, ‘Just like a bird,’ that was a big one. I love “It’s Whatever.”

"I Can Be"
Bud’da: “I Can Be” was interesting. It started off one way in terms of the process in which that came about. I did the music and I played it for Tank at one point because we were recording something and I don’t know if we were doing a remix or another song for somebody else, but I played it for him and Tank and I did about four songs for her. That’s the only one of mine that ended up going on the record. I think he wrote one for Dub that actually went on the record as well, but he wrote the lyrics to it and where I was going with the music I felt that it changed. I thought that I could bring even more out of what he wrote because what he wrote was incredible. I thought, ‘Man, if I go here we’re going to take it to the moon,’ in my opinion. He recorded the whole song and I maybe had a four bar loop going, and from that point with his melody, just like we did on his record, he’s clearly one of the best singers I have ever worked with. He laid down the vocals and because his vocals were impeccable, it really charged me to go in directions to merge everything together even more. He did certain things, and I wasn’t even going in the rock direction, not that it’s all rock, but it’s a combination of an early trap and rock. When he did what he did and thinking about the subject matter in itself, it was dark, but even I thought it felt light. The subject matter was sneaky and dark, but it paint the picture of what this song was on top of her voice being the way it was. The first thing I started messing with was changing the drums around and then brought in some guitars. My buddy Sean Cruz played guitar on there and had to articulate the parts I wanted and added bass with it. I wanted to articulate a crunk, rock feel with her being able to stay on top of it. That’s how that one came about.

"Those Were The Days"
Eric Seats: That was another funky one. I can see Static dancing to it now. He was acting nuts to that one. It was just an easy-going song. It’s hard to have a problem with that song. Rapture started “Those Were The Days” off. I remember he started it with that bass and that was it. What’s funny is that we can hear one sound and we know what the rest of the track is going to sound like. “Those Were The Days” for me and Rapture, that happened for us. He did the bulk of that one. That’s a funky track.

"What If"
J-DUB: It was a good time. It was definitely a good time. Like I said, a lot of people weren’t used to R&B with guitars and stuff. My engineers at the time, they were some of the best engineers out there, so they would have my music sounding like it was already mixed. When she walked in and heard that guitar line, she was hooked. It was definitely the guitars and just because it was different. She really liked stuff that a lot of artists wouldn’t pick because they wouldn’t know what to do with it. She loved those types of records because that track I already know back then nobody would’ve picked that track, but she did so that’s a testament to how great her ear was.

"Messed Up"
Seats: That was a latecomer. I did “Messed Up” in Australia and we were already finishing up. Even though it was a bonus track on that record, they weren’t going to put it on there. They were going to make it a separate thing. But she wanted “Messed Up” on there. She had her song limit and she still made them put that bonus track on there. It just felt good.

Bush: That song had a girly vibe it, trashing dudes a little bit. That’s where that came from. It was me trying to speak for the ladies, the beat would tell what to write. The beat would tell us what to write and the melody would come and we would just go from there.

Bonus: "Erica Kane"
Seats: I think “Erica Kane” came out of the Kentucky time, during those pre-production sessions. I think we just had it already, it was done and it was good. We just went and mixed and mastered it and probably embellished it a little more. I have an older daughter, Erin who is 19 now. One day I overheard her listening to “Erica Kane” and she had no clue that I did that song. My own kid! I’m like, ‘You like that song?’ and she said, ‘Yeah that’s one of my favorites.’ I said, ‘You know who did that?’ and she tripped out. She didn’t know her dad did it. That was cool, when she said that I was glad my own kid liked my work. I remember Static talking about how they would confuse people whether they were talking about the soap actress or cocaine, because the song is about cocaine. The association with the soap star Erica Kane was what he wanted to do, he wanted to throw people off, but indirectly giving a message without being blatant. That was a witty approach for sure. I remember I initially didn’t know what he was talking about (laughs).

Aaliyah Steps In Front Of The Camera, On Paper And On Screen

Paul Hunter: I met Aaliyah in a recording studio. She was very quiet, but at the same time she had a side to her that you knew that there was more. Her personality or who she was expressed more in her music and in her performances. I would say she was more shy than quiet.

Meyers: My impression of her was she was very professional, very sweet and funny enough my impression was that she’d always covered one of her eyes with her hair in all of her videos, but for my video she wasn’t going to cover it. You know how you start to build up a mythology of that there’s something that they’re hiding? (laughs) It was really funny because she was just sweet and normal and real professional. I was really impressed with how balanced she was on her whole deal and really had a great understanding of all sides of the artistic equation. She was pulling tears out of magazines and sharing those with me, it was a little bit more of how she wanted to present herself and I built the world around her with the motorcycle and the lights and the dance. I feel like it might’ve been a correlation at the time. She was with Damon Dash, her boyfriend I think, or at least they were friendly. Damon was hiring me for a lot of Jay Z’s videos. I think that might’ve been the way I got into that job. I don’t remember exactly. I just remember Damon telling me I better make his girlfriend look good (laughs).

Hunter [On shooting "We Need A Resolution"]: We had a pretty good connection to other projects and both went our different ways [after shooting “One In A Million”]. I wanted to work with her on a couple of projects after that but she wanted to go in another direction. She’d gone her direction, I’d gone my direction and then over time we started to see each other around and as she was making the record, she called me and said, ‘Hey, I want to connect back with you on this project, try to recreate the magic that we did on “One In A Million.’” One of the things that she wanted to do, she wanted to obviously dance, and she was really great at it. I felt that the idea behind that connection, we wanted an exclusive peek into her life, so the idea there was to create a sense that every room, every scenario that you’re looking at something that only certain people can see. It’s almost like if you’ve ever seen a celebrity in the airport, they’re going into a first class lounge, or they’re going into a private hallway, they sort of slip past you. The idea was to have this experience where we create these rooms that felt like they were exclusive.

Meyers [On the concept of “More Than A Woman”]: That was just a brainstorm I actually had with another younger director at my company. I was really excited about the video so I sort of did a little roundtable. The light show was something I’ve been wanting to do ever since Lenny Kravitz “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” and then the motorcycle motif I think one of the younger guys had initially tossed it out there and I thought it was awesome. I’d never seen a dance video with… there’s a lot of good metaphorical aspects of being inside the petitions of a hot motorcycle. The dance itself, her energy is fueling that. It was during the time of Ruff Ryders and all that stuff so this motorcycle mania was on my mind, and the culture. It just seemed like a nice marriage.

Hunter [On the cobras]: I think that idea was about danger. I don’t know if it was her idea or my idea, but ultimately it was about her being in control of something that was dangerous or that would create some sort of tension in the story and that ultimately she was in control of it…Aaliyah always wanted something that was different from what was going on. She always wanted to stand out, she wanted her visuals to stand out… We were very clear about connecting to the roots of her vibe and what she was all about, what she established with her audience. We worked hand in hand to make sure that came across.

Meyers: I’ve always loved lights and dance. I think light shows are a synonymous expression of music and I think you see it in live concerts. Back then and even particularly now it’s very rare that you get the budget to express the light show for a music video the way you once did. Now in video form it tends to be more artificial with post effects or it’s done over a concert, concerts that do 40 cities can afford that, a 12 million dollar light show like the Coldplays, the U2s. It’s really hard to bring that to a video, and that one was a very expensive video where Aaliyah was insistent on hitting that level. I think I was a little bit nervous because the budget was high and she was like, ‘No I want to do this right.’ She got it approved, and the next thing you know we’re doing it.

Hunter: Her vibe has always been easy going and chill and laid back. You see the way she dances, the way she sings is very much her personality. She was in an extremely good mood because she was happy about her album and her new music that she had coming out, the music video that we did. She was really happy about that.

Albert Watson: She was fresh and she was very young. She had a lot of connections within the industry and she fed off of that. Her smartness was part of her whole persona. I think there’s lots of beautiful women, but she was beautiful and talented. She projected a very honest aura

Fu: I met her father backstage at KMEL Summer Jam when I was living in the Bay Area. I gave him my business card and told him I was a visual artist and I would love to work with them. It’s been so long, but think I emailed them some samples of my work and I didn’t think anything would come of it. To my surprise, her management team hit me back and asked me to come up with some designs for Romeo Must Die. The ideas never got used, but they liked what I showed them and eventually reached out again when she was finishing up her next album.

Watson: I think the whole shooting time was maybe 3-and-a-half hours in front of the camera. For the album cover, they wanted to do it in red so I did quite a lot of different shots on her and we thought that the red could be added later, almost like a gel on top of the shot. That ended up being the album cover. It was a natural thing. They had a lot of clothes. I think the thing they wanted to make sure was they wanted the shot to have some energy. It wasn’t just a beauty shot of her that had some sort of energy to it. But they wanted it to feel like a beauty shot.

Fu: I was sent proofs from so many of the top photographers of the day, including Albert Watson, Jonathan Mannion and David LaChapelle. To be completely honest, my favorite photos of her were from Jonathan Mannion. But of all the photos, there was one photo from Albert Watson that spoke to me. It was a symmetrical composition, with Aaliyah facing directly at you, with a look of confidence and maturity. Perhaps it was a reaction to her being mysterious and aloof behind her sunglasses in previous covers, but this particular photo seemed to say “Here I am, this is me.” It just felt like her arrival from her adolescent years to womanhood. I think the cover was more of a result of understanding her vibe and stage in her career. The fact that she also picked my favorite cover shows that we were on the same wavelength. I wasn’t sure why I decided to tint the cover photo red at the time. But there is something so bold and celebratory about it, it just felt right.

Hunter: One thing about her was that she brought a sense of independence and she pushed things past just her being standard.

Fu: I think I was still dealing with the concept of such a vibrant life being here and suddenly not. So after she passed, it was hard to look at that image. She is so full of life, so ready to embrace the next chapter in her life.

Meyers: The most sentimental thing about the last shot, just because it was the dedication, her on the motorcycle with the helmet off, was a very uncomfortable post-process. We shot the video and then she went to the islands to shoot her final video and she was coming back to give me notes on my final video and didn’t make it. As a result of probably public pressure and curiosity and just the way that the family wanted to manage it, they released her island video first and I didn’t even know if they were going to release mine, but about six or seven months later I got the phone call to finish up the video. That’s when I put the dedication on because it had been about six months from her passing when I was asked to finish the video. It was a very sad ending to a really fun video. The time I did get to spend with her was really meaningful and inspiring. Interestingly enough, she gets referenced even now. That video, her impact matches her death, but the impact she had culturally on the next wave of artists I’ve worked with, like four or five artists that want to be the next Aaliyah. She had a huge impact on her peers and young women that were around the corner coming up. It’s interesting to live through both generations of that.

Remembering Baby Girl

J-DUB: I always knew that Aaliyah was dope and by the grace of God I was blessed to work with her on that final album. The songs that we did are some of my favorite songs actually I ever done with any artist.

Bud’da: There’s a book called "Heaven Is For Real" where there was a kid that had an experience with dying and going to Heaven and in the book it mentioned the fact that in Heaven there were colors he had never seen before. There were colors we never seen on Earth. Thinking about Aaliyah creatively and how forward she was and ahead of time in her process then, that’s the only thing I could think about if she were here at this point. She was painting with a palette that hasn’t been painted with yet. It’s hard to articulate what it is but it would be beautiful.

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Melyssa Ford

Melyssa Ford: 'My Mother Died During This Pandemic And I Have Nowhere To Put My Grief'

Editor's Note: In a heartwarming tribute, former model now TV/radio host, Melyssa Ford details the final days she shared with her beloved mother, Oksana Barbara Raisa Ford (10/12/1950 - 5/19/2020). Understanding that we have all been connected to COVID-19's tragic reach, this essay explains the plight of one person's experience that represents the pain so many are dealing with in these times around the world.

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COVID-effing-19. This pandemic has been a moment of reckoning for a great many of us. How many of you have been confronted with the hard truth that we took EVERYTHING about our lives and freedoms for granted? The freedom to call up a few friends and go for Happy Hour drinks after a long day at work? The freedom to start our day by going to the gym; the freedom to temporarily vacate our lives by getting on a plane and heading off to some tropical destination? Or the freedom to gather at a burial or memorial service to pay love and respect to a loved one who has passed, as a means of helping to process our own grief? 

My mother died last week. Not from COVID-19, but from colon cancer. But COVID-19 and its endless complications directly affected my family’s lives and, ultimately, my mother's death. 

It was less than a year from diagnosis to her last days. She lived in Toronto (my hometown) and I currently live in Los Angeles. Traveling during this pandemic presented some incredible challenges. Quarantine and shelter in place rules. Closed international borders. Fear and uncertainty. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get to her side in time, since Canada mandates that anyone getting off a plane has to self-quarantine for 14 days (threats of fines and jail time were there to incentivize you to adhere to the new rules). And I knew my mother had very little precious time. 

Months before, when there was still some hope that surgery and chemo would prolong her life, she decided to sell the house I grew up in. I was furious. I looked at this as her giving up; resigning herself to the control of this insidious disease called cancer. But my mother, the truest form of a pragmatist, was preparing for the inevitable and getting her affairs in order. She wanted to leave me with nothing to do except mourn her without the burden of packing up a home with all of her belongings in it after her death. She knows me so well, she knew I’d NEVER pack it up, that I’d have left everything the way it was as a shrine to her and, therefore, never really moving through my grief in a purposeful and healthy manner. 

Cancer ravaged my mother's body but left her brain fully intact. And it was with full cognition, pragmatism and a whole lot of gumption, that she decided to end things on her terms by scheduling her passing with a doctor's assistance via MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) — a legal policy in Canada that allows a terminally ill patient in palliative care to choose the days or weeks remaining in their lives. 

She didn’t want to spend her last months laying confined to a bed, immobile, unable to even take herself to the bathroom. The most basic form of human dignity had been stolen from her and replaced with a catheter and a colostomy bag that my aunt had to drain several times a day. I watched as her skin turned yellow from jaundice, signaling her liver was failing. I watched as her urine went from a dark yellow to crimson, a signal that her kidneys were no longer functional. My mother, the strongest person I had ever known, both physically and mentally, was now frail and seemingly melting into the bed, her skin sagging from her skeletal arms and legs. Her face was gaunt, her head bald, her breastplate visible and bony...in her last days, she was an empty shell of the 5’10” beautiful Viking she had been. With her long blond hair, green eyes, and imposing physical stature, I used to joke that if you gave her a hat with horns, a shield, and a sword, you could send her out to battle. 

The day I arrived in Toronto from L.A., I approached my mother’s bedside after going through a rigorous disinfectant routine. My mother had been discharged from the hospital as there was nothing left to do for her medically except keep her as comfortable as possible. She was sent home to my aunt’s house for the remainder of her days. My aunt’s home was a place of comfort and joy for me, as I’ve spent a great many holidays and family occasions here; this was the best place for my mother to be. With a mask and gloves on, I sat down next to her bedside and tried with all my might not to cry. My Mom had passed on that British “stiff upper lip” mentality to me; it’s rare you will see me expose my emotions. But as of late, I’ve been pretty transparent about it, in an attempt to sort through my competing feelings of grief and guilt. Guilt of not having been the perfect daughter. Grief of being her only child with no one to share the burden of immeasurable sadness with. Guilt of not working on our relationship or attempting to understand her as a person until it was close to the end. Guilt and grief kept coming in waves, threatening to drown me. 

On that first evening, I sat with her for a few hours and we talked more frankly than we ever had about things I had always been scared to ask. Topics such as her tumultuous marriage to my father and why she stayed in such misery. What was HER mother like, who died when my mother was only 15 years old? Was she proud of me and the choices I had made in my life, one of them being never having children?

Eventually, I had to let her sleep. I went upstairs to her bedroom (she was now in a bedroom on the main floor of my aunt’s house since she could no longer walk). Once in her room, I found a journal titled 2019 and began to read. What I read, in between all of the activities she enjoyed such as Aquafit and her book club, was her documenting her disease before she even knew she had it, describing the symptoms that began as uncomfortable that would soon become excruciatingly painful. 

It broke my heart to read this, being on the other side of understanding where this story would end. I found myself wanting to move through the dimension of time and yell, “Go to the hospital!” Reading this only made me wonder if she had caught it during the early days of symptoms, would the outcome be different? Excuse me as I add more guilt and more grief to the already unbearable weight upon my shoulders. 

Our final day was spent much like the last six days I had with my mother, laying beside each other in bed, massaging her, and either watching movies or talking. We would go from walking down memory lane as I showed her old pictures to discussing last-minute details about the Business of Death: the transfer of everything into my name, where certain sentimental pieces of jewelry could be found, who she wanted to receive small tokens of remembrance of her. As sad as I was for myself, my heart broke for my mother. She’s losing EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE. She expressed to me that she was shocked at how quickly her cancer spread throughout her body. It didn’t give her a chance. No amount of holistic remedies or prayers would have changed this (thanks to all my friends who suggested a plant-based diet with sea moss, soursop, and bladderwrack but her colon, GI tract, and bowels had been decimated). 

The few days leading up to her doctor-assisted euthanasia, I found my heart racing in a panic as the end was creeping closer and closer. I don’t know what’s worse, a loved one's death being a surprise or knowing when it’s going to happen with the hours counting down. I know both intimately. My father went the first way, my mother the second. I still can’t tell you the answer.

With plans in place for the funeral home to come and take my mother's body in order to cremate her, I’m left with a feeling of such remorse and sadness. Because of COVID-19, my mother’s friends and I are being robbed of the opportunity to congregate at a memorial service to properly mourn and pay homage and respect to the woman we all loved and admired. My mother deserved that.

I’m so angry. I’m angry at cancer. I’m angry at, as a society, our collective circumstances. I’m angry at the thought that this pandemic could have been controlled if our government officials had reacted swiftly. I’m angry that there are so many people who are experiencing the same thing I am—the death of loved ones, and the inability to gather together for a ceremony that celebrates their lives and sends them off properly.

Trauma changes you. Less than two years ago, I almost died when a truck hit my jeep on a California highway. I spent almost a year recovering. I’m a different person than I was moments before the impact of that crash. And now I’ve got to sort out who I am without my mother on this earth. People report a feeling of disconnectedness after the death of their parent(s); like what kept you tethered to the earth is gone and you are now hurtling through time and space, searching for something to grab onto.

I lost my father many years ago and now my mom is gone. I’m praying that I find something soon to ground me; but for the time being, the search to make sense and meaning of my mother's life and, ultimately her death, shall continue for me, like a room with endless doors or a road that disappears into the horizon. 

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A native of Toronto, Canada and now residing in Beverly Hills, California, Melyssa Ford is a syndicated radio show host on Hollywood Unlocked via iHeart Media's stations nationwide and also hosts her own podcast, I'm Here For The Food (available on all streaming platforms).

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Beenie Man (L) and Bounty Killer (R) in 1995.
David Corio/Redferns

A Look At Beenie Man And Bounty Killer's 'Verzuz' Battle Scorecard

Why was this night different from all other Verzuz battles? Streamed live from Kingston, Jamaica, the Memorial Day “Soundclash Edition” of Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s flagship IG Live series was easily the most exciting and entertaining yet, as well as the first to delve into dancehall reggae.

Considering the fact that Jamaican sound systems pioneered the sort of “beat battles” have made Verzuz a social media sensation well over half a century ago, the creative decision was more than fitting. By pitting two icons of the genre, Bounty Killer and Beenie Man, in head-to-head competition, this Verzuz battle did not just showcase two of its most respected lyricists ever to hold a microphone, it also tapped into an epic rivalry that stretches back more than a quarter of a century.

At that time the youth born Moses Davis in the Waterhouse section of downtown Kingston was already on the second leg of his career -- having released his first album a decade earlier at the age of ten. Young Rodney Price, formerly known as Bounty Hunter, had just started to make noise under his new artist name Bounty Killer, recording hardcore hits for the legendary Waterhouse-based producer Lloyd “King Jammy” James.

Like all young aspiring artists, Killer had looked up to Beenie as an inspirational figure -- until he felt that the artist had borrowed his style. Beenie and Bounty’s face-to-face clashes, especially their Boxing Day battles at the storied Jamaican stage show Sting in 1993 and 1995, are the stuff of dancehall legend. Despite whatever differences may have existed between them, both artists channeled all that energy into great records -- many of which were played in the heat of the Verzuz battle.

Arguably the most exciting and spontaneous edition of Verzuz yet, the Beenie and Bounty battle was not a “clash” in the traditional Jamaican sense, but it was hardly a conventional beat battle either. Predictions that the island’s WiFi might not be able to handle the strain were soon dismissed -- in keeping with Jamaica’s long tradition of raising the bar when it comes to using technology to create next-level musical entertainment, this was the best-produced beat battle of them all. On the other hand, this was also the first time a Verzuz competitor has had to take a break in the action to negotiate with police officers.

This was surely also the first Verzuz battle to be live-tweeted by a prime minister: PM Andrew Holness took to his official Twitter to declare “Jamaica’s culture is global” and share a screenshot of the action. In keeping with the national pride, the battle opened with a rousing rendition of the Jamaican National Anthem.

When Beenie and Bounty came through VIBE’s IG Live one day before performance, they both declared that they would not be preparing for the battle as the art of war should be spontaneous. This has had people on tender hooks as no one really knows what would happen on the night. But of course all celebrities were out in full force for this highly anticipated battle, as everyone from Diddy to Swizz to Rihanna came through to catch the vibes. It was the only place to be if you were on IG, with more than 400K people checking in at the event's peak.

Here’s Billboard's tune-for-tune breakdown from the top to the very last drop.

ROUND 1: Beenie Man's “Matie” vs. Special Ed feat. Bounty Killer's “Just a Killa”

Beenie kicked things off with his first No. 1 hit (on the Jamaican charts) in honor of the late great Bobby Digital, the legendary producer of this song and countless more, who passed away May 21. Bounty opted to open on an international note, leading with his first hip hop collaboration, a 1995 single by Brooklyn rapper Special Ed featuring a guest verse from young Bounty.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 2: Beenie Man's “Memories” vs. Bounty Killer's “Suspense”

Sticking with the hardcore dancehall, Beenie reached for one of his fan favorites, a mid-’90s banger on the “Hot Wax” riddim that was recorded during the height of his great lyrical war with Bounty Killer (and sampled by Drake on the album version of “Controlla”). Killer responded in kind with a track on the same hard-hitting riddim, making this round feel like a flashback mid-'90s dancehall session.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 3: Beenie Man's “Slam” vs. Bounty Killer's “Living Dangerously”

Shifting into another gear, Beenie drew for his first Billboard hit, a tribute to the sexual prowess of “ghetto girls” recorded on Dave Kelly’s irresistible “Arab Attack” riddim. Bounty responded with one of his most popular songs for the ladies, a collaboration with reggae vocalist par excellence Barrington Levy. Counteracting a classic with another classic, this round was too close to call.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 4: Beenie Man feat. Chevelle Franklin's “Dancehall Queen” vs. Diana King feat. Bounty Killer's “Summer Breezin’”

Keeping the energy high, Beenie unleashed this soundtrack cut from the movie Dancehall Queen (in which he also appeared). Bounty responded with a relatively obscure guest verse on a record by Jamaican pop hitmaker Diana King.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 5: Beenie Man feat. Lil Kim's “Fresh From Yard” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Jeru the Damaja's “Suicide or Murder”

For his first international selection, Beenie chose a DJ Clue production featuring the Queen Bee in her best Brooklyn Jamaican patois mode. Killer kept it BK with a grimy Jeru collab produced by New York’s own Massive B productions.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 6: T.I. feat. Beenie Man's “I’m Serious” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Mobb Deep's “Deadly Zone”

Sticking with the hip hop collabs, Beenie dropped T.I.’s first major-label single featuring a hard-as-nails Neptunes beat and a street-certified Beenie Man hook. But he should have known that badman business is the Killer’s wheelhouse. Bounty clapped back with a grimy Mobb Deep collab off his My Xperience album and took the round.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 7: Guerilla Black feat. Beenie Man's “Compton” vs. Bounty Killer feat. The Fugees' "Hip-Hopera”

Beenie dropped his third straight hip hop crossover track, this one a guest verse for Biggie soundalike Guerilla Black over a bouncy Stalag Riddim. Bounty brought out the big guns, returning fire with a Fugees collab. As the Warlord would say, “People dead!”

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 8: Beenie Man's “Romie” vs. Bounty Killer's “Worthless Bwoy”

Returning to straight-up dancehall, Beenie served up one of his worldwide club classics, a song about a girl named “Romie” set to Shocking Vibes’s hard-driving version of the Punany Riddim. Killer replied with a Dave Kelly banger burning out the guys who lack the stamina to satisfy their significant others.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 9: Beenie Man “Old Dog” vs. Bounty Killer “Stucky”

Beenie Man has plenty of classic dancehall joints, and this Dave Kelly sure shot is one of the most ubiquitous. “Old Dog” recounts his exploits with the opposite sex, shouting out female dancehall stars Patra and Lady Saw along the way. Bounty replied in kind with his own kind of “gyal tune,” more rough than sweet, just the way Killer likes it.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 10: Beenie Man feat. Mya “Girls Them Sugar” vs. Bounty Killer ft. Nona Hendryx & Cocoa Brovaz “It’s a Party”

Beenie closed out the first half of the battle on a strong note with one of his most beautiful records, a Neptunes remake of one of his immortal dancehall classics adorned with a sweet hook sung by Mya. Bounty’s response was strong, but the Wyclef-produced party joint (with a hook by the former member of Labelle and bars from Boot Camp MCs) fell just short of Beenie’s selection.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 11: Beenie Man feat. Wyclef Jean's “Love Me Now” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Swizz Beatz' “Guilty”

Flipping catchy lyrics over Naughty By Nature's classic “O.P.P.” beat, Beenie sounded strong on this Wyclef collab, but Bounty countered with a hard-hitting Swizz Beatz track featuring a blazing guest verse from the Killer.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 12: Beenie Man feat. Barrington Levy's “Murderation” vs. Bounty Killer's “Look”

The vibes were sweet right up until the moment when officers of the Jamaican Constabulary Force interrupted the action. Beenie took care of the situation, informing the police that there were hundreds of thousands of people watching internationally. He then asked his DJ to run one of the hardest tracks in his catalog, a song about the abuse of authority in the ghetto streets. It was such a perfect segue the whole thing almost seemed planned. Killer had no choice but to counter with one of the most powerful songs in his catalogue, another Dave Kelly masterpiece, just barely winning what was arguably the strongest round of the entire battle.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 13: Beenie Man's [Showtime Juggling] vs. Bounty Killer's “Fed Up”

Still charged up by the unexpected visit from the police, Beenie felt a vibe and decided to perform his next song live. Starting out with “Hypocrite,” a blistering broadside against haters on Dave Kelly’s “Showtime” riddim, Beenie’s performance inspired Bounty to join in for what became a multi-song medley that included snippets of Killer’s “Eagle & The Hawk” and “Bullet Proof Skin” as well as Beenie Man’s “Done Have We Things,” “Badman Medley,” “Bury Yuh Dead,” and “Fire Burn.”

After they wrapped up their explosive tag-team performance, Beenie calmly stated “My song dat,” indicating that he wanted the whole extended set to count as one song. Bounty retaliated with “Fed Up,” one of his signature reality tunes that cemented his reputation as Jamaica’s “Poor People Governor.” Another close round, and highly unorthodox. Advantage Killa.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 14: Beenie Man's “World Dance” vs. Bounty Killer's “Gal” 

Beenie Man took it back with one of his biggest early hits, a “buss the dance” selection on Shocking Vibes’ Cordy Roy Riddim. Killer’s response was another hardcore tune for the girls, explosively energetic and lyrically intricate.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 15: Beenie Man's “Modeling” vs. Bounty Killer's “Model”

Taking it back to the early days of his career, Beenie served up a song designed to inspire all the “bashment girls” in the dance to show off their freshest outfits and dance moves. Killer responded in kind with a similar type of song, every bit as lyrically precise as Beenie’s was melodic, making this round a dead heat.

WINNER: Tie

ROUND 16: Beenie Man's “Oyster & Conch” vs. Bounty Killer's “Benz & Bimma”

Sticking with the “gyal” segment, dancehall’s “Doctor” prescribed a musical aphrodisiac, stressing the importance of seafood in your diet. Killer responded with a dancehall smash likening his appreciation of the female physique to his fondness for expensive European automobiles.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 17: Beenie Man's “Dude” vs. Bounty Killer's “Greatest”

Beenie delivered yet another Dave Kelly sureshot, this time on the festive Fiesta Riddim. Killer responded with a little-known 2003 track on the “Hydro” radio, basically conceding this round.

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 18: Beenie Man's “Mm-Hmm” vs. Bounty Killer feat. Cham's “Another Level”

As the battle neared its final rounds, Beenie played this hard-hitting Tony Kelly production and grabbed the mic to chat his lyrics live and direct, showing that dancehall artists of a certain age are still in top form lyrically. Bounty replied with a musical killshot on Dave Kelly’s Clone Riddim, joining forces with Cham to take things to “Another Level.” Feeling the spirit, Beenie grabbed the mic and spit a verse over Bounty’s record.

WINNER: Bounty

ROUND 19: Beenie Man “Nuff Gal” vs. Bounty Killer “Cry For Die For”

Beenie changed up the pace with a jazzy tune for the ladies featuring a swinging horn section. This 1996 Jamaican single could have been a bigger hit for Beenie if it had the right promotion, and still sounds great all these years later. Bounty Killer responded in similarly eclectic mode with a jaunty track on a Riddim based on The Champs' 1950s rock chart-topper “Tequila.”

WINNER: Beenie

ROUND 20: Beenie Man's “I’m Drinkin’ (Rum and Red Bull)” vs. Bounty Killer's “Smoke the Herb”

Beenie closed out his regulation 20 rounds with one of his biggest crossover hits, a collaboration with Fambo that somebody at Red Bull should probably sign up for an endorsement deal. Bounty Killer responded with perhaps his greatest ganja anthems. This one was too close to call. Pick your poison.

WINNER: Tie

EXTRA TUNES

After running a couple of exclusive dubplate specials -- “War Uno Want” by Bounty Killer and a Buju Banton and Beenie Man collab on the M.P.L.A Riddim -- Beenie and Bounty served one final tune. ”Why Beenie saved one of his signature songs, 2004's "King of the Dancehall," for the 21st round is anybody’s guess. Bounty’s response ("Nuh Fren Fish") was something for the hardcore fans only.

Winner: Beenie

BONUS ROUNDS

Wider Catalogue: Beenie Man

While both artists did a good job displaying the breadth of their respective repertoires, blending hardcore dancehall hits with international collaborations, Beenie Man showed off his versatility with a mixture of old and new dancehall hits as well as mixing moods and tempos.

Biggest Snub: Beenie Man (Point to Bounty Killer)

Beenie Man opted not to play “Who Am I” (aka “Sim Simma,”) perhaps his best known international hit. Not to be outdone, Bounty Killer also neglected to play “Hey Baby,” his high-profile collaboration with No Doubt from their Grammy-winning 2001 album Rock Steady. Still Beenie’s oversight was the more inexplicable of the two.

Best Banter: Beenie Man

When police stopped by in the middle of the session and Beenie Man somehow kept his cool telling them “Officer, the whole world is watching… do we have to do this right now? Do you really wanna be that guy?”

Biggest KO: Bounty Killer

Not long after the police stopped by, Beenie and Bounty joined in on an eight song freestyle, venting their frustration at the police. But Bounty’s response, “Poor People Fed Up,” trumped an extended live performance, demonstrating just how much of a punch that song still packs.

People's Champ: Bounty Killer

While Beenie proved the more strategic selector, Bounty Killer’s off-the-cuff adlibs an manic energy -- especially when he noticed Rihanna in the IG audience -- kept the mood up. Even when he played unexpected selections, the Warlord’s respect levels were on 11.

FINAL SCORE: 13-10-3, Beenie Man

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This article originally appeared on Billboard.

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Jonathan Mannion

Iconic Photographer, Jonathan Mannion, Details Shooting Eminem's 'Marshall Mathers LP' 20 Years Later

This story, in its entirety, is posted on Billboard.com and is written by Carl Lamarre.

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Saturday (May 23) marks the 20th anniversary of Eminem's third album, The Marshall Mathers LP. His magnum opus not only shattered records on the Billboard 200 (debuted at No. 1 with a whopping 1.78 million copies its opening week) but highlighted his abilities as a raw and gifted storyteller. With Em looking to shed light on his real-life persona of Marshall Mathers, he hired famed photographer Jonathan Mannion to help capture his vision.

Mannion, who previously shot legendary album covers such as Jay-Z's 1996 Reasonable Doubt and DMX's 1998 Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood, relished the task of teaming up with one of rap's polarizing acts because of their commonalities. Like Eminem, Mannion was a young, hungry creative from the Midwest, whose affinity for hip-hop ran deep, dating back to DJ Quik's debut single, "Born and Raised in Compton." 

Em and Mannion's tag-team expanded to over two continents. Not only did they shoot photos for MMLP in Amsterdam but also Detroit. From the pizza shop that Eminem used to work at to even his old childhood home where he sat on the steps for the album's classic cover art, nothing was off-limits.

READ MORE 20 Years of 'The Marshall Mathers LP': Ranking Every Song From Eminem's Third Album"

It was great," recalls Mannion of the shoot in from of Em's old house. "It was him in his element and delivering his journey. You know, the humble nature of him and his process of getting to be this megastar, which is rooted so clearly in talent. His talent and his relentless drive was it.

"Mannion spoke to Billboard about the 20th anniversary of The Marshall Mathers LP, where the album cover ranks in his collection and Em's dedication to delivering the best shots. 

What does the number 20 mean for you having been involved in the Marshall Mathers LP?

It's really hard to put into words how important this album is for the world, for Eminem (and) for me. There's an endless amount of stories. We shot in Amsterdam and Detroit. Originally, this album was meant to be called Amsterdam. I was like, "We have to go to Amsterdam. We have to all get on a plane and go there. That's the only way we're doing this album." He happened to be performing out there and said, "This is going to sync up perfectly.

"We did a phenomenal session out there -- really poured out hearts into it. Then, I think there was a realization that he wanted to present this trifecta of who he was: Slim Shady, Marshall Mathers and Eminem. This is how genius this guy is. He's thinking farther down the road to be able to craft these versions of himself. Slim Shady was the gimmick to get everyone's attention, which was still rooted in something phenomenal.

Then, he was like, "Let me tell you about my journey. Let me allow myself to be vulnerable within the space and deliver 'me' and how I really got here [with] my struggles, my pain," and I think that's when everybody really connected with him on a different level. It wasn't just this pop phenomenon that he was rooted in reverence for the culture. He obviously felt like he had to prove himself probably more than the next MC just because he was from Detroit and a white boy. He had something to prove and he was clinical on the album, delivering masterpiece after masterpiece.

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When it was time to dig into who Marshall Mathers was, we had to do another session in Detroit. So we flew to Detroit to kind of continue [the shoot]. It kind of became this nice balance of Amsterdam and all of these lax drugs laws and all of these experimental moments that he was pursuing at that time to kind of ground himself. We shot outside the pizza shop that he used to work at with people that he still knew from there.

I remember you said in a past interview that you shot him in his boxers and trench coat in the freezing cold towards the end of the shoot.

It's dedication. I was with him entirely, pushing and wanting more, but he one-upped me in this session. We did that and I was like, "OK. He's going to be tired." He's in boxer shorts, combat boots and a trench coat being the fullness of the character that he was presenting as this Amsterdam version of Em. He pushed it and I was like, "Man, this is incredible. What we achieved out here was beyond comprehension. I can't wait for when we get back to see the session and go through it."He was like, "Man, I was thinking I want to do one more shot. Can we go back to the hotel? I want to be in my hotel room writing to my daughter." Usually, I'm the one begging rappers to go a little bit farther because I want to give them the world, but it flipped on me. It wasn't begrudgingly that I went there to that place. I was like, "I'm with this. Thank you." It made another really phenomenal image that we got to share with the world because of that effort.

Continue reading the original article by Carl Lamarre at Billboard here.

 

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THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP. Congratulations to @eminem on an absolutely brilliant project that celebrates 20 YEARS today. There were 2 sessions that yielded the campaign around this album, one in Detroit and the other in Amsterdam. It is one of my top 3 covers of all time. Art direction & Photography, @jonathanmannion. Designed with the masterful @morningbreathinc’s own Jason Noto.

A post shared by Jonathan Mannion (@jonathanmannion) on May 23, 2020 at 11:20am PDT

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To get a feel of Mannion's deep love of hip-hop, check out his Spotify playlist of the many legendary artists and their music from the album covers he's shot. "I did a playlist on Spotify based on a random sampling of 65 of my favorite album covers. Pulled 90 tunes that were bonafide bangers and complied a little vibe," Mannion details. Enjoy the vibes!

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