Aaliyah: A Voice Heard Nine Years Later
Nine years ago today, Aaliyah Dana Haughton died at the age of 22 in a tragic plane crash over the Bahamas, after filming the music video for her single ‘Rock the Boat.’ Countless R&B artists have emerged since her unexpected passing, but few compare to the effervescence she showcased on songs, in movies and during performances.
Aaliyah scored her first record deal at the tender age of 12. She was immediately lauded for her ability to marry her dulcet vocal sensibilities with gritty sounds. The Timbaland-produced ‘Try Again’ supported that. Though the frenzied beat was fit for a rapper, Aaliyah commanded the track like a solid songstress.
She became the muse of iconic artists and producers such as R. Kelly and Missy Elliott, who helped mold the sound fans remember from the late singer. Kelly produced her first album — 1994’s ‘Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number’ — which spawned the debut single ‘Back & Forth.’ The song’s accompanying video introduced the world to Aaliyah’s grooving vocals and trademark midriff-baring outfits. Timb and Missy Elliott pushed the envelope with Baby Girl — as so many of her industry peers called her. From tracks like ‘If Your Girl Only Knew’ and ‘4 Page Letter’ to ‘Hot Like Fire’ and ‘One in a Million,’ the production and songwriting powerhouses respectively cranked Aaliyah’s sound to a level that was unmatched by her R&B counterparts, like Monica and Brandy.
Although her life was cut all too short, the Brooklyn-born, Detroit-raised singer achieved milestones in her career that surpassed those of industry veterans. She successfully branched out into feature films, earning the lead role of Trish O’Day in 2000’s ‘Romeo Must Die,’ alongside actors Jet Li, Isaiah Washington and DMX. Two years later, the chanteuse scored the starring role in ‘Queen of the Damned,’ which would be released to theaters six months after her passing.
Her third and final self-titled album, which had debuted about one month before the crash, saw Aaliyah as less the experimental teen from her early days and more of a young artist cementing her sound in the R&B landscape. With songs like the powerfully sensual ‘More Than a Woman,’ it was apparent she had blossomed into a full-fledged artist, not afraid to express raw emotion. When the video for the album’s single, ‘Rock the Boat,’ was eventually released, it served as both a reminder of Aaliyah’s enchanting dancing capabilities and that her legacy would live on despite her absence.
One of Aaliyah’s most memorable pieces of art that she created during her career was the ballad ‘Miss U,’ which was also a collaborative effort between Johnta Austin, Ted Bishop and Ginuwine. Featured on her posthumous album, ‘I Care 4 U,’ the song’s video became a memorial for the deceased singer and featured cameos from the likes of Dallas Austin, Tweet, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot and DMX. Though the lyrics summed up the sentiments felt in lieu of Aaliyah’s passing, it was X’s words at the clip’s commencement that continue to ring true: “I can understand why God would’ve wanted you close to him ’cause you truly were an angel on Earth, in your own special way.”