Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001), who performed under the mononym Aaliyah ( /ɑːˈliːə/), was an American recording artist, actress and model. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, and was raised in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of 10, she appeared on the television show Star Search and performed in concert alongside Gladys Knight. At age 12, Aaliyah signed with Jive Records and her uncle Barry Hankerson’s Blackground Records. Hankerson introduced her to R. Kelly, who became her mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. The album sold three million copies in the United States and was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). After facing allegations of an illegal marriage with R. Kelly, Aaliyah ended her contract with Jive and signed with Atlantic Records.
Aaliyah worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album, One in a Million; it sold 3.7 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. In 2000, Aaliyah appeared in her first major 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 feat. “Try Again” earned Aaliyah a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist.
After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her part in Queen of the Damned. She released her third and final album, Aaliyah, in July 2001. On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in an airplane crash in The Bahamas after filming the music video for the single “Rock the Boat”. The pilot, Luis Morales III, was unlicensed at the time of the accident and had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. Aaliyah’s family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackhawk International Airways, which was settled out of court. Since then, Aaliyah’s music has continued to achieve commercial success with several posthumous releases. Aaliyah is estimated to have sold 24 to 32 million albums worldwide. She has been credited for helping redefine contemporary R&B and hip hop, earning her the nicknames “Princess of R&B” and “Queen of Urban Pop”. She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist overall.
Aaliyah had the vocal range of a soprano. With the release of her debut single “Back & Forth”, Dimitri Ehrlich of Entertainment Weekly expressed that Aaliyah’s “silky vocals are more agile than those of self-proclaimed queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige.” Aaliyah described her sound as “street but sweet”, which featured her “gentle” vocals over a “hard” beat. Though Aaliyah did not write any of her own material, her lyrics were described as in-depth. She incorporated R&B, pop and hip hop into her music. Her songs were often uptempo and melancholy, revolving around “matters of the heart”. Her songs have been said to have “crisp production” and “staccato arrangements” that “extend genre boundaries” while containing “old-school” soul music. When she experimented with other genres, such as Latin pop and heavy metal, critics panned the attempt. As her albums progressed, writers felt that Aaliyah matured, calling her progress a “declaration of strength and independence”.
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 and Janet Jackson. 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.” Aaliyah expressed she had always desired to work with Janet Jackson, whom she had drawn frequent comparison to over the course of her career, stating “I admire her a great deal. She’s a total performer… I’d love to do a duet with Janet Jackson.” Jackson reciprocated Aaliyah’s affections, commenting “I’ve loved her from the beginning because she always comes out and does something different, musically.” Jackson also stated she would have enjoyed collaborating with Aaliyah.
Aaliyah focused on her public image throughout her career. She often wore baggy clothes and sunglasses, stating that she wanted to be herself. She described her image as being “important… to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack”. She often wore black clothing, starting a trend for similar fashion among women in United States and Japan. Aaliyah participated in fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger’s All America Tour and was featured in Tommy Jean ads, which depicted her in boxer shorts, baggy jeans and a tube top. Hilfiger’s brother, Andy, called it “a whole new look” that was “classy but sexy”. When she changed her hairstyle, Aaliyah took her mother’s advice to cover her left eye, much like Veronica Lake. In 1998, she hired a personal trainer to keep in shape, and exercised five days a week and ate diet foods. Aaliyah was praised for her “clean-cut image” and “moral values”.
Aaliyah has been credited for helping redefine R&B and hip hop in the 1990s, “leaving an indelible imprint on the music industry as a whole.” Steve Huey of AllMusic wrote Aaliyah ranks among the “elite” artists of the R&B genre, as she “played a major role in popularizing the stuttering, futuristic production style that consumed hip-hop and urban soul in the late ’90s.” Described as one of “R&B’s most important artists” during the 1990s, her second studio album, One in a Million, became one of the most influential R&B albums of the decade. According to Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine, Aaliyah provided a “missing link” between hip hop and electronica. With sales of 8.1 million albums in the United States and an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide, Aaliyah earned the nicknames “Princess of R&B” and “Queen of Urban Pop”, as she “proved she was a muse in her own right”. Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone dubbed her as the “undisputed queen of the midtempo come-on”. Japanese pop singer Hikaru Utada has said several times that “It was when I heard Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number that I got hooked on R&B.”, after which Utada released her debut album First Love with heavy R&B influences.
Aaliyah was honored at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards by Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ginuwine and her brother, Rashad, who all paid tribute to her. In the same year, the United States Social Security Administration ranked the name Aaliyah one of the 100 most popular names for newborn girls. Aaliyah was ranked as one of “The Top 40 Women of the Video Era” in VH1’s 2003 The Greatest series. She was also ranked at number 18 on BET’s “Top 25 Dancers of All Time”. Aaliyah appeared on both 2000 and 2001 list of Maxim Hot 100 in position 41 and the latter at 14. In memory of Aaliyah, the Entertainment Industry Foundation created the Aaliyah Memorial Fund to donate money raised to charities she supported. In December 2009, Billboard magazine ranked Aaliyah at number 70 on its Top Artists of the Decade, while her eponymous album was ranked at number 181 on the magazine’s Top 200 Albums of the Decade. She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist overall.
R.I.P Aaliyah. So sad to see a princess die so young.