For this project, I used a variety of resources that spanned from Aaliyah’s website to websites that have written personal accounts of Aaliyah’s career. Aaliyah serves as an inspiration to many early age artist as she released her first album at the age of 14. She also made an everlasting impact on the fashion industry with the tom boy style she brought to R&B. Although her career was tragically cut short, she will forever remain the princess of R&B.
Early Life: A Star Is Born
Aaliyah was born Aaliyah Dana Haughton in Brooklyn, New York on January 16,1979. She spent much of her childhood traveling between Detroit, Michigan and Brooklyn, New York. Aaliyah found music to be way to express herself freely and she began competing in talent and vocal competitions. One of these major competitions was tiled “Star Search” which was a popular American T.V. show that showcased young rising stars in search of record label signing. Although she did not win this competition she continued singing and at the young age of eleven she began performing with Gladys Knight in Las Vegas. In 1994, at the age of 14 Aaliyah would release her first album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number which became an instant hit.
The release of Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number catapulted Aaliyah’s career by her first single “Back And Forth” debuting as a top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one as a R&B song. The next single on this album was to a rendition of the Isley Brother’s song “At Your Best” that reached top 10 on the billboard Hot Hundred. Aaliyah became known for her trademark style of baggy pants and oversized shirts. While this album placed Aaliyah on a higher platform, the album had pushback from those not supportive of their relationship. At the time, Aaliyah was in a relationship with singer and songwriter R. Kelly. Aaliyah and Kelly shared a significant age gap of Kelly being 27 and Aaliyah being 15. The lyrics of the song suggest that age does not matter and that love trumps whatever the media and society may display.
Aaliyah’s song titled “Back And Forth” that debuted as top five on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one as a R&B song. The album cover features R. Kelly faded in the background. Kelly served as the sole producer for this album.
Aaliyah’s song titled “At Your Best” reached top 10 on the billboard Hot Hundred. Her inspiration for this song came from the influence of the Isley Brother’s song titled “At Your Best (You Are Love)” that was released in 1976.
From her album “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” Aaliyah changed the game of fashion by taking on a less feminine appeal that created the style of a “tom boy.” Aaliyah was the pioneer of oversized clothing, sporty chic aesthetic, and for the new style of “baby girl” that referred to her nickname. Aaliyah brought about timeless outfits such as popularizing brands. Her go to fashion designer was Tommy Hilfiger. Aaliyah would wear sweatsuits and strap detailed bras that gave birth to the midriff trend that is still seen today. Her fashion brought about a new way for women to dress that was still acceptable in society. Aaliyah was able to bring comfort on the runway and into award shows that was not previously shown before by wearing loose clothing and instead inserting distinctive pieces that would make the outfit stand out.
Mid Career: Continued Success
Two years after Aaliyah’s first album, she would release her second album titled One In A Million. She found great success again in the releasing of this album as her first single “If Your Girl Only Knew” went double platinum. In her songs “4 Page Letter” and “Hot Like Fire” gained her many new fans and fame. One of the producers she grew to be very close with and that was featured on her songs was Timbaland. With his help and many others, her album went multi-platinum and an international hit. She began touring globally performing these hits and was soon given the oppurtunity to produce another song with Timbaland that further expanded her musical influence. The hit “Are You That Somebody” from the Dr. Doolittle movie soundtrack allowed for her to debut a fresh new style of her music.
Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” went double platinum. This song was written by rapper and songwriter Missy Elliott and Timbaland. This single was the lead single on this album. Aaliyah would later re-release this song for her anniversary. In the United States, the song peaked at number 11 on the Hot 100 chart and topped the R&B chart for two weeks.
Aaliyah’s song “4 Page Letter” lead to her gaining more fan momentum. “4 Page Letter” peaked on the Billboard charts at number 12 after its release in 1996. The song was also produced by Timbaland and Missy Elliott. The song is known for its iconic introduction where listeners can hear Aaliyah saying “turn my music up.” The story is interesting as Missy Elliott originally recorded this song and on the original track she told her engineer to turn her music up. When Aaliyah recorded the song, she decided to keep this part in the final song.
Pictured together is music producer Timbaland and Aaliyah that worked closely on numerous projects together. Timbaland met Aaliyah when Missy Elliott introduced them. They worked together on this album and developed a close relationship. He often times featured his vocals on many of the songs on this album. They met when Aaliyah was 16 and Timbaland was aged 27. He later on admitted, after the death of Aaliyah, that he secretly had a love connection to her that he never admitted.
Late Career: Aaliyah Taking Over The Big Screen
Aaliyah debuted in the motion picture Romeo Must Die that was produced by Joel Silver for Warner brothers. The film became a box office success and has led to Aaliyah’s huge success of the record “Try Again.” The soundtrack for this album sold millions of copies and spent weeks on the Billboard soundtrack charts. After the success with this motion picture she would star in the 2001 film The Queen of the Damned by Michael Rymer. Aaliyah went on to obtain the roles in the “Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions,” “Honey,” and “Sparkle.”
Aaliyah’s song “Try Again” that debuted in 2000. This song was produced and written by producer Timbaland. The song featured on the movie Romeo Must Die. The movie “Romeo Must Die”, was Aaliyah’s first movie role. Originally, the track that was made for this movie was only accessible by purchase of the whole movie soundtrack. Eventually this would change as the song was finally released as a single.
Aaliyah’s last studio album displayed her maturity as a singer song writer and as a performer. Her last album was titled Aaliyah that was release in July 2001 that debuted at number two in the U.S. charts that sold over 2.4 million albums worldwide. Notable singles from this album were “We Need A Resolution,” “More Than A Woman,” and “Rock The Boat.”
A Star Gone Too Soon
On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah passed away due to a tragic plane accident. Aaliyah’s legacy will continue to go on through fashion, makeup, and the beautiful music she left behind.
Keeping Aaliyah's Legacy Alive
With the development of streaming services, many Aaliyah fans have noticed an absence of Aaliyah’s music. When Aaliyah died, many of her records were kept under the ownership of her uncle’s company. The one album that was a part of the transition was her first album that was owned by Sony Records. After pushback from her family and fans, her music has finally been released on all streaming platforms. Aaliyah’s legacy of drum breaks within her music is a music technique that will forever be used. It is something that has been used in contemporary music such as “Wild Side” by Cardi B and Normani. Her impact on the fashion world will forever be notable as she changed the game for women’s clothing. She brought a comfortable and sexy side to fashion that was not seen before. Aaliyah has also been known for her makeup that landed her a continued legacy that debuted in her MAC cosmetics collection.
After the unexpected death of Aaliyah, her fans and family started a memorial fund in her name. The fund is given in support of charities and communities that Aaliyah saw as special and worth donating too. The charities that receive this fund are the Agape Christian Center, Alzheimer’s Association of Los Angeles, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Detroit School of Arts, Elf Revlon/Walk For Women, Harlem Breast Cancer Center, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Aaliyah has won a variety awards that span from the American Music Awards, BET Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Billboard Video Awards, Echo Awards, Grammy Awards, Juno Awards, MOBO Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, MTV Video music Awards, Soul Train Awards, and Kids Choice Awards.
American Music Awards:
2002 – Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist – Winner
2002 – Favorite R&B/Soul Album: Aaliyah – Winner
2003 – Favorite Female R&B Artist – Winner
2002 – Best Actress: Queen of the Damned – Winner
Billboard Music Video Awards:
2000 – Maximum Vision Video: Try Again – Nominated
2000 – Best R&B Clip: Try Again – Nominated
Billboard Music Awards:
1996 – Top R&B Single of the Year, Female: One in a Million – Winner
1998 – Top Hip-Hop/R&B Single Airplay Single of the Year: Are You That Somebody – Winner
2000 – Top Hip-Hop/R&B Artist of the Year, Female – Winner
2003 – Top Hip-Hop/R&B Artist of the Year, Female – Winner
2003 – Top Hip-Hop/R&B Album of the Year, Female – Winner
2003 – Top Hip-Hop/R&B Single of the Year, Female – Winner
2003 – Best Hip Hop/R&B International – Nominated
1999 – Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: Are You That Somebody? – Nominated
2001 – Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: Try Again – Nominated
2002 – Best R&B Album: Aaliyah – Nominated
2002 – Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: Rock the Boat – Nominated
2003 – Best Female R&B Vocal Performance: More Than a Woman – Nominated
2002 – Best Selling Album by International Artist: Aaliyah – Nominated
2003 – Best Selling Album by International Artist: I Care 4 U – Nominated
2002 – Best Video: More Than a Woman – Winner
2002 – Best Dance Video: More Than a Woman – Winner
2002 – Best International Act – Winner
2002 – Best Video: Rock The Boat – Winner
2002 – Best Video Female R&B Vocals: We Need A Resolution – Winner
MTV Video Music Awards:
2000 – Best Female Video: Try Again – Winner
2000 – Best Video From Film: Try Again – Winner
2002 – Best R&B Video: Rock the Boat – Winner
MTV Movie Awards:
1999 – Best Movie Song: Are You That Somebody? – Winner
2001 – Best Movie Song: Try Again – Winner
2001 – Best R&B Album: Aaliyah – Winner
Soul Train Awards:
2001 – Female R&B/Soul Single: Try Again – Winner
2002 – Female R&B/Soul Single: Rock the Boat – Winner
Kids Choice Awards:
1999 – Favorite Song: Are You That Somebody? – Nominated
1999 – Favorite Singer: Aaliyah – Nominated
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Reeves, Mosi. “7 Ways Aaliyah Changed R&B Forever.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/7-ways-aaliyah-changed-rb-forever-248663/.
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Mosley, Tonya, and Allison Hagan. “Looking Back on Aaliyah’s Legacy, 20 Years after Her Death.” Looking Back On Aaliyah’s Legacy, 20 Years After Her Death | Here & Now, WBUR, 2 Sept. 2021, https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/09/02/remembering-aaliyah.
Sisario, Ben. “Aaliyah’s Music Will Finally Be Streaming. What Took so Long?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Aug. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/05/arts/music/aaliyah-catalog-streaming.html.