Ten years ago today the music industry lost a world superstar-in-the-making when a private jet crashed in the Bahamas taking with it the life of Aaliyah Dana Haughton, aged just 22.
Born in Brooklyn, New York on 16 January 1979, Aaliyah’s illustrious 10-year career began after she scored a record deal with Jive before she was even a teenager. Going on to achieve chart success on the Billboard 100 from the off, she took that TLC/SWV/Salt’N’Pepa/Brandy Vs. Monica brand of mid-’90s popular R&B and added her own bandana-wearing, sunglasses-sporting, midriff-baring swagger. Debuting in 1994 with radio-friendly, R Kelly-produced single Back & Forth she not only hit Number 1 on the US R&B chart, but had transatlantic success scoring inside the UK singles chart’s Top 20.
Following this, Aaliyah sold three million copies in the US alone of her first album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number but caught some unwanted attention due to allegations she had entered into an illegal marriage with notorious bad boy R Kelly. It wouldn’t be long, however, before she’d sign to Atlantic Records, with whom she’d go on to achieve even greater feats on Missy Elliott-featuring follow-up album One In A Million (1996) – a record which would launch the prolific career of its producer, Timbaland.
Aaliyah was the full package. A model, a dancer, and eventually an actress, she added a further string to her bow in 2000 with a starring role in Jet Li martial arts vehicle, Romeo Must Die, for which she provided the soundtrack alongside co-star DMX. One of her biggest hits Try Again was the lead single from the film’s soundtrack and provided something of a major global breakthrough, earning Aaliyah two MTV Video Music Awards, a Grammy nomination and several Best Of list spots, including Rolling Stone’s Best Songs Of The Decade and NME’s Greatest Singles Of All Time.
No wonder that by 2001, Aaliyah, was ready to take on the world armed with a third and final album simply titled: Aaliyah. Reuniting with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, she asserted herself as a mature, globally resonant proposition, the record containing elements of her R&B background as well as neo-soul, super sleek pop and Timbaland’s futuristic, game-changing hip hop beats. The acclaim flooded in with Grammy and MTV Award nominations aplenty and wins internationally at the NME and MOBO Awards.
Before her premature death, Aaliyah had been busy filming scenes for the next two installments of The Matrix franchise. She had other film projects in sight and, no doubt, a prosperous career in music ahead of her. We remember her for her bold style, charming talent and premonition for the use of dance music in hip hop. She paved the way Stateside for superstar acts such as Nelly Furtado and Beyonce, and can be heard further afield in the work of recent dubstep newbies The Weeknd and those conquerors of nocturnal electronica, The xx. In fact, the way in which the Mercury prize winners totally reinvented Aaliyah’s 1997 single Hot Like Fire seems a most fitting dedication to a woman who was ahead of her time, and yet, cruelly ran out of it.
Check out these Top 5 career-spanning highlights from the sassy soulstress:
1. Don’t Know What To Tell Ya
2. Hot Like Fire
3. Try Again
4. More Than A Woman
5. Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number