I still remember Sunday morning August 26, 2001 For two reasons.
That Sunday, I was preparing for a new chapter of my life called Delaware State University and I spent much of the weekend fretting about whether I would fit in or if I could really make a career for myself as a sports writer. Also as I checked the morning news and got ready to head to my grandmother’s apartment for pancakes and bacon as the custom dictated, I was shocked to see a brief mention of Aaliyah’s passing in a plane crash the previous day going across the screen. Of course a bigger tragedy would turn the world upside down about two and a half weeks later, but the entertainment industry was stunned that a rising star, such a bright light, was put out well before her time at 22.
It’s amazing how 10 years has NOT taken away from Aaliyah’s legacy as a very talented performer – super dancer, fairly decent singer and aspiring actress. As time wears on a lot of the talented folks that made headlines but weren’t widely celebrated by pop audience tend to fade out of the public conscience. Instead, many people, particularly young black men and women, hold on to Aaliyah’s brief but enduring career as one of life’s greatest “What could have been” stories.
I talked about why Aaliyah remains relevant on a recent podcast of mine and I believe, with good reason, she holds a special place in the hearts of young black girls who wanted to dance, be cute and be cool – She did those three things effortlessly.
So why should Aaliyah be remembered? What songs should folks unfamiliar with Aaliyah Dana Haughton listen to in order to get familiar with her? Consider the rhetorical question answered with a definitive 10 Aaliyah songs you should listen to (in no particular order and of course, everyone’s list is different):
At Your Best (You Are Love): It takes a special kind of moxie (and an Isley Brothers fan like R. Kelly) for a 15 year-old girl to cover an Isleys classic and sound good doing it. The “Gangsta Child” remix for the the rap audience was blah, but the standard version does justice to a Quiet Storm classic.
One in a million: 1996 – Aaliyah releases her second album with a rising young songwriting/producing who went by the names of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot and Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley. A radical departure from the New Jack Swing-influenced Kelly production, Aaliyah’s soft sultry voice singing over Timbo’s futuristic tracks was a match made in heaven as the title track suggests.
Come Over: A song that was originally a Changing Faces cut, a leftover demo from the self-titled album sessions worked its way on to the posthumously-released “I care 4 U” album and on to grown folks time playlists every where in college. If you heard this coming from someone’s room, you dared not knock on the door – something was about to (or already was) going down.
Try Again: Still a top 20 Timbo beat and an absolute monster during the Summer of 2000, it went along with the soundtrack to Aaliyah’s major movie debut, “Romeo must die.” The video (linked here) was Aaliyah at her sexiest in my opinion even though she was dancing her ass off into several mirrors and then with a cane Kappa style at the end.
Back and forth: Her debut song and video set the tone from the jump – This wasn’t bubblegum in the very least, a track with plenty of bass and a sassy teenager with attitude and vocal skills to spare while in full tomboy mode.
Four page letter: Every teenage girl wanted to write one and every teenage boy wanted to receive one. One of the softer, sweeter tracks from One in a million and probably her most enduring as everyone stops and starts singing along from the intro when Aaliyah asks the engineers to turn it up “…up some more…”
How could the one I gave my heart to: While no one has ever ranked Aaliyah’s voice very high, this heartbreaking song showed that even at 17 she could make a song her own and deliver a vocal performance worthy of the material.
Hot like fire remix: Timbo snapped on the drum and bass-influenced track and the video once again showcased Aaliyah’s dancing skills and charismatic personality.
If your girl only knew: Once again, Aaliyah’s re-emergence under Tim and Missy’s production only enhanced her popularity as the lead single from “One in a million” suggests.
I miss you: The irony of this being the next single after her death is still too much for folks to take 10 years later. And it’s still the absolute truth – her fans still miss Aaliyah greatly to this day.