I’m part of a generation of music lovers who’ve grown up listening to, and loving Aaliyah’s music. Her signature style of a fusion of R’n’B/Hip-Hop/Soul/Electronica was something that had mesmerized me along with a worldwide legion of fans. By the late 90’s, Aaliyah’s impact on the music world was hard to miss. She had it all, the smooth moves, music videos with an edge, multi-platinum albums, chart topping singles, her own sense of style that was often imitated, awards galore as well as a promising movie career. With an image that was street as well as suave, serious yet cool, Aaliyah was easy to fall in love with. It’s hard to believe that it’s exactly 10 years ago on this day, a tragic plane crash silenced her voice forever.
Aaliyah was just 14 when she exploded on to the music scene under the guidance of R.Kelly in 1994 with her first single ‘Back And Forth‘ from her début album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number‘. She was a part of a number of artists credited for shaping the sound of R’n’B in the 90’s, including Brandy, Boyz To Men, TLC, Monica, Mary J Blige, R Kelly etc. But her sound was different, unique and way ahead of her times as compared to what her contemporaries were creating.
As her follow-up album ‘One In A Million‘ released in 1996 under the guidance of mentors Missy Elliot and Timbaland, Aaliyah went on to become one of the biggest selling R’n’B artists in the world with both the albums selling over 8 million units each. A continuous stream of slickly produced singles roared up the charts from both these albums, including ‘At You Best (You Are Love), ‘One In A Million‘, ‘Are You That Somebody‘, ‘The One I Gave My Heart To‘, ‘If Your Girl Only Knew‘ among others.
By the year 2000, her career sky-rocketed as she ventured successfully into movies with ‘Romeo Must Die‘, while her single ‘Try Again‘ from the soundtrack of the same movie became Aaliyah’s first Billboard # 1 single earning her an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video as well as Best Song From A Movie. It also earned her a Grammy nomination for the Best R’n’B Vocalist Female at the 2002 Grammy Awards. By then Aaliyah was a force to reckon with, and she was respected globally for not only her incredible sound, her intricate choreography and videos, but her incredibly charming and sweet spirit as well. Her 3rd album ‘Aaliyah‘ was all set to be released in a few months, she was signed on to be a part of the movie ‘The Matrix‘, while another movie, ‘Queen Of The Damned‘, featuring her was just about to be released, and her new single with Timbaland ‘We Need A Resolution‘ had just hit radio and was receiving rave reviews. She was all set to dominate the industry.
It was during this peak of her career that tragedy struck. While returning from the Bahamas after shooting the video for the single ‘Rock The Boat‘ from the album ‘Aaliyah‘, Aaliyah and 8 others were killed as the plane they were travelling in crashed. Her death came as a rude shock to the world of music, and fans and artists of the industry mourned the death of a future icon.
‘Aaliyah‘ remained the last album she ever recorded, and the album went on to reach # 1 on the Billboard charts eventually selling over a whopping 13 million units globally. ‘Aaliyah‘ is probably one of my favorite albums of all time, with a sound that was completely new and unheard of. It was a futuristic blend of Hip-Hop with Electronica and Soul with cleverly incorporated vocals. 4 singles from the album apart from’Try Again‘ went on to become major hits on the charts, including ‘We Need A Resolution‘, ‘Rock The Boat‘, ‘I Care 4 U‘ and ‘More Than A Woman‘, which went to # 1 on the UK Top 40 posthumously. She blazed a trail for others to follow with the album, and it’s easy to see where the present crop of artists get their sound and inspiration from.
Posthumously, a greatest hits package with unreleased material was released in 2002 titled ‘I Care 4 U‘, which had the single ‘Miss You‘ that Aaliyah had recorded earlier. The video for the single was an emotional tribute by a huge group of artists who were Aaliyah’s friends and fans including DMX, Missy Elliot, Queen Latifah, Toni Braxton, Lil’ Kim, Tweet, Jamie Foxx, Mary J Blige among others. Both the song and album went on to become huge hits that year, and were her last to reach the Billboard Top 10, both peaking at # 3. An indication that she was well on the way to become a legend, and that she would have dominated the game had she been alive today, and had a cruel twist of fate not taken her away too soon.
Personally, she was and still is one of my favorite singers of all time. I’m still in awe every time I listen to all her albums, and ‘Try Again‘, ‘I Don’t Wanna‘ and ‘Miss You‘ are some of my favorite songs of all time. I get chills down my spine every time I see the video for ‘Rock The Boat‘ knowing that she died immediately after filming it. She left back a legacy for many to follow, and although she’s no longer here with us, she lives on through her timeless music.
RIP Baby Girl, and thank you for the music.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001)