Aaliyah biography ‘Baby Girl’ tells story of ‘dynamic human being’

“I wanted to tell the story in a way that showed Aaliyah was dynamic outside of anyone she had worked with, outside of anything that we chose to define her by,” writer Kathy Iandoli says.

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Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah by music journalist and author Kathy Iandoli is officially out.

With this biography, Iandoli (also the author of God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop and co-author of rapper Lil Kim’s upcoming memoir, The Queen Bee) wanted to give a panoramic view of Aaliyah’s life and tell the story of a dynamic woman we lost too soon. 

Aaliyah Dana Haughton was 14-years-old when she began working on her first album in 1993. In 1994, she released Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. She followed it up with One in a Million in 1996 and her final self-titled album, Aaliyah, in 2001. She was also featured on soundtracks such as Dr. Dolittle, Romeo Must Die, Next Friday, and the 1997 animated film Anastasia.

She was also a model for Tommy Hilfiger and she graced the big screens for films, starring as Trish O’ Day in Romeo Must Die and Queen Akasha in Queen of the Damned.

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Aaliyah Dana Haughton died in a plane crash after filming a video in the Bahamas. (Photo: Getty Images).

Aaliyah, 22, Anthony Dodd, Eric Foreman, Scott Gallin, Keeth Wallace, Gina Smith, Douglas Kratz, Christopher Maldonado, and Luis Morales lost their lives in a plane crash in the Bahamas on August 25, 2001.

During an interview with theGrio, Iandoli shares how she didn’t want the biography to focus on the events, which included an annulled marriage between former R&B superstar R. Kelly and the then-underage teen, that took place in ‘94-’95. It was time to tell a story that honored the entertainer in a way that showed that those years didn’t define her.

“I don’t like seeing Aaliyah’s name and R. Kelly always happening side by side,” says Iandoli. “I wanted to tell the story in a way that showed that this woman was dynamic outside of anyone she had worked with, outside of anything that we chose to define her by.” 

“There [have] been other books about her in the past,” Iandoli continues. “They’re great books, but I thought they sanitized an artist who was a human. That’s one thing that I think tends to happen with musicians, particularly Black female musicians. Black women are superheroes in general. But when you take away from the human aspect, you’re not allowing them to feel. We weren’t allowing Aaliyah to have feelings, we weren’t allowing Aaliyah to exist beyond this bubble of what we’ve created around her.”

Aaliyah was known for her angelic spirit. In this biography, we get to see another side of the entertainer through interviews Iandoli conducted with artists, such as Lil Kim and Jim Jones.

Aaliyah arrives, August 6, 2000, at the “2000 Teen Choice Awards” in Santa Monica, CA. (Photo by Chris Weeks/Liaison)

“She was just a down a** chick, like she was just so dope,” Iandoli expresses. “Coming to find out that she was related to [Tek] of Boot Camp Clik and that’s how she got on the [“Night Riders”] remix… Oh, my gosh. These are things that, like the fan in me, was like all just ghast about. Those kinds of stories… I learned a lot.”

The author also reflects on an excerpt from the biography that had the internet going off before the release of the book, the chapter that discusses the story behind the hit song  “Are You That Somebody.”

“I didn’t know the story behind ‘Are You That Somebody,’” says Iandoli. “It kind of blew up in my face because of a headline that I most definitely didn’t write. I love the idea that Static Major used that song as a way to kind of express himself to her. I really hated how it was turned around in the media, but I still think that story is adorable and I stand by that story.”

When asked what it was like emotionally writing the book, Iandoli revealed that it was difficult but also probably one of the most rewarding writing processes that she’s ever done.

“I wrote those chapters first, the ones that I knew were going to be the most emotionally distressful,” says Iandoli. “I think I cried for about two weeks. That process was hard. Most fans of Aaliyah, you love her dearly, and hearing about her through people who knew her and loved her as well, you got the sense that she was someone who was actually universally loved by the people who actually knew her.

Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah has received early praises from the likes of Questlove, Robert Glasper, and Nelson George.  Aaliyah fans who keep her legacy alive via social media also praised the book. 

But there’s also some backlash, which Iandoli acknowledges. 

Some fans voiced concerns that the Haughton family isn’t a part of the book. Iandoli did reach out to the estate to inform them about the book and ask for the Haughtons’ participation, but they declined.

Other Twitter accounts have brought up Iandoli’s race.

I understand the apprehension,” says Iandoli. “I understand why it would be jarring to see an Italian girl from New Jersey putting this book together. But I can assure anyone who reads the book that this was done lovingly, this was done fairly, this was done with heavy, heavy research and in part [with a] heavy, heavy heart.”

“As a woman, as a feminist, I had to show her superpower as a woman,” Iandoli adds. “I can’t connect as I’m not Black. I can’t connect in that way, but I can connect as a woman.”

To those who are skeptical about reading the book, Iandoli says “I hope that they give me a chance. After all this time in the music industry, I hope I built a reputation on being fair, balanced, and 150% ally.”

In 2021, people still rave about how Aaliyah was ahead of her time. The futuristic sound of Aaliyah’s artistry still has a lasting imprint and can be found throughout artists in the industry. Drake, Teyana Taylor, Sevyn Streeter, UsherNormani, Chris Brown, Victoria Monet, KeKe Palmer, Rapsody (featured in the book), Kash Doll (featured in the book), have either paid homage in their own way, spoke highly of the entertainer or acknowledged how influential she was. 

In the dance community, her music is still sought after for classes and choreographers have made tributes dedicated to her.

Aaliyah’s contribution to the fashion world is still lingering today as well. Her tomboy chic style has transcended fashion for the last two decades.

This month will mark the 20th anniversary of the passing of Baby Girl. We’ll get to celebrate her legacy with this biography along with her music finally coming to streaming platforms: One in a Million (Aug. 20), Aaliyah (Sept. 20), and I Care 4 U + Ultimate Aaliyah compilation albums (Oct. 8).

Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah by Kathy Iandoli can be purchased here.

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