Today (July 7) marks the 13th anniversary of one of the greatest R&B albums of our generation. Aaliyah, the self-titled album from Aaliyah‘s third and final album, was released a month before her untimely death. But pushing the somber memories this album has aside, Aaliyah is a truly masterful record that broke the standards of R&B during its release – and continues to inspire many artists to this day.
Aaliyah’s previous two albums (Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number released in 1994 and One In A Million in 1996) were both much-loved projects, but they stayed within the sonic confinements of what was taking place in late 90’s R&B music. But her last (and greatest) project crashed through the walls of typical R&B sounds and dabbled in a variety of new genres. Aaliyah showcased the late singer’s multi-faceted personality and presented her as a more mature, independent and daring woman.
A great majority of the album was written by Aaliyah’s close friend and fellow musician Static Major, with production from Blackground Records’ in-house team which includes Rapture, Eric Seats and Bud’dha. Longtime collaborators Missy Elliott and Timbaland (who were partially responsible for the singer’s shot to fame) also provided their sonic genius to the album.
What made Aaliyah unique was its fresh blend of sounds taken from various areas of music. The fusion of Hip-Hop (“We Need A Resolution”), Latin Samba (“Read Between The Lines”), Funk (“Extra Smooth”), Pop (“More Than A Woman”), Industrial Rock (“What If”) and Neo-Soul (“It’s Whatever”) throughout the record just goes to show how advanced Aaliyah and her team were. Aaliyah was well-known for her delicate yet commanding vocals, and the album’s songs highlighted – not overpowered – her smooth, almost kitten-like tone with bold and complex rhythms. Lyrically, she came into her own as a woman more than ever before. The album has an underlying theme of female empowerment, where the singer touches on subjects like leaving a physical abusive relationship, being the “other woman,” taking control of her sex appeal, being unimpressed with try-hard men, and not putting up with infidelity.
Top Three Favorite Tracks (in no particular order)
1. “Loose Rap”
This mid-tempo stunner is no doubt one of the best songs off the record, thanks to the combination of Aaliyah’s wickedly cool vocals and the smooth lyrics courtesy of Static Major. The song talks about dismissing “loose rap” – a slang for corny and unimpressive pick-up lines: “So many times you guys would come step to me/I guess you call yourself booking me/But do I look easy?” It has a chilling electronic undertone, bubbling synths and airy vocal harmonies that makes the song incredibly addictive to listen to.
2. “More Than A Woman”
This Grammy-nominated tune from the album is one of the more uptempo songs in a sea of murky ballads and downtempos. “More Than A Woman,” the album’s second single, embodies the New Millennium mentality that was happening in music at the time – specifically in Pop. The Timbaland-produced synths are knife-sharp, the singer’s vocals are full-bodied and hearty and the lyrics oozes self-confidence: “I’ll be more than a lover /More than a woman/More than enough for you.“
3. “I Can Be”
In this song, Aaliyah sings about a topic that was not often talked about in R&B – especially from female singers. She talks about how she doesn’t care about being the other woman in a committed relationship, in a numbing, almost masochistic manner: “I can be the other reason you’re out at night/I can be all the things you thought she might.” The song starts of slow, then tricks the listener’s ears by crashing in with a heavy-hitting bassline and electric guitar licks. The brash, unapologetic nature of the song is completely refreshing and a step away from what her fellow entertainers were doing at that time.
Unfortunately only three videos were able to be shot, but out of all of them “Rock The Boat” is the one that is the most memorable – for many obvious reasons. The video, directed by Hype Williams, was shot just three days before the deadly airplane crash in the Bahamas. The song’s breathy vocals and sexually provocative lyrics are anchored by the island’s breezy nature (which is centered on water – from the beach, to the yacht, and the waterfall background of the dance scenes. The innuendos are quite obvious here…). But most importantly, Aaliyah truly looks like an angel in the video. Every scene highlights her beauty and carefree personality.
During its initial release, Aaliyah debuted at number two on Billboard’s 200 chart but failed to maintain steady album sales. But after the singer’s death, the album flew to the number one position on numerous international charts and became officially certified 2 times platinum by the RIAA. Aaliyah has become a blueprint for artists who spans many genres from Neo-Soul to Electronic, including Beyonce, Drake, Azealia Banks, Rihanna, The xx, BANKS, Ciara, Jessie Ware, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and so much more. Along with the album, Aaliyah was in the midst of promoting Queen of the Damned as well as filming other projects like The Matrix. She was already a big star, but her international popularity was just about to tip over its peak. Unfortunately her time was cut short, and we’ll never know what she was capable of accomplishing. But with iconic albums like Aaliyah, fans all around the world are reminded of her talents as an entertainer and how she was able to influence an entire legion of musical successors.
Revisit the legendary album in its entirety below:
What are your thoughts about Aaliyah’s final album? Let us know in the comments below!