Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001), known as Aaliyah, was an American singer, actress, songwriter, dancer, choreographer, and model. She is credited with helping redefine contemporary R&B, pop and hip hop, thus acquiring the nicknames “Princess of R& B” and “Queen of Urban Pop”.
|Full name||Aaliyah Dana Haughton|
|Birth date||January 16, 1979|
|Birthplace||New York, NY, USA|
|Death date||August 25, 2001|
|Death place||Marsh Harbour, Abacus Islands, Bahamas|
|Cause of death||air accident|
|Period of activity||1991–2001|
|Partner(s)||Damon Dash (2000–2001)|
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Detroit, she first gained recognition at age 10 when she appeared on the TV show Star Search and also when she performed alongside Gladys Knight at a show in Las Vegas. At age 12, Aaliyah signed with Jive Records and Blackground Records, created by her uncle Barry Henkerson. Three years later, his first album Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number (1994) was released. The album sold over six million copies worldwide, and was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for selling over two million copies on U.S. soil. Eventually, Aaliyah terminated her contract with Jive and signed to Atlantic Records.
Aaliyah worked with then-novice music producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott on their second album, One in a Million (1996), which sold over eight million copies worldwide. In 1997, she released “Journey to the Past”, from the Anastasia soundtrack, and the following year Aaliyah became the youngest singer in history to perform at the Oscars ceremony, where she performed the song. Moreover, in 1998, he released one of his greatest hits, the song “Are You That Somebody?”, made for the soundtrack of the film Dr. Dolittle, which was responsible for giving the artist her first Grammy Award nomination. In 2000, Aaliyah starred in her first movie Romeo has to Die.
In addition to playing the protagonist, she contributed to the film’s soundtrack, which spawned the single “Try Again”. The song was a resounding worldwide success and, in the United States, reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 depending only on airplay, making Aaliyah the first artist in history to accomplish such a feat. After completing Romeo has to die, Aaliyah recorded her role in The Queen of the Damned, and in 2001, released her third and final album, which sold over thirteen million copies worldwide, making Aaliyah the ninth best-selling female album of the 21st century.
On August 25, 2001, at the age of 22, Aaliyah died in a plane crash in the Bahamas when the overloaded aircraft she was traveling in crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all nine people on board. It was later discovered that the pilot contained traces of cocaine and alcohol in his body, and was not qualified to fly the aircraft designated for the flight.
In the decades following her death, Aaliyah’s music continued to be commercially successful, adding to some posthumous releases, and she sold an estimated 32 million copies worldwide. She was awarded three American Music Awards and two MTV VMAs, as well as five Grammy Award nominations. Billboard listed Aaliyah as the 10th most successful female R&B artist of the last 25 years, and the 27th most successful in history.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York, and was the youngest daughter of Diane and Michael “Miguel” Haughton (1951–2012). She was of African-American descent. Her name is the Arabic female “Ali”, which means “the largest, the most exalted, the best”. The artist was very proud of her name, describing it as “beautiful”, and said she would live up to it every day. Aaliyah’s mother enrolled her in vocal lessons from a young age.
She began performing at weddings, church choirs, and charity events. When Aaliyah was five, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised with her older brother, Rashad. She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where in the first grade she was cast in the play Annie, which inspired her to be an enterteiner. In Detroit, his father began working in warehouse businesses, one of the best interests of his brother-in-law, Barry Henkerson. Her mother stayed at home and raised Aaliyah and her brother.
Throughout Aaliyah’s life, she had a good relationship with Rashad, who remembers her sister having a beautiful voice since she was a child. Aaliyah’s family was very close due to the difficulties faced by her grandparents and when they moved to Detroit, the Henkersons were ready to help them if necessary. These ties reflected in the music industry, with the creation of Blackground Records.
Aaliyah’s mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Henkerson, was an entertainment lawyer who was married to Gladys Knight. As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and TV shows, including Family Matters; she appeared on Star Search at the age of ten. The choice to start the auditions was made by Aaliyah herself. Your mother made the decision to take her last name out of her stage name. She auditioned for several record labels and at 11 appeared in shows alongside Knight.
His grandmother died in 1991. Years after her death, Aaliyah said that her grandmother supported everyone in the family and that she always wanted to hear her sing, just as she admitted that she “spoiled” her and her brother Rashad. She also loved to hear Aaliyah sing. Aaliyah said she thought of her grandmother any time she fell into depression. Aaliyah’s hands reminded them of her aunt, who passed away when she was very young and whom Aaliyah remembered as “an incredibly beautiful woman”.
When she was growing up, Aaliyah attended schools in Detroit and believed that many liked her, but was provoked by her short stature. She remembers that she came to like her height just before her 15 years. Her mother told her to be happy to be small and complimented her. Other children didn’t like Aaliyah, but she didn’t focus on them. “You’ll always have to deal with envious people, but there were so few that it didn’t even matter.
Most of the kids supported me, which was amazing. When it comes to dealing with negative people, I just let it get in one ear and come out the other. These people were invisible to me.” Even in her adult life, she considered herself small. She “learned to accept herself and love herself” and added, “… the most important thing to do is to think the best of yourself, because if you don’t, no one will.”
During her audition to be accepted at Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, Aaliyah sang the song “Ave Maria”, entirely in Italian. Aaliyah, who maintained a perfect GPA of 4.0 upon graduating from high school, always felt that education was important. She was determined to keep her grades high, even with the pressures and problems surrounding time during the beginning of her career. She identified herself as a perfectionist and remembered always being a good student.
Aaliyah reflected, “I always wanted to keep that up, even in high school when I started traveling. I wanted to keep that 4.0. Being part of this industry I don’t want kids to think ‘I can just sing and forget about school.’ I think it’s very important to have an education, and more importantly to have a secondary plan.’ She applied this in her own life, given that her “secondary plan” would still be part of the entertainment industry. She believed she could teach music history or open her own school to teach this or drama if she couldn’t make a living as a recording artist, because according to her, “when you choose a career, it has to be something you love.”
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number (1991–1995)
After Henkerson signed a distribution contract with Jive Records, he signed Aaliyah to his record label Blackground Records when she was 12. Henkerson later introduced her to singer and producer R. Kelly who became Aaliyah’s mentor, as well as the lead producer and songwriter of her first album, which she recorded at age 14. Aaliyah’s debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, was released through Jive Records and Blackground Records on May 24, 1994; the album debuted at number 24 on the Billboard 200, selling 74,000 copies in its first week.
The album peaked at number 18 on the parade and sold over three million copies in the United States, where it was certified double platinum by the RIAA. On a global scale, the album sold over six million copies. Aaliyah’s debut single, “Back & Forth”, achieved a resounding and immediate success, peaking at the top of the U.S. R&B singles for three consecutive weeks, making Aaliyah, at age 15, one of the youngest in history to reach the top of the singles.
The second single, a cover of The Isley Brothers, “At Your Best (You Are Love)”, also acquired great success, becoming one of the greatest classics of his career, being acclaimed even by the original singers. The title track “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” was released as the third and final single from the album in the United States. In Europe, the album spawned two more singles, “Down with the Clique”, and finally the international bonus track “The Thing I Like”, also included on the soundtrack of the film A Shameless Strip (1994).
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number received favorable reviews from music critics. Some writers claim that Aaliyah’s mix of “sweet, dry, muffled vocals” with R. Kelly’s new jack swing helped define 1990s R&B. Her sound was also compared to that of the female group En Vogue. Christopher John Farley of Time magazine described the album as a “beautifully restrained work”, noting that Aaliyah’s “sweet and panting vocals calmly run through R. Kelly’s strong beats”. For the release of the album, Aaliyah embarked on a tour of the United States, Europe, Japan and South Africa.
With the release of the album, there were rumors of a loving relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly, which both have always denied. Shortly thereafter, there was speculation about a secret marriage held without the consent of Aaliyah’s parents. Vibe magazine later revealed a certificate proving an alleged marriage on August 31, 1994, at the Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Illinois. Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, appeared with 18 on the marriage certificate. The marital union was annulled in February 1995 by Aaliyah’s parents. Years after all the controversies, federal prosecutors found that Kelly was responsible for registering the marital union, given that the singer himself bribed a government entity to falsify Aaliyah’s age and generate the certificate.
Aaliyah, like her parents, reportedly found out about the certificate when it was leaked in the media, resulting in the immediate annulment of the marital union by Michael and Diane Haughton. With this in mind, it is speculated that Mr. Kelly armed and forged all the marriage documents to escape and deflect the controversies that surrounded him in the mid-1990s, which involved pedophilia and sexual harassment. Finally, after all the controversies Aaliyah left Jive Records, and never mentioned or got in touch with the singer.
In 2019, the documentary Survived R. Kelly, was made by the Lifetime network, with the aim of exposing all the proven crimes of the singer, as well as his victims and stories. In the process, the documentary included several rumors involving Aaliyah’s name, including the rumor that both were seen having sex on a tour bus, and another that claimed that Aaliyah had become pregnant.
These rumors, as well as some other lines in the documentary, were disanied by Aaliyah’s mother in a letter written the same year. Diane Haughton stated, “My husband and I have always been present on tours, interviews and everywhere she has been throughout her career. These lies and inventions cannot be tolerated and we cannot accept that these saboteurs of Aaliyah’s legacy remain so. […] Shame on everyone involved in this project who found it convenient to drag Aaliyah’s name into a situation that has nothing to do with her today[…]”.
1996–2000: One in a Million and Romeo has to Die
In 1996, Aaliyah left Jive Records and signed with Atlantic Records. She worked with music producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who contributed to her second studio album, One in a Million. Missy Elliott recalls that Timbaland and she were nervous about working with Aaliyah, given that Aaliyah had already released her successful debut album, while Missy Elliott and Timbaland were just getting started. Missy Elliott was also afraid of her being a diva, but she reflected that Aaliyah “came and was so sweet; it immediately made us feel like we were family.”
The album’s first single was “If Your Girl Only Knew”, which topped the U.S. R&B list for two weeks. The title track, released as the album’s third single, became one of Aaliyah’s greatest classics, and in 1997, it spent six consecutive weeks being the most-played R&B song on American radio. In total, between 1996 and 1997, the album spawned six singles, including “If Your Girl Only Knew”, “Got to Give It Up”, “One in a Million”, “4 Page Letter”, “The One I Gave My Heart To” and “Hot Like Fire”, all successful.
One in a Million became one of the most influential albums of the 1990s and sold over eight million copies worldwide, earning the RIAA double platinum certification in the United States. In 1997, Aaliyah participated in Timbaland & Magoo’s debut single, “Up Jumps da Boogie”.
Aaliyah attended Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, where she graduated in drama and graduated in 1997 with a 4.0 GPA. Aaliyah began her acting career that same year; she played herself in the police drama New York Undercover. During this period. Aaliyah attended the Children’s Benefit Concert, a charity concert that took place at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Aaliyah also became the spokesperson for the Tommy Hilfiger brand. Until the early 1990s, the company only focused on the male audience, however, with the popularization of Aaliyah’s tomboy style, the brand was inspired by the artist for the elaboration and production of the women’s clothing line.
During Aaliyah’s campaign with Tommy Hilfiger, the company sold more than 2,400 pairs of the red, white and blue baggy ensemble she wore in the advertisements, causing the company to have to re-stock 5,000 more pairs of the pieces. In 1997, Aaliyah performed the Christmas song “What Child Is This” at the Christmas event in Washington. She contributed to the soundtrack of the animated film Anastasia, produced by Fox Animation Studios, recording her own version of “Journey to the Past”, which gave composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flahert an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Aaliyah sang the song during the 1998 Academy Awards and became the youngest singer in history to perform at the event. n the same year, Aaliyah released the song “Are You That Somebody?”, on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. The track came to be one of his biggest hits, giving the artist her first Grammy Award nomination, and her music video was one of the most reproduced of the year 1998 on MTV.
In 1999, Aaliyah landed her first role in a film, Romeo Has to Die, released on March 22, 2000. Aaliyah starred alongside Jet Li, playing a couple who fall in love in the middle of the war between their families. The film grossed over $91 million at the box office, 18.6 million in its first week. Her role was highly acclaimed, and well-received by critics such as Ign’s Glen Oliver who liked the fact that she did not interpret her character as a “victimized woman”, but rather as a strong woman.
In addition to the performance, Aaliyah was the executive producer of the film’s soundtrack, where she contributed four songs. “Try Again” was released as the soundtrack’s single and became the most successful song of Aaliyah’s career. In addition to the worldwide success, the song reached the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, depending only on airplay, making Aaliyah the first artist in history to achieve such a feat.
The clip won best female music video and best music video for a movie at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2000. The song gave Aaliyah her second Grammy nomination in the category of Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. The soundtrack sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide.
2001: Aaliyah and The Queen of the Damned
After completing Romeo has to die, Aaliyah began working on the second film, The Queen of the Damned. She played the role of an elderly vampire, Queen Akasha, whom she described as a “manipulative, wacky, sexual being.” Filming Romeo Has to Die and The Queen of the Damned delayed the release and production of her next album. Aaliyah did not intend to have such a large break between albums.
“I wanted to take a break after One in a Million, just to relax, think about how I want to shape the next album. So when I was ready to get in on the action, “Romeo” happened, so I had to take another break to make that movie and the soundtrack, and promote.
The pause became greater than I had planned.” Aaliyah enjoyed balancing their singing and acting careers. Although music was her “priority”, she always acted from a young age and showed interest in starting acting at some point in her career, but wanted to wait for the right time and vehicle, and felt that Romeo Has to Die was the perfect project.
Connie Johnson of the Los Angeles Times said That Aaliyah’s focus on her acting career could make her next album not get the attention she deserved. Collaborator Timbaland stated that he was briefly in Australia to work on the album while Aaliyah was recording and he felt that Aaliyah did not have the same production as One in a Million. He also said that Virgin Records rushed the album and that Aaliyah specifically asked Missy Elliott and Timbaland to work on Aaliyah with her.
During the album’s recording period, Aaliyah’s publicist stated that the album would likely be released in mid-October 2000. Finally, she closed recordings of the album in March 2001; one year after the start of recording scum in March of the previous year. Aaliyah was released five years after One in a Million, first on July 7, 2001 (in Japan), and later, on July 16 and 17 of the same year, the album was released, respectively, in the United Kingdom and the United States. T
he album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling over 187,000 copies in its first week. The album’s first single, “We Need a Resolution”, peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. A week after Aaliyah’s death, her third album dropped out of number 19 and went straight to the top of the Billboard 200. “Rock the Boat” was released as a posthumous single. The clip premiered on BETe’s Access Granted became the most-watched episode in the show’s history. The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as peaking at number two on the U.S. R&B chart. Promotional posters of Aaliyah that were put up in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles became impromptu memorials for grieving fans.
“More Than a Woman” and “I Care 4 U” were released as posthumous singles and reached the top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100. In February 2002, the album was certified double platinum by the RIAA for selling 2.6 million copies in the United States. Aaliyah has sold over 13 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century, being the ninth best-selling female album. “More Than a Woman” peaked at number one on the UK singles chart, making Aaliyah the first artist in history to posthumously reach the top of the chart.
In July 2001, she allowed MTV to access the backstage of her life through diary and stated, “I am truly blessed to wake up every morning and do something I love; there is nothing better than that.” She continued, “It’s all worth it – the hard work, the times when you’re tired, the times when you’re a little sad. In the end, it’s all worth it, because it really makes me happy. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world. I have great friends, a beautiful family and I have a career that is gradually flourishing. I thank God for your blessings every chance I have.”
Aaliyah was signed to appear in several upcoming films, including Honey: In the Rhythm of Her Dreams, a romantic film titled Some Kind of Blue, and whitney houston’s remake of the 1976 film Sparkle. Whitney Houston recalls That Aaliyah was “very excited” about the film, and that she really wanted to participate. Houston stated that Aaliyah was more than qualified for the role and the film was shelved after her death, given that Aaliyah “went to a better place”. Warner Brothers studio officials stated that Aaliyah and her mother had read Sparkle’s script.
According to them, Aaliyah was in love with playing the role of a young singer in a girl group. The film was released in 2012, eleven years after Aaliyah’s death. Before her death, Aaliyah was cast in the Matrix sequels, playing the character Zee. She filmed part of her role in Matrix Reloaded and was scheduled to film and reprise the role in Matrix Revolutions. Aaliyah told Access Hollywood that she was “more than happy” to have landed the role. The role was subsequently handed over to actress Nona Gaye. Aaliyah’s scenes were included in the matrix ultimate collection tribute session.
In November 2001, Ronald Isley stated that Aaliyah and The Isley Brothers had discussed a collaboration before her death. She had previously covered The Isley Brothers’ single “At Your Best (You Are Love)”. Prior to her death, she expressed the possibility of recording songs for the soundtrack to The Queen of the Damned and welcomed the possibility of collaborating with Jonathan Davis.
Until 2001, Aaliyah enjoyed her seven-year career and felt a sense of accomplishment. “That’s what I’ve always wanted,” she said of her career in an interview with Vibe magazine. “I breathe to perform, to entertain. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m just a very happy girl now. I honestly love every aspect of this business. I really do. And I feel very fulfilled and complete.”
Voice and style
Aaliyah had the vocal range of a soprano. As the release of her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, Writer Dimitri Ehrkich of Entertainment Weekly compared her style and sound to the r&b group En Vogue. Ehrlich also expressed that Aaliyah’s “sweet vocals were more agile than those of hip-hop soul queen Mary J. Blige.” In her review of Aaliyah’s second album, One in a Million, Vibe’s dream Hampton music critic said Aaliyah’s “delightfully feline” voice features the same “pop appeal” as Janet Jackson.
Aaliyah described her sound as “street but sweet” which featured her “gentle” vocals on a “strong” beat. Even though Aaliyah did not write much of her material, her lyrics were described as profound. She incorporated R&B, pop and hip-hop into her music.
Her songs were often uptempo and obscure at the same time, revolving around “matters of the heart”. After her first album produced by R. Kelly, Aaliyah worked with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, of which the productions were more electronic. Sasha Frefre-Jones of The Wire considers “Are You That Somebody?” of Aaliyah Timbaland’s masterpiece and an example of his rhythmic production, with “great pauses of half a second between beats and voices”. Keith Harris of Rolling Stone magazine quoted “Are You That Somebody?” as “one of the greatest R&B moments of the 1990s.”
Aaliyah’s songs are known to have a “fresh production” and “stacatto arrangements” that “expanded the boundaries of the genre” while containing an “old-school” soul song. Kelefah Sanneh of The New York Times called Aaliyah a “digital diva who weaved a spell with ones and zeros”, and wrote that her songs comprise “simple, repeated and refracted vocal riffs to echo the manipulated loops that create a digital rhythm”, given that Timbaland’s “programmed computer beats” “fit perfectly with her cool, panting voice to create a new one type of electronic music.”
When she experimented with genres on Aaliyah, such as Latin pop and heavy metal, Craig Seymour of Entertainment Weekly praised the achievements. In analyzing her self-titled album, British magazine NME (New Music Express) felt that Aaliyah’s radical third album was intentionally made to consolidate her position as America’s Most Experimental R&B Artist.
As her albums progressed, critics felt that Aaliyah had matured, calling her progress “a declaration of strength and independence”. ABC News noted that Aaliyah’s music was evolving from hip hop and R&B influenced by energetic pop to a more mature and introspective sound on her third album. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic described her third album, Aaliyah, as “a demonstration of maturity and a brilliant artistic leap forward” and called it one of the strongest urban soul albums of her time. She portrayed “unknown sounds, emotions and styles”, but managed to please critics with the contemporary sound it contained.
Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone felt that Aaliyah reflected a stronger technique, where she delivered her best vocal performance. Before her death, Aaliyah expressed a desire to learn about the burgeoning UK garage scene she heard about at the time. In general, Aaliyah’s music can be described as alternative R&B, progressive soul and neo-soul, according to Farley.
As an artist, Aaliyah often said that she was inspired by several performers. These include Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sade, En Vogue, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Prince, Naughy by Nature, Johnny Mathis, Janet Jackson and Barbra Streisand. Aaliyah expressed that Michael Jackson’s Thriller was her “favorite album” and that “nothing will surpass Thriller“. She stated that she admired Sade because “she remains true to her own style, no matter what…
She is an amazing artist, amazing performer… and I absolutely love her.” Aaliyah expressed that she always had the desire to work with Janet Jackson, with whom she drew a frequent comparison throughout her career, stating that “I admire her very much. She is a complete performer … I’d love to do a duet with Janet Jackson.” Jackson was reciprocal with Aaliyah’s affections, commenting “I loved her from the beginning because she always comes and does something musically different”. Jackson also stated that he would have loved to collaborate with Aaliyah.
Aaliyah focused on her public image far from her career. She often wore baggy clothes and sunglasses, declaring that she wanted to be herself. Also, she described her image as being “important… differentiate you from the rest of the people.” She often wore black clothing, starting a trend towards a similar fashion among women in the United States and Japan. Aaliyah’s elegant style was credited with influencing new fashion trends called “Health Goth” and “Ghetto Goth”.
Aaliyah participated in designer Tommy Hilfiger’s All America tour and was present at Tommy Jean’s advertisements, which featured her in boxers, baggy jeans and a top. Hilfiger’s brother, Andy, called it a “whole new look” that was “elegant but sexy.” Carlson Daly, VJ of MTV’s Total Request Live commented on Aaliyah’s style, saying that she was “innovative”, “always one step ahead of the curve” and that “the TRL audience looks at her to know what’s fashionable”.
When she changed her hairstyle, Aaliyah followed her mother’s advice and covered her left eye, as did Veronica Lake. The look became known to be his signature and is regarded as a fusion of “unnerving emotional honesty” and “a sense of mystery”. In 1998, she hired a personal trainer to get her in shape, and exercised five days a week and dieted. Aaliyah was acclaimed for her “cultured and clean image” and her “moral values”. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote of Aaliyah’s image and artisticity, “she was agile and sweet in the most perfect way—a naïve person whose main feature was sincerity and not innocence.”
Aaliyah was seen by others as an example. Emil Wibekin, described by CNN as “Aaliyah’s friend and a follower of her career” explained, “Aaliyah is an excellent example because she began her career in the public eye at age 15 with a gold album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. Then their second album, One in a Million went platinum double. She had the lead role in Romeo Has to Die, which was a success in the box office.
She has won several awards, several MTV music awards, and in addition to her professional success, many of her lyrics are very inspiring. Also, she behaved in a very professional way. She was polished. She was beautiful, but she didn’t use beauty to sell her music and she used her talent. Many young hip-hop fans totally admire her.”
She was also seen by others as a sex symbol. Aaliyah had no problem being considered one. “I know people think I’m sexy and I’m seen from this movie, and that’s quiet with me,” she said. “It’s amazing to have a sexual appeal. If you hug, this can be a beautiful thing. I’m totally cool with this. Definitely. I look sexy. If you’re comfortable with it, it can be quite elegant.” The single “We Need a Resolution” is seen as her “tomboy transformation to a great sexy woman”.
In her spare time, she was a homely person, a characteristic always associated with her from a very young age, but on certain occasions she went out and played laser tag. She justified this happening because of her affection for the “simple things in life.” Even though she had a thriving career that allowed her to buy the vehicle she wanted, Aaliyah revealed during her last interview at 106 & Park on August 21, 2001, that she never had a car because she lived in New York City and could hire a car or a driver daily.
In an interview with Honey magazine in 1995, she talked about her spirituality:
I go to church whenever I’m home. I’m catholic, so I go to my school church and st. Anthony’s.
Aaliyah’s family played a major role during her career. Aaliyah’s father Michael Haughton worked as her personal manager. Her mother assisted her in her career while her brother Rashad Haughton and her cousin Jomo Henkerson worked with her constantly. Her father’s illness ended the work of Aaliyah’s parents as her managers. All his decisions were then executed by Rashad.
Aaliyah was known to always have members of her family by her side, and in the filming of the music video for “Rock the Boat,” according to Rashad Haughton, it was the first and only time her family had not been present. In October 2001, Rashad stated, “It’s really amazing to everyone, the fact that from day one, in all the clips she filmed, there I was, or my mom or dad. The circumstances surrounding the last clip were quite strange because my mother had eye surgery and couldn’t travel. It her off a lot because she always traveled.
My father had to take care of my mother at the time. And I went to Australia to visit some friends. We really couldn’t understand why we weren’t there. You wonder if we might have avoided it. There will always be that question.” Her friend Kidada Jones said that in the last year of her life her parents had given her more freedom and she talked about wanting to build a family. “She wanted to have a family, and we talked about how we couldn’t wait to kick our kids’ asses.”
Gladys Knight, who was married to Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Henkerson, was instrumental in Aaliyah’s early career, given that she provided him with several of her early performances. One of her last conversations together was about Aaliyah having trouble with “another young artist” she was trying to work with. Knight felt that the discussions were “insignificant” and insisted that she remain herself, even with such conflict.
At the time of her death, Aaliyah was dating Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash. Although they never formally became engaged in interviews after Aaliyah’s death, Dash said the couple had plans to marry. Aaliyah and Dash met in 2000 through their accountant and made a friendship. Dash said he is not sure how he and Aaliyah began dating and that two simply understood each other.
“I don’t know [how we got involved], just spending time, you know, we saw things the same way and it was all new, you know? Meet someone who is trying to do the same thing you are doing in the urban market. Simply: her mind was where mine was. She understood me and understood my jokes. She thought jokes were funny.”
Dash expressed her belief that Aaliyah was the “right one” and said they were never officially engaged, but had talked about getting married before her death. Aaliyah never publicly admitted the relationship between her and Dash, claiming to be nothing more than something platonic. In May 2001, she threw a party for Dash’s 30th birthday party at a club in New York, where they were seen together. Speaking about what happened, Aaliyah stated that she and Dash were just “good friends” and that they chose to “stay in it” for the time being. Just two weeks before his death, Aaliyah traveled from New Jersey to East Hampton to visit Dash at the summer house he shared with Jay Z.
On August 25, 2001, at 6:50 pm (EDT), Aaliyah and her record label members boarded a Cessna 402, a two-cylinder light aircraft in line, at Marsh Harbour Airport in the Abacus Islands, bound for Opa-Locka Airport, Florida, after finishing filming the “Rock the Boat” clip. They had a flight scheduled for the following day (August 26), but upon finishing the recordings earlier than expected, Aaliyah and her team were eager to return to the United States, and made the decision to leave immediately. The designated aircraft was smaller than the Cessna 404 in which they had arrived, but all passengers and equipment were accommodated on board. The plane crashed and caught fire shortly after takeoff, about 60 meters from the end of the runway.
Aaliyah and the other eight onboard—pilot Luis Morales III, stylists Eric Forman and Anthony Dodd, security guard Scott Gallin, family friend Keith Wallace, make-up artist Christopher Maldonado, and Blackground Records employees Douglas Kratz and Gina Smith—died.
Passengers were impatient because the Cessna was supposed to arrive at 4:30 pm (EDT), but did not arrive before 6:15 pm (EDT). Pilot Lewis Key claimed to have heard passengers arguing with the pilot, Luis Morales III, before takeoff, adding that Morales warned them that there was too much weight to perform a “safe flight”. Key later stated, “He tried to convince them that the plane was overloaded, but they insisted that they had chartered the plane and that they had to be in Miami on Saturday night.” Key indicated that Morales gave in to passengers and that he had difficulty starting one of the engines.
According to the findings of an inquest conducted by the Coroner’s Office in the Bahamas, Aaliyah suffered from “severe burns and a blow to the head”, in addition to a severe shock and a weakened heart. The coroner theorized that she entered such a state of shock that even if she had survived the fall, her recovery would be almost impossible given the severity of her injuries. The bodies were taken to Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where they were kept for family members to identify them. Some of the bodies were severely burned in the accident.
As determined by the subsequent investigation, the aircraft was overloaded by 320 kg when it attempted takeoff, and carried one passenger more than the certificate. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that “the aircraft was seen taking off from the runway, and then went straight to the ground, impacting on a swamp at the southern end of runway 27”.
It was indicated that the pilot was not approved to fly the plane. Morales falsely obtained his license which was said to have thousands of hours that the pilot never flew, in addition, also falsified the amount of hours flown to get a job at Blackhawk international airways. Additionally, toxicology tests on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.
Aaliyah’s private funeral took place on August 31, 2001, at St. Louis Church. Ignatius Loyola in Manhattan, proceeded from a procession to the Frank E chapel. Campbell. Her body was placed in a silver-clad copper deposit coffin, which was carried by a carriage. Approximately 800 mourners took part in the procession.
Among those attending the private ceremony were Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Gladys Knight, Lil’ Kim, Sean Combs, Monica and Jay Z. After the ceremony, 22 white doves were released, symbolizing each year of her life.
Aaliyah was initially buried in a crypt on the third floor of the expansion wing of the main mausoleum of Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. In April 2005, she was moved to a private room at the end of the hall of the Rosewood mausoleum. The nickname “Baby Girl” is inscribed in Aaliyah’s crypt. Her father, Michael, who died eleven years later in 2012 at the age of 61, was buried in the crypt above her. The inscription at the bottom of Aaliyah’s portrait at the funeral read, “We have received A Queen, We Have Received an Angel.”
Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad, praised her and described her sister as someone who gave her strength. “Aaliyah, you’re gone, but I’ll always see you by my side and I can see you smiling through the sun,” he said. “When our lives are over, our book will be ready. I hope God will keep me strong until I see her again.” He read the names of the other victims of the accident and concluded by asking the mourners to pray for them as well. As Diane Haughton and the mourners left, they and thousands of fans who were scattered on the streets of New York city sang Aaliyah’s song “One in a Million”.
2002–2011: The Queen of the Damned and Compilations
Immediately after Aaliyah’s death, there was uncertainty as to whether the “Rock the Boat” clip would be released. The clip eventually premiered on BET’s Access Granted on October 9, 2001. Aaliyah won two posthumous awards at the 2002 American Music Awards: Favorite R&B Artist and Favorite R&B/Soul Album by Aaliyah. Her second and final film, The Queen of the Damned, was released in February 2002.
Prior to the release, Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad, re-voiced some of his lines during post-production. The film grossed $15.2 million in its first week, ranking first in the box office. On the first anniversary of Aaliyah’s death, a candlelight vigil was organized in Times Square; millions of fans observed a moment of silence; and throughout the United States, radio stations played their songs in his memory.
In December 2002, a collection of unreleased material was released as Aaliyah’s first posthumous album, I Care 4 U. A lot of the proceeds were given to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund, a program that benefits institutions aimed at treating cancer patients. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, selling over 280,000 copies in its first week.
The album’s flagship, “Miss You”, peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached the top of the U.S. R&B and Hip-Hop chart. The album featured six unreleased songs, recorded between 1998 and 2001, where “Miss You”, “Don’t Know What to Tell Ya”, “Come Over” and “I Care 4 U” (previously released on the 2001 album Aaliyah ) were released as singles, and became big hits, making Aaliyah remain on the charts and radio charts. I Care 4 U sold over six million copies worldwide and, in the United States, “Miss You” became the most successful female solo song of the year 2003. In August 2003, clothing retailer Christian Dior donated sales profits in honor of Aaliyah.
In 2005, Aaliyah’s second compilation album, Ultimate Aaliyah, was released in the UK by Blackground Records, and sold over one and a half million copies. Ultimate Aaliyah is composed of three discs, two of which are in CD format, with their greatest hits, and a DVD. Andy Kellman of AllMusic stated that “Ultimate Aaliyah is a perfect representation of the short career of a great talent”. A documentary titled Aaliyah: Live in Amsterdam was released in 2011, just before the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah’s death. The documentary, made by Pogus Cesar, contains unreleased footage made in 1995 while she was performing in the Netherlands.
2012–2014: Posthumous album proposal
In March 2012, music producer Jeffrey “J-Dub” Walker announced on his Twitter account that the song “Steady Ground”, which he produced for Aaliyah’s third album, would be included in Aaliyah’s upcoming posthumous album. This proposed second album would have this song, using the demo vocals, given that Walker stated that the original vocals somehow got lost by his sound engineer. Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad, later denied Walker’s statements, stating that “no official album will be released and supported by the Haughton family”. On August 5, 2012, Blackground Records released the track “Enough Said” on the internet.
It was produced by Noah “40” Shebib from the use of a song titled “Can’t Do It Alone”, written and recorded by Aaliyah in 1999, and features the collaboration of rapper Drake. Four days later, Jomo Henkerson confirmed that a posthumous album was being produced and was scheduled to be released in late 2012 on Blackground Records. It was reported that the album would feature 16 unreleased tracks and there would be collaborations with Aaliyah’s longtime partners Timbaland and Missy Elliott, among others.
On August 13, Timbaland and Missy Elliott denied rumors about being hired or participating in the project. Mona Scott-Young, Elliott’s assistant, told XXL, “Even though Missy and Timbaland are always keeping the memory of their close friend alive, we haven’t been contacted about the project and there are no plans to participate.
We have seen the statements that have emerged stating that they have been confirmed for the project but this is not the case. Both Missy and Timbaland are very sensitive about the loss still felt by the family, so we wanted to clarify any misinformation that is circulating.” Elliott herself said, “Tim and I carry Aaliyah with us every day, as do all the people who love her. She will always live in our hearts. We have nothing but love and respect for her memory and the people she left behind, still in mourning. They are always in our prayers.”
In June 2013, Aaliyah was present on a new track by Chris Brown, titled “Don’t Think They Know”. The clip contains holographic versions of Aaliyah dancing. The track appeared on Brown’s sixth album, X. Timbaland declared his disapproval of “Enough Said” and Don’t Think They Know in July 2013. He, self-centeredly, stated, “Aaliyah’s music only works with her soul mate, which is me.” Shortly thereafter, Timbaland apologized to Chris Brown for a statement, which he explained was made by the fact that Aaliyah and her death were “a very sensitive subject”.
In January 2014, producer Noah “40” Shebib confirmed that the posthumous album was shelved due to negative reception surrounding Drake’s involvement. Shebib added, “When Aaliyah’s mother said ‘I don’t want this being released’ it was enough for me… I walked away quickly.”
2015–present: Merchandise, catalog re-release and Unstoppable
In 2015, Aaliyah’s vocals were discovered on rapper T-Pain’s track “Girlfriend” on the mixtape The Iron Way. The rapper stated that he received the unreleased vocals after being involved in Aaliyah’s old posthumous album project. Subsequently, the rapper was severely criticized after completely deserving and diminishing Aaliyah’s legacy. In May of the same year, Aaliyah appeared on Tink’s track “Million”, which contains a sample of “One in a Million”. Collaborator Timbaland was involved in creating the track, and previously stated that Aaliyah appeared to him in a dream and told him that Tink was “the one”.
In September 2015, Aaliyah by Xyrena, an official tribute fragrance was announced. On December 19, 2015, Timbaland posted on his Instagram preview of an inestita song by Aaliyah, titled “He Keeps Me Shakin’”, and said it would be released on December 25 on his King Stays King mixtape.
On August 24, 2017, MAC Cosmetics announced that a collection of Aaliyah would be launched in the summer of 2018. The Aaliyah x MAC collection was released online on June 20 and June 21 in stores. Accompanied by the collection, MAC and i-D magazine teamed up to release the short “A-Z of Aaliyah”, which coincided with the release. The short highlighted and celebrated Aaliyah’s legacy with the help of some fans chosen to participate through an online competition made by i-D magazine and MAC. The Aaliyah x MAC collector’s box sold for $250 and sold out within minutes during launch day.
On August 21, 2019, madame tussauds museum unveiled a wax statue of Aaliyah in Las Vegas. The life-size statue was modeled after the iconic outfit and makeup from the “Try Again” clip. The statue was unveiled by his brother, Rashad, to the entire public.
On August 25, 2020, Aaliyah’s official estate announced that it was entering into office with several record labels to discuss the future of its catalog, aiming to finally make it fully available on digital download and streaming platforms.
In August 2021, it was announced that all of Aaliyah’s work recorded for Blackground (now blackground records 2.0) would be re-released in physical and digital formats, through an agreement made between the label and Empire Distribution. One in a Million was first released on digital and streaming platforms on August 20, 2021, despite Aaliyah’s estate issuing a statement in response to blackground 2.0’s announcement, denouncing the “unscrupulous effort to release Aaliyah’s music without any transparency or full accountability to the estate.”
In addition, there were conflicts between the estate of Aaliyah (represented by her mother and older brother) and Barry Henkerson, as Aaliyah’s estate wanted to make a profit under the material, thus helping important causes with the help of the Aaliyah Memorial Fund. According to Henkerson, Aaliyah’s direct family had no interest in releasing the songs, but would still earn their due profits. Following its re-release, One in a Million re-entered the UK Official Hip-Hop/R&B Albums at number eight. In the United States, the album reached the top 10 of the Billboard 200 for the first time, 25 years after its original release.
On August 25, 2021, Barry Henkerson revealed in an interview with Big Tigger for WVEE that a fourth (and probably last) studio album, titled Unstoppable, would be released “in a few weeks”. The album will feature partnerships with Drake, Snoop Dogg, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Future and will use unreleased Aaliyah vocals recorded before her death. Henkerson shared that this will be the end of the singer’s new songs and added, “I think it’s amazing. It’s a very emotional process. It’s very hard to hear her sing when she’s not here, but we did it.” Romeo’s soundtrack has to die was re-released on September 3, 2021.
Aaliyah was re-released on September 10, 2021. After its re-release, the album also re-entered the UK Official Hip-Hop/R&B Albums at number seven, while peaking at number 13 on the Billboard 200. In celebration of the re-release, Blackground released an animated commercial titled “It’s Been A Long Time” (with a style similar to the original 2001 commercial for the album), directed by Takahiro Tanaka, showing Aaliyah resurrecting her music from a large underground vault. The compilation albums I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah were re-released on October 8, 2021. Ultimate Aaliyah peaked at number 8 on the UK Official Hip-Hop/R&B Albums and, in the United States, peaked at number 41 on the Billboard 200, peaking at number 41.
On December 15, 2021, it was announced that a new posthumous single by Aaliyah would be released, in partnership with Canadian singer The Weeknd. The track “Poison” was released on December 17, 2021, as the first single from Unstoppable. The song was written by Static Major, The Weeknd and Belly and produced by DannyBoyStyles and Nick Lamb.
Legacy and influence
Aaliyah is credited with helping redefine R&B, pop and hip-hop in the 1990s, “leaving an unjustifiable mark on the music industry as a whole.” According to Billboard, she revolutionized R&B as her muffled mix of pop, soul and hip-hop. In a 2001 review of their third album, Rolling Stone stated that Aaliyah’s impact on R&B and pop had been enormous.
Steve Huey of AllMusic wrote that Aaliyah is among the elite artists of the R&B genre, given that she “played a very important role in popularizing the futuristic and babbling production that consumed hip-hop and urban soul in the mid-1990s”. Critic Bruce Britt stated that by combining “the little girl’s charm with an urban twist”, Aaliyah helped define the youthful sound that resulted in contemporary pop phenomena such as Brandy, Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child.
Described as one of the “most important R&B artists” during the 1990s, her second studio album, One in a Million, became one of the most influential R&B albums of the decade. Music critic Simon Reynolds quoted “Are You That Somebody?” as “the most radical pop single” of 1998. Kelefah Sanneh of The New York Times wrote that, rather than being the main focus of the song, Aaliyah “knew how to disappear within the song, how to merge her voice the bass line”, and consequently “helped change the way popular music sums; Destiny’s Child’s restless beat songs owe a clear debt to ‘Are You That Somebody?’” Sanneh stated that by the time of her death in 2001, Aaliyah “had recorded some of the most innovative and influential pop songs of the past five years”.
Popdust called Aaliyah an unexpected queen of the underground due to her influence on the underground alternative music scene; the publication also mentioned that his music ahead of The Time That Aaliyah made with Timbaland and the experimental music made by various alternative artists are, in a way, part of the same cloth. While drawing up a list of artists who picked up Tips from Aaliyah, MTV Hive mentioned that it is easy to find their influence in movements such as dubstep, indie pop and lo-fi R&B. Erika Ramirez, a Billboard editor, said that at the time of Aaliyah’s career “there weren’t many artists using the soft vocals she was using, and now you see several artists using this technique and finding success,” her reasoning for Aaliyah’s continued influence on current artists.
She stated that Aaliyah’s second album, One in a Million, was “way ahead of its time, with the bass and electronic R&B sounds they produced”, referring to collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott and that the sound that “really stood out” at the time was being replicated. With sales of 8.1 million copies in the United States and an estimated over 34 million copies worldwide, Aaliyah acquired the nicknames “Princess of R&B” and “Queen of Urban Pop”, as she “proved to be a muse on her own merit”. She is also cited as an icon of R&B and pop for her impact and contributions to their respective genres.
Aaliyah was honored at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards by Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ginuwine and her brother, Rashad, who paid tribute to her. In the same year, the United States Social Security Administration announced that “Aaliyah” was one of the 100 most popular names for newborn girls and Aaliyah became the second artist to have the most inspired baby names in the United States.
Aaliyah was ranked as one of the “40 Best Women of the Video Age” by VH1 in 2003. In 2020, Billboard included her on the list of 100 Best Video Artists of All Time, explaining that she “mesmet the smooth choreography with the tomboy style that would inspire future generations of R&B in the years to come”. She was also ranked 18th on Bet’s list of “25 Best Dancers of All Time”.
In 2002, VH1 created the list of the 100 Sexiest Artists and Aaliyah appeared at 36th position. Moreover, in December 2009, Billboard ranked Aaliyah 70th on the List of Best Artists of the Decade, while her third album appeared at number 181 on the List of 200 Best Albums of the Decade. In 2012, VH1 ranked Aaliyah 48th on the List of Best Women in Music. Also in 2012, Aaliyah was ranked 10th on Complex magazine’s list of 100 Hottest Female Artists of All Time.
She is listed by Billboard as the 10th most successful female R&B artist of the last 25 years and the 27th most successful overall. In 2014, NME magazine ranked Aaliyah 18th on NME’s List of Most Influential Artists. The dress Aaliyah wore at the 2000 VMA was featured on Harper’s Bazzar’s List of Memorable Moments. In October 2015, Aaliyah was on Vogue magazine’s list of the 10 Women who became jeans-style icons. Moreover, in August 2018, Billboard ranked Aaliyah 47th on the list of the 60 Best Female Artists of All Time. In September 2020, Rolling Stone included One in a Million at number 314 on the List of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Aaliyah’s music influenced numerous artists including Adele, The Weeknd, Ciara, Beyoncé, Monica, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Azealia Banks, Sevyn Streeter, Keyshia Cole, J. Cole, Ryan Destiny, Kelly Rowland, Zendaya, Rita Ora, The xx, Arctic Monkeys, Speedy Ortiz, Chelsea Wolfe, Haim, Angel Haze, Kiesza, Naya Rivera, Normani, Cassie, Hayley Williams, Jessie Ware, Yeasayer, Bebe Rexha, Omarion, Megan Rochell and Olly Alexander of Years & Years. Canadian R&B singer Keshia Chanté praised the singer’s futuristic style in both music and fashion. She mentioned that Aaliyah has been part of her life “since she was 6.” R&B singer and friend Brandy said of the late artist: “She debuted before me and Monica, she was our inspiration.
At the time, record companies didn’t believe in child acts and it was simply inspiring to see someone who was conquering everything by being themselves. When I met her I hugged her, I was so happy to meet her.” Rapper Drake said the singer has a huge influence on her career. He also has the artist’s tattoo on his back. Solange Knowles commented during the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death that she idolized the artist and that she would never be forgotten. She said, “I grew up watching people try to do what you did, emanat the same light you emanato, and they all failed.” Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5, recalls that he was persuaded to pursue a more different sound by listening to “Are You That Somebody?”.
The singer recalls that at the time he had never heard anything as innovative as the track made for the soundtrack of Dr. Dolittle. Japanese singer Hikaru Utada said several times that “it was when I listened to Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number of Aaliyah that I fell in love with R&B”. In 2012, Utada released her debut album First Love, which contains R&B influences.
In 2012, British singer Katy B released the song “Aaliyah” as a tribute to Aaliyah’s legacy and her eternal brand in R&B music. The track in partnership with singer Jessie Ware appeared on Katy B’s EP Danger. In 2016, Swedish singer Erik Hassle released a song titled “If Your Man Only Knew”, which served as a tribute to Aaliyah’s 1996 single “If Your Girl Only Knew”.
There is a continuing belief that Aaliyah would have achieved greater success had it not been for her death. Emil Wilbekin mentioned the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur in conjunction with hers and added, “Her third album released and her future role in the Matrix sequel could have made her the next Janet Jackson or Whitney Houston”. The queen of the damned director, Michael Rymer, said of Aaliyah: “God, that girl could have gone so far” and talked about her having “so much clarity about what she wanted. Nothing would stop her. No ego, no nervousness, no manipulation. Nothing would stop her.”
Discography of Aaliyah
- Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number (1994)
- One in a Million (1996)
- Aaliyah (2001)
- I Care 4 U (2002)
- Ultimate Aaliyah (2005)
- Unstoppable (2022)
|Star Search||1989||Show de TV||Herself||1 episode|
|All That||1995; 1997||TV series||Herself|
|New York Undercover||1997||Season 3, episode 65: “Fade Out”|
|Romeo has to die||2000||Movie||Trish O’Day||Debut film|
|The Queen of the Damned||2002||Queen Akasha||Posthumous release|