I have a confession to make. Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah’s death and I think it’s time for me to finally come clean about something: I never listened to Aaliyah’s music when she was alive. Sure, I had heard “Try Again” and “Are You That Somebody” and thought they were both solid pop songs but that was the extent of it. She wasn’t on my radar. I was indifferent to her. When she died, however, I, like many others, was devastated by the news. Maybe it was her young age or maybe it was the fact that she was in the middle of transitioning from respected R & B singer to superstar with her upcoming role in The Matrix movies. Whatever the reason, I was heartbroken and immediately went out and bought her three albums—Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number (something that R. Kelly, who produced the entire album, surely told himself when he married Aaliyah when she was only fifteen years old), One In A Million (her breakout record that was primarily produced by Missy Elliot and Timbaland. At the time, Missy and Timbaland were largely unknown producers and had crafted a sound for Aaliyah that wasn’t like anything else out there) and her self-titled album, which was released shortly before her death. I was stunned by how much I actually loved her music. Her first album was sort of forgettable ’90s cheese whiz but her next two were flawless. One In A Million’s production is edgy and dark, making Aaliyah’s ethereal vocals an unlikley captivating match. With her last album, Aaliyah redefined her sound yet again by working with new producers and even experimenting with rock. Her discography may be small but it made an indelible mark on the music world. It’s hard to picture artists like Ciara and Alicia Keys existing without Aaliyah paving the way.
When the topic of Aaliyah comes up, I’m always hesitant to admit that I only got into her music posthumously because it makes me feel like less of a fan. But I realize now that that’s silly. Whether I got into her when her first album dropped or yesterday, there’s no shame in the discovery. What matters is that I adore her music.
When an artist dies, it’s interesting to see not what people choose to remember but what they choose to forget. In regards to Aaliyah’s story, two things are seldom mentioned after her passing. One was the fact that she illegally married R. Kelly in 1994 when she was only fifteen. Vibe magazine famously ran their Illinois marriage certificate before Aaliyah’s parents had them annul the union. Keep in mind that this controversy was before the tapes of R. Kelly having sex and pissing on young girls was released and the singer was sent to trial. I find it bizarre and downright troubling that the two were ever married and I’m also confused that R. Kelly didn’t get into trouble for it. Since Aaliyah’s death, however, that blemish has been largely erased from her story.
The second thing that rarely gets discussed is the painful reality that Aaliyah may have caused her own death. The singer was traveling with members of her entourage after her video shoot for “Rock The Boat” wrapped in The Bahamas. Nine people were in a twin-engine Cessna plane with hundreds of pounds of video equipment. They were allegedly advised to remove some of the equipment because they were over capacity but the party refused. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed 200 feet from the runway, killing all on board. Granted, it’s the pilot’s responsibility to refuse to fly when the aircraft is clearly overweight and after the crash it was even discovered that the pilot was high on coke and wasn’t even authorized to fly the plane. However, it’s sad to know that Aaliyah and her entourage refused to take anything off the plane even after they were advised to do so. If they had just agreed to remove some things and have them flown out later on another plane, Aaliyah would’ve been alive today.
It’s hard to think that Aaliyah and her friends’ diva behavior is what caused their untimely demise. But in the end, it doesn’t make it any less tragic. A gifted singer is gone. I rarely am sad about a celebrity’s death. Aaliyah has been the only exception.