As an average 16 year old in 2001 would be, I was laying on bed in my bedroom painted the color of a swimming pool that had CDs (I know some of you were born in the 2000s, I’m talking about compact discs) hanging from my ceiling jonesin’ on my house phone talking to the boy that would become my high school sweetheart. My mom brought the newspaper into my room while I was on the phone. It was August 25, 2001, a few days after my soon-to-be boyfriend’s birthday and we were chatting about it when the bottom corner of the front page caught my eye.
Born Aaliyah Dana Houghton, Babygirl, better known as Aaliyah and eight others died when the private plane they were flying out of the Bahamas on crashed. They were leaving the the filming of the legendary “Rock The Boat” video. The small plane had too many people on it, and it was later discovered the unlicensed pilot had alcohol and cocaine in his system. We didn’t have to lose her like this.
Aaliyah was the first celebrity I remember where I was and what I was doing when I found out she had passed. I’d already purchased the album, which released just barely two months before she passed. In speaking to friends about their favorite Aaliyah songs, it seems they did too. And when they offered their favorite track, an anecdote came with each. One said “One In A Million” was the first song he learned to play on the piano to impress a girl. Two others offered she was a huge inspiration for them to take their dance classes more seriously, referencing “Rock The Boat.” And another remembers one of his first slow dances to “One In A Million” with his girlfriend in middle school.
For a few years, before the copyright police regulated the platform, every young producer on Soundcloud had an Aaliyah edit. Her influence is undeniable. Mega stars like Rihanna, Alicia Keys, and Ciara have all referenced her as an inspiration to them. Keys told The Rap-Up in 2011 that “If I Ain’t Got You” was inspired by losing Aaliyah saying,”The song idea came together right after Aaliyah passed away. It was such a sad time and no one wanted to believe it. It just made everything crystal clear to me-what matters, and what doesn’t.” It’s no secret Drake loves Aaliyah. He even has an Aaliyah tattoo on his back. He’s also said that she is the artist that has had the biggest impact on his music and made him hyper-aware of making music for women that men could relate to as she sang her songs about men, but both men and women could identify with it. Although it was received with mixed feelings, in 2012 he even released “Enough Said” on the OVO blog, essentially a song with Aaliyah.
As this week marks 15 years since we lost the artist lovingly referred to as Babygirl, we put together 15 songs to remember her by.
Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number
The title track off her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number” released in 1994 when the singer was only 15 years old. Despite her age, she does not give off a lost, lovestruck teen at all on this track. It was also around this time her and the man producing a lot of this album, R. Kelly, were rumored to be romantically involved and briefly married despite a significant age gap.
4 Page Letter
Co-written by Timbaland, and Missy Elliott and produced by Timbo, the March 1997 release will now make you think of a time when a “wya” text didn’t exist and filling four pages of notebook paper (front and back) with everything you needed to profess to your boo was normal.
This was originally cut from Aaliyah’s third album, but released on the 2003 compilation project, I Care 4 U. It’s my favorite on the list. Honestly, that’s all that matters.
Back and Forth
Her debut single and true party anthem, “Back and Forth” was Aaliyah’s introduction to the world on her debut album Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number. Produced by none other than R. Kelly and featuring a very rare rap verse from Kells, the single spent six weeks on the BillboardHip-hop/R&B chart’s number one spot. Not bad for the 15-year old’s first song off her first studio album.
I Don’t Wanna
Released on the soundtracks for both Romeo Must Die and Next Friday, “I Don’t Wanna” is so incredible two movies needed to use it. The lyrics indicate that although she can, she doesn’t want to take one more step, not one more breath without her ex. It reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Mainstream Hip-hop/R&B chart.
Rock the Boat
Filmed in the final days of Aaliyah’s life, the video for “Rock The Boat” is stunning. The legendary Hype Williams directed it. The song itself even ended up with a Grammy nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards.
We Need a Resolution
A perfect example of amazing music that came from Timbaland and Aaliyah working together, he produced, co-wrote it, and has a verse on “We Need A Resolution.” From her third studio album,Aaliyah,the song was named one of the top 150 songs of the list 15 years by NME in October 2011, 10 years after its release.
One In A Million
The third single and album title track from her second studio album, “One In A Million” is nothing short of a classic. It held a number one spot for six weeks on Billboard Airplay charts, and it’s safe to say you were born between 1983 and 1988 your heart just melts any time this song comes on unexpectedly.
If Your Girl Only Knew
Released the 10 years ago this month and also off of One In A Million, “If Your Girl Only Knew” is the quintessential ‘90s bad girl anthem. If Rihanna sang this song today she would’ve killed a man at the end of the video.
The One I Gave My Heart To
The sixth single (remember that era?) from her second studio album, One In A Million, is probably one of the most age appropriate heartbreakers of Aaliyah’s singles. Even from 15 years old, she always had a sense of chill, a level coolness about her and “The One I Gave My Heart To” although timeless, really is that high school sweetheart break up song for that era.
Are You Feelin’ Me?
Also from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, “Are You Feelin’ Me?” was another signature Timbaland beat written by Missy Elliott and a perfect fit for the modern day Romeo and Juliet movie Aaliyah starred in.
Are You That Somebody?
Ranked on Rolling Stone‘s 50 best songs of the nineties, “Are You That Somebody?” is a cut from the Dr. Doolittle soundtrack. The Timbaland produced track’s video features arguably the most mimicked dance routine in every ‘90’s teen’s bedroom mirror ever. This is one is for every introvert shy girl that ever had a crush. It makes me want to pass a note in class: Are you that somebody? Circle one: Yes or No.
At Your Best
Not the video and remix version with R. Kelly, but the original version from theAge Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number. She released this 18 years after the Isley Brothers’ original was dropped, and now Frank Ocean included his own version (that he previously released the day after her birthday last year) on his long-awaited album Blonde.
I Care 4 U
In December 2002, an album compiled of unreleased work of Aaliyah’s ranging from 1993 to 2001 was released called I Care 4 U. Although it saw it fair share of criticisms ethically, commercially the project was hugely successful. Where the business of it does seem questionable, I listen through this project and think THANK GOD this was released. The title track was written and produced by the Missy and Timbo team and originally recorded for 1996’s One In A Million.
If you’ve pressed play and aren’t crying at this point, you might be dead inside. Featuring her friends DMX and the Ruff Ryders, Missy, Rosario Dawson, Lil Kim, Toni Braxton, MTV’s Ananda Lewis, Jaheim, BET’s Tigga, A.J. and Free, Jamie Foxx, Lala Anthony, Tank, Queen Latifah and plenty of others in the video, this song was written by Ginuwine for his project 100% Ginuwine, but Aaliyah asked for it. He let her take it but Aaliyah’s label didn’t put it out it until I Care 4 U was released.
- Words: Rae Witte