Aaliyah has become something of a myth in the world of modern R&B. The proclaimed “Princess of R&B” had her life cut tragically short at age 22 after a horrific plane crash, yet the influence of her discography can still be felt in today’s radio hits. So how exactly has the “Princess of R&B” been able to maintain her crown nearly 20 years after her death?
Aaliyah, full name Aaliyah Dana Haughton, was always in the spotlight. At the age of 12, Aaliyah was signed to Jive Records and her uncle Barry Hankerson’s Blackground Records. It was here that Hankerson introduced Aaliyah to R. Kelly, who became Aaliyah’s mentor and producer for her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.”
“Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number” was a commercial success, selling over eight million copies and introducing the world to teenaged Aaliyah’s angelic vocals and laid-back, sexy vibe. However, it wasn’t until Baby Girl’s second and third albums that she developed her unprecedented sound that continues to influence urban R&B and hip-hop today.
“One in a Million” was Aaliyah’s second album released in 1996. Produced by a variety of producers including Timbaland and Missy Elliot, the album had a new “hip-hop soul” sound unlike any other R&B records being produced at the time. This unique sound became fully fleshed in the release of her 1998 single “Are You That Somebody?” originally part of the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. Music critic Simon Reynolds called the track “the most radical pop single” of 1998, while Kelefah Sanneh at the New York Times claimed that the music of groups such as Destiny’s Child owed much to “Are You That Somebody?”
Aaliyah was able to continue this momentum with the release of her third self-titled album, in which Timbaland again played a crucial role as one of many producers. What was so influential about “Aaliyah” was the album’s use of heavy synthesizers, fragmented beats and distorted vocals, all of which can be seen in today’s popular music. After the rising superstar’s tragic death, sales for the album skyrocketed and many critics cited it as one of the best R&B records of its time.
In addition to music, Aaliyah also had a burgeoning acting career. In between the release of “One in a Million” and “Aaliyah,” Aaliyah starred in the 2000 drama “Romeo Must Die” opposite martial artist Jet Li in a reimagining of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet.” She also had a starring role in the 2002 fantasy “Queen of the Damned.”
While Aaliyah continues to be a household name, her name recently has been in the news even more in light of her relationship with R. Kelly and the multiple sexual assault allegations against the R&B singer. It was revealed that Kelly and Aaliyah had been secretly married when Aaliyah was just 15 years old, and new evidence revealed that Kelly was aware of how young Aaliyah was, forging the marriage document in order for the marriage to go through.
So how exactly has the “Princess of R&B” been able to maintain her crown? It’s simple: In terms of her talent and music, Aaliyah was light-years ahead of her time. Rather than feeling dated, Aaliyah’s music is like a breath of fresh air even 20 years later. Her influence on contemporary R&B and the popular mixing of hip-hop and pop is palpable. Whether subconsciously or not, Aaliyah has influenced today’s pop superstars. So next time you listen to anyone, from Beyoncé to Migos, Ariana Grande to The Weeknd, remember: It’s Aaliyah you should be thanking.
Lucie Turkel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.