Aaliyah: One in a million

By// Quinn Peterson

“The good die young” is a cliche used far too often and far too loosely. Nowhere does it apply more aptly, though, than in the case of singer and actress Aaliyah, who tragically died in a plane crash 10 years ago today at the tender age of 22.

She was so talented, yet innocent at the same time, and that is what made her so special. While other stars like Beyonce grow to superhuman-like popularity, distinctly removed from the everyday person — Aaliyah’s girl-next-door charisma kept her tangible and never larger-than-life.

A quick look at her resume shows that she was indeed a star, however. A brightly shining one at that.

And the Detroit native was no mere bubblegum act either. Each of her three albums received heavy acclaim on both levels — critical and commercial. With Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, One In A Million and Aaliyah all achieving double-platinum certifications in the U.S., “Baby Girl”, as she was called by many, amassed over 20-million record sales worldwide.

Moreover, all were well-respected works, each serving as R&B benchmarks of the time. Throw in the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, to which she supplied four songs including number-one hit Try Again, and you’re looking at one of the most successful artists in the past 15 years.

A seamless intersection between R&B, pop and hip-hop, she proved incredibly versatile, finding success with New jack-swing oriented tracks like Back & Forth early in her career, bouncing hip-hop records like If Your Girl Only Knew and We Need A Resolution, and smoother, more traditional R&B cuts like One In A Million and Rock The Boat.

The great team assembled around her deserves credit as well, particularly R. Kelly, who penned the majority of her first album, and Virginia-natives Timbaland and Missy Elliot, who provided her with a hip-hop edge on her second and third LPs, helping her cement her place in music.

“It’s hard for Aaliyah to be duplicated, because she had her own lane,” said Elliot last year when remembering her fallen friend and former collaborator.

With a solid performance in a leading role in Romeo Must Die, acting was clearly next on her list of lanes to take over.

One could use all this to highlight the sadness of her untimely death. Here on the 10th anniversary of her passing, however, it should be used to showcase how phenomenal she truly was.

Accomplishing so much in just 22 years is simply remarkable. Luckily, the music lives forever and her legacy and influence will never cease to exist.  

While Beyonce now dominates the female R&B lane almost to the point of monopoly, singing, dancing, acting and being an entrepreneur, one can only imagine that had she lived, Aaliyah would be providing some stiff competition. Such remains one of music’s most compelling debates, in fact: Beyonce vs. Aaliyah.

Unfortunately, we’ll never have a definitive answer. What we do know is that Aaliyah was a special, once-in-a-decade-talent, and thus, we should continue to cherish what she gave us in her short time here.

May she rest in peace.//