It's strange to think that Aaliyah would have been 30 this year. It's even more uncomfortable when one notices that it's been nearly eight years since her death. I still remember seeing the news scroll across the bottom of some show on MTV, and thinking it was bull, until I turned on the radio and heard a succession of Aaliyah songs, and knew that it was in memorial, not celebration.
Still, it has been eight years, and Aaliyah was more than a talent taken too soon. I remember buying her final album, Aaliyah on the day of its release and being less than impressed with the direction she had taken with the self-titled effort. I was 14 then. At 22 (and really, right around 16 or so) I can recognize the brilliance in Aaliyah taking a step away from Timbaland and Missy, and following her own agenda. With "We Need a Resolution" Aaliyah gave up adolescent inclinations toward abandoning a challenging relationship, and instead delivered a desperate, yet mature plea for the salvation of love gone wrong. At 23, she was wise beyond her years, and that resonates throughout the whole of Aaliyah.
"Rock the Boat" was the sexiest we'd seen the singer since the hesitantly suggestive "Hot Like Fire" from One In A Million, and "More Than A Woman" solidified her growth from street but sweet tomboy, to sex symbol in the making.
However, the album didn't just shine in terms of singles, but was consistent from top to bottom. Aaliyah defines R&B swagger before the word even became a pop culture staple with the borderline arrogance of "Loose Talk," and demonstrates her musical versatility with the rock flavored "What If?". Even the Timbaland assisted tracks, like "I Care 4 U" succeed because of Aaliyah, not in spite of her. All of which goes to prove, that even as Timb crafts hits for Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, no one will ever challenge his craft in the manner Aaliyah did.
Taken as a whole, Aaliyah is pure romance. Not picture perfect love; but as brooding and pained as a Victorian novel. In the end, this demonstrates that Aaliyah never took her audience for granted, or allowed them to marginalize her as any certain type of artist; as she effortlessly progressed from the new jack swing of "Back and Forth," to the modestly cocky hip-hop swagg of "Try Again."
Remembering Aaliyah fondly isn't hard to do, as few artists stayed as refreshingly progressive as she did throughout her near-decade long run as the exception to every teen-pop rule. While record sells for the singer were modest to well, her talent was consistently undeniable, as evident in the timelessness of a majority of her material.
Here's my favorite Aaliyah video.
Damn, that "I Miss You" video is still a little difficult for me to watch.