In her short 7 year career, R&B superstar Aaliyah achieved the heights of fame and popularity – all well-deserved because of the unique talent and energy she brought to everything she did. She was one of those rare prodigies whose artistic skill and talent evolves at a faster rate than others. This was probably because performing was her passion.
In a 2001 interview to promote what would later become her last album, she told Vibe Magazine: “I breathe to perform, to entertain. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
She truly lived up to her given nickname Angel; an innocent, mysterious soul who remained positive, calm and courteous. Some tried to exploit that but most were touched by it. It is the reason why she was so well loved within the music community and made her loss even harder to bear. It was her openness that got her connected to the production team of Missy Elliot and Timbaland. She gave them a chance when no one in the industry would. Not only that, she worked with them exclusively to create what many fans consider to be her best work.
The influence Aaliyah had on R&B – whether it was music or fashion – was so major that it echoes even today. Being the Princess of R&B, she infused the genre with a youthful, evergreen energy that ensured that the music will remain forever fresh. There is no doubt that if the world hadn’t seen an Aaliyah, they would have never gotten a Ciara, Rihanna or Tinashe. She called herself an “interpreter,” considering that she never wrote on the songs she recorded but it was through her vocal delivery that the song took a life of their own. She truly knew how to take someone’s vision, add real feelings to them and make it her own. That’s why her songs 4 Page Letter, At Your Best and Are You That Somebody feel so personal. That’s why even rappers like Drake and Kendrick Lamar have paid tribute to her musical accomplishments.
She wasn’t just the cool, sexy, mysterious girl. She was also a consummate professional; a quality that served her well in her rise to stardom. In an interview after her death, Missy Elliot recalled the level of professionalism she brought to the studio. “I’d leave the studio for a minute and come back and she would have completed the whole song. She worked really hard that way.”
Even her foray into acting wasn’t a side gig; she had serious plans to be an actress. She took proper acting lessons and was aggressively booking acting jobs. Sadly, audiences only got to see her only in two films Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned. Even the vast differences between the two roles – a modern-day Juliet and an ancient vampire – shows that she had big plans to take on challenging roles and conquer the acting world too.
The loss of the young artist feels cruel but it is heartening to know that she is still remembered and celebrated. Some are discovering the late icon now (sadly, not through streaming services) and falling in love with her music. She was truly “One In A Million” and we’re glad that we got her for a moment.
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