It has been 12 years since the tragic death of Aaliyah on August 25 2001 and it is still difficult for many of her fans to accept. Listed among the great talents of Contemporary R&B, the young songbird was already an icon of her generation at the age of 22 years and was quickly headed to even more impressive heights as exemplified by her last album, Aaliyah.
Her sweet voice and sultry style made her a muse for R&B/Hip-Hop songwriters and producers, such as Timbaland, Missy Elliott and Stephen “Static Major” Garrett, but what made Aaliyah special was that she never had to try to stand out among her peers. Unlike her many followers, including the misguided Ciara, who is still searching for the elusive blend R&B, Hip-Hop and Pop that Aaliyah balanced so effortlessly, everything the songbird did just seemed natural.
Of course, Aaliyah’s music wasn’t entirely original and she wasn’t even the most talented artist of her time. She was heavily influenced by the works of Janet Jackson, Sade and Mary J. Blige, and traces of each act were clearly visible in her songs, videos and performances. Indeed, Jackson’s janet. and The Velvet Rope undoubtedly had an impact on Aaliyah’s music and visuals.
Vocally, Aaliyah tone and silky voice made her instantly recognisable on any track but her singing paled in comparison to that of Brandy, who was considered a prodigy from early in her career, and even Monica. Even as a dancer, Aaliyah was never as outstanding as many people claimed in the years following her death, and she was outclassed by the far more skilled Mya and the formerly lucid Britney Spears.
Still, regardless of her relative shortcomings, Aaliyah emerged as a frontrunner in her generation as a result of her versatility; she was good at many things while being the best at none. That is probably why there have been so many comparisons between her and Beyonce, who is also a talented singer and dancer, although to a larger degree.
The Aaliyah album of 2001 represented an artist approaching her peak and on the cusp of a major breakthrough. The record wasn’t a flawless body of work and there was still room for improvement, but it showed that Aaliyah was on the path toward further defining her own signature sound and cementing her place as a permanent fixture in the industry.
Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number introduced us to a bold young singer who fit in perfectly with the Xscape/Jodeci/R. Kelly sound of the early 1990s era whereas One in a Million took Aaliyah into new territory, thanks to Timbaland and Elliott. However, Aaliyah was a true coming of age album that reintroduced Aaliyah as a woman learning to express her sexuality instead of hiding behind a tomboy persona.
Sadly, Aaliyah’s evolution was cut short when she died in a plane crash 12 years ago and we never got the chance to see her fully mature. Struck down before she was able to complete her metamorphosis and achieve that key artistic breakthrough that would have probably pushed her toward legendary status.
Hence, Aaliyah will be remembered as the janet. before The Velvet Rope, the Daydream before Butterfly or the Frank before Back to Black. Aaliyah’s legacy lives on through the artists she inspired during her short life – Drake, Chris Brown, Sevyn Streeter,
Cassie, Ciara and Ashanti – but it is accompanied by the lingering feeling that she could and should have been even greater, therefore making her passing even more difficult to accept.