It has been 10 years since the death of R&B star Aaliyah. Unfortunately, we have become so accustomed to seeing talented musicians die before their time, like the recently departed Amy Winehouse.
But unlike other singers who succumb to substance abuse, Aaliyah’s life was snuffed out in a tragic airplane accident in the Bahamas, which killed eight other people. She was in the Caribbean to record what would be her last music video “Rock the Boat.”
Dying at the tender age of 22, Aaliyah had already made a lasting impression in the music world. Industry insiders began to see her talent at the age of 9, when she made her first TV performing debut on Star Search, performing “My Funny Valentine.” Her early years performing in school recitals also opened up an opportunity for her to sing with Gladys Knight’s Las Vegas revue two years later.
WATCH AALIYAH INTERVIEWED ON MTV BACK IN 2001 RIGHT BEFORE SHE DIED:
At the age of 14, Aaliyah signed with Jive Records, where she would go onto redefine the R&B scene. With the help of her mentor R. Kelly, Aaliyah’s first album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, struck out with four hit songs. However, her growing celebrity at the time was threatened when it was revealed that the then 15-year-old Aaliyah married Kelly, who was 12 years her senior. Vibe magazine published a copy of their Illinois marriage license, dated Aug. 31, 1994, which showed the Aaliyah’s age had been listed as 18. Their marriage was annulled by her parents the following year.
The singer moved on and joined up with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second studio recording, One in a Million — an album which sold over eight million records worldwide. Her musical style has been described as “sweet but street.” In fact, she started a trend in “music that’s gritty but not dirty [and] youthful without being adolescent.” She also became something of a style trend setter, with her “tomboy chic” fashion sense and her hair swooping over her left eye like Hollywood pin-up model Veronica Lake.
Not only was she getting featured on magazine covers all over the world, Aaliyah was also venturing into acting. At the time of her death, she was preparing for the role of Zee in The Matrix: Reloaded.
Aaliyah had become a bona fide star. It’s funny to see a video now of an Aaliyah who was on top of her game being interviewed by a then little known artist named Beyoncé.
It would have been interesting to see how her career would have fared today had she lived. As beautiful and talented as Aaliyah was, would she have been able to compete with today’s female artists? To succeed in the music industry today as a songstress or female MC, there seems to be more emphasis on style (or subversion) over substance, and, according to her fans, Aaliyah was very much about substance.
The reason Aaliyah still appeals to her fans 10 years on is not just because of her music, but also her enduring realness. By many accounts, she seemed like the kind of celebrity one would want to hang out with.
“I loved seeing her on MTV Diary when she was playing around with her hair and makeup people,” said singer Melody Thornton in a recent Billboard interview. “They were just having fun, laughing and trying on wigs. It showed she didn’t take herself too seriously, she had fun.”
Others who knew Aaliyah could vouch for her pleasant personality.
“I think it’s good for people to know the side of her outside of the music and know that her music was a great reflection of her,” said singer Monica in the same interview. “Sometimes people are totally different than the image they represent, but what I love about her is that everything that you saw was really her. When the lights and the cameras were off, that same pleasant, mild mannered, sweet personality, that’s just how she was.”
Someone told me once that no matter how famous one becomes in life, that person will be remembered not only for their tangible contributions, but also how their contributions reflect upon them. If her life is an accurate indication, then Aaliyah’s legacy will endure with her fans for a very long time.