Many predicted that, had she not been tragically killed in a plane crash at just 22, Aaliyah would’ve become one of the world’s most successful entertainers. A highly influential presence in pop and R&B in the mid to late 90s, Aaliyah’s soft tone and understated style set her apart from her peers and gave her a unique fame, one she didn’t have to hound people for. She was a natural trendsetter.
Let’s have a look at the most essential tracks to understanding her legacy:
We Need A Resolution
Released at the peak of Timbaland’s production mastery, the angsty almost break-up track twists and turns as Aaliyah sighs and pouts about a no good lover doing her wrong. What makes the track unique is the lyrical resolve to actually sit down and communicate rather than just split up, even though their problems seem clear enough. Timbaland’s rap also throws a spanner into the works, as his “other side of the story” verse suggests she isn’t exactly an innocent party in the deterioration of the relationship.
One In A Million
A smooth R&B ballad about devotion and finding a rare perfect match. The song is a perfect example of how less was always more when it came to Aaliyah. Aaliyah never turns to vocal hysterics or elaborate runs to communicate the emotion behind the track, more she takes a subtle approach, gradually allowing her voice to go from a deeper, more conversational tone to a lovestruck airy higher pitch as she appears to fall deeper in love with her man as the song progresses. The result is spellbinding.
Journey To The Past
20th Century Fox’s 1997 animated feature Anastasia saw Aaliyah given the chance to flex her vocal power, and remains one of the only tracks where she sings in a more traditional diva sense. While some have doubted Aaliyah’s vocal talent due to her preferred softer tone, Journey shows she definitely had the vocal chops, she simply didn’t feel the need to prove it over and over. The song got the attention of Hollywood heavyweights, with Aaliyah scoring her first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
Aaliyah’s biggest hit and her introduction as a movie star, too. The hypnotising ode to perseverance was Aaliyah’s breakthrough hit, storming to the top of the charts and letting the world know she was the one to watch. The choreography laden video is intercut with scenes of her interacting with her Romeo Must die co-star Jet Li.
Are You That Somebody?
Originally recorded for the Dr. Dolittle movie soundtrack, Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” is one of her best known classics. The 1998 song was produced by Timbaland (who else could pull off those baby coo samples from “Countdown at 6?”) and instantly became one of Aaliyah’s most popular songs, and with good reason. Its unique R&B flavor left a mark on the 90’s which would eventually spawn to Aaliyah’s career making big moves. The song earned Aaliyah a Grammy nomination and it helped spawn off a dance-tastic visual number that people all over the world could learn the steps to.
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
This gem was one of Aaliyah’s earliest singles, yet it was among her most controversial. The song is about her feelings for an older man (R. Kelly duh) and how the age difference doesn’t matter… other than the fact that it was illegal. Ha. But that didn’t stop Aaliyah from creating a great slow jam when she was just 14 years old.
Rock The Boat
Tragically, the last music video Aaliyah would ever film turned out to be her most beautiful. While introducing a more sensual, feminine image for the star, the video and song maintained her effortlessly cool attitude, showcasing the 22-year-old in a series of tropical beach settings, while performing a dance routine on a luxury yacht. The song describes sex but not in a perverse or a sleazy way. It would seem Aaliyah was one entertainer who truly understood the art of “sexy”. The eerie final shot of the video stays with you long after you finish watching.