Celebrating Aaliyah Hip Hop’s Baby Girl 20 years after by VOFO.
by Rapjoint Lagos
Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001) was an American singer, actress, dancer, and model. She has been credited for helping to redefine contemporary R&B, pop and hip hop, earning her the nicknames the "Princess of R&B" and "Queen of Urban Pop".
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Detroit, she first gained recognition at the age of 10, when she appeared on the television show Star Search and performed in concert alongside Gladys Knight. At the age of 12, Aaliyah signed with Jive Records and her uncle Barry Hankerson's Blackground Records.
Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight. As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television programs, including Family Matters; she went on to appear on Star Search at the age of ten.
With the release of Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly, including the allegation that they had secretly married without her parents' knowledge.
Vibe later revealed a marriage certificate that listed the couple married on August 31, 1994, in Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Illinois. Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, was listed as 18 on the certificate; the illegal marriage was annulled in February 1995 by her parents. The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married.
As an artist, Aaliyah often voiced that she was inspired by a number of performers. These include Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sade, En Vogue, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Prince, Naughty by Nature, Johnny Mathis, Janet Jackson and Barbra Streisand. Aaliyah expressed that Michael Jackson's Thriller was her "favorite album" and that "nothing will ever top Thriller." She stated that she admired Sade because "she stays true to her style no matter what ... she's an amazing artist, an amazing performer ... and I absolutely love her."
In 2000, Aaliyah appeared in her first film, Romeo Must Die. She contributed to the film's soundtrack, which spawned the single "Try Again". The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 solely on airplay, making Aaliyah the first artist in Billboard history to achieve this goal.
After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her role in Queen of the Damned, and released, in 2001, her self-titled third and final studio album, which topped the Billboard 200.
The fascination with Aaliyah and her music have not abated in the two decades since the world tragically lost her.
On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah died at the age of 22 in an airplane accident in the Bahamas, when the badly overloaded aircraft she was traveling in crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all nine on board.
Aaliyah is forever frozen in time -- youthful, beautiful and left with dreams unfulfilled.
In the decades since her death, Aaliyah's music has continued to achieve commercial success, aided by several posthumous releases, and she has sold an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide. Her accolades include three American Music Awards and two MTV VMAs, along with five Grammy Award nominations. Billboard lists her as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and the 27th most successful in history.
But for those who admire Aaliyah, Wednesday is about celebrating the woman known to friends, family and her audience as "Baby Girl."
Writer Iandoli said the singer deserves acclaim, given her influence on the industry and ability to comfortably blend musical genres.
"You have something like trap soul now, or trap R&B, or even rappers who just sing over hip hop and electronic beats," Iandoli said. "That all started with Aaliyah."
"She was like blood, and I lost blood," producer Timbaland, whose collaborations with Aaliyah included the hits "Are You That Somebody?" and "We Need a Resolution," said in a phone call to "TRL." "Me and her together had this chemistry. I kinda lost half of my creativity to her. It's hard for me to talk to the fans right now. Beyond the music, she was a brilliant person, the [most special] person I ever met."
P. Diddy talked about his friendship with Aaliyah and mourned the death of an artist whose best work was yet to come. "She was one of those individuals that would light up a room," he said. "She always greeted you with a smile. Her time was coming; [she] was just about to explode."
Jet Li issued a statement extending his condolences to Aaliyah's family and the family of Eric Foreman, a makeup artist who also died in the crash.
"I heard of the devastating news and am deeply saddened that she is no longer with us," Li said. "She was a wonderful and talented artist who will be missed by everyone whose lives she touched."
Aaliyah wasn’t just influential in music. Paloma Ford points out that by the time Aaliyah died in 2001, her name had become synonymous with a style, a feel and an era, with her tomboyish sports jerseys, low-rise jeans, body chains, crop tops and slinky gowns having come back into fashion in the past two years (under the label Y2K). Vogue’s fashion editor Janelle Okwodu has described Aaliyah as “a bona fide muse for designers who cite hip-hop and the early ’00s as a reference point… There doesn’t seem to be a current streetwear trend that Aaliyah didn’t sport first – something to remember the next time you see someone stepping out in Timb[erland]s and overalls.”
Ford says: “She accomplished so much beyond music with fashion and movies, all by the age of 22.”
In the years since her tragic death, Aaliyah has been immortalized in song by artists including Kendrick Lamar and Drake, on a street mural in the East Village of New York City and in the musical output and style of Alicia Keys, Ciara, Lorde and numerous other performers.
Aaliyah was only 22, and her legacy has been maintained by Missy Elliott and Timbaland – who co-wrote and produced most of the tracks on her 1996 sophomore album, “One in a Million” – as well as Gladys Knight, her aunt through marriage.
Aaliyah’s passing was felt across generations, though her legacy has an almost otherworldly quality to it. For older fans, her death felt senseless, and the artist became iconised as a trailblazer whose life and career were cut short. For younger fans like me, she was shrouded in mystery, continuing to scoop awards and dominate the R&B charts well into the early 2000s.
Now, 20 years after her untimely death, Aaliyah remains a mystique in music, celebrated for her accomplishments and still mourned for the future she never experienced.