There is a rather great collaboration between Amy Winehouse and Nas called “Like Smoke”. If you are fans of either artist, I would advise listening to it. It only took two tries or so before it clicked with me and I could fully “hear” all of the rhythm in the song. It starts off with Amy’s voice and, just like the title implies, her chorus drifts like smoke around the rest of the song, coming in from time to time to provide light and a smooth break from rapper Nas’s more intense lyrical verses. Despite the contradiction, the two voices offer a great sonic compliment to one another. You can almost feel the two of them together in the recording booth, playing off of each other while fusing their styles together.
“Cherry Wine” is another example of this. Once again with Amy in the chorus and Nas in the body, Nas tears up the raps, breaking rhythm and song and tying in strong emotion, while Amy’s piece rebounds off of his lyrics in a beautiful fashion.
Here’s the thing: they were not in the room when these songs were recorded. Due to the advancement of recording technology, this is perfectly plausible, yet they were not in the same country or even the same continent. The choruses that Amy did were allegedly written and recorded sometime in early 2011, and Nas wrote and recorded the body of the songs sometime in late 2011—months after Amy’s death.
Now, I do not want to imply that Nas stole Amy’s lyrics or her recordings. The two of them were close friends in real life and, in interviews, you can tell how much they cared about each other. Though the two had mentioned each other in their own song lyrics (particularly Amy’s “Me and Mr. Jones”, of which the subject of the song is centered around Nas) and though the two had discussed collaborating together (which seems to have been why Amy recorded these two choruses), a full collaboration was never able to happen in Amy’s lifetime. Nas has since explained that he found the collaborations to be a fitting tribute to their friendship and music careers. By making these songs, it fulfills a wish that Amy carried with her, but could not carry out.
And I can see that. It makes sense. Once again, this is not a bash against anyone involved in these recordings. Yet, though I love both, when I listen to these songs, I always have a sense of guilt. It is somewhat like the posthumous Michael Jackson album. I always wonder, “Is this what the passed artist would have wanted?” From what I understand, Amy was a perfectionist and was involved in her music and the way that it was presented. She had definite visions of the way that her albums should have sounded, and even contributed guitar recordings (in addition to writing and singing all of the songs). When recording her second album Back to Black, for example, Amy would take a playback of a song she had just recorded and would listen to it in a taxi cab. The purpose of this, of course, was to judge the way it would be heard for the majority of the listeners, and not just in the enhanced studio sound system speakers. Knowing the way that a song takes shape throughout many rehearsals, takes, and playbacks, would Amy have noticed things that did not feel artistically “right” to her? I trust that Nas and the producers responsible for these songs judged all of this when making these recordings. I believe that they were after the same quality that she was. Yet I still cannot decide which is the “worse” sin: to leave the recordings or to release the recordings? There are consequences for both. To leave the recordings of a deceased artist and disallow them from ever entering the public consciousness potentially denies many listeners from a transformative experience and keeps/controls the voice of the artist. To release the recordings without the artist’s full permission or approval, though, also controls the voice of the artist. Long-time collaborators may say that they know what the artist would have wanted, but how much of that is true and how much is just wishful thinking?
Reader, what is your opinion? Which is the best road to take?