One of the positive aspects of social media apps like Instagram is the yearly milestone reminders of album releases. On the one hand, it's a stark reminder of how time is flying and how much has changed; on the other side, it's a chance to revisit classic sounds and re-evaluate them with new ears. This week marks the 17th anniversary of Aaliyah's eponymous final album. Upon seeing several posts on my timeline, I found it appropriate to give the album a nostalgia-inducing spin. Unfortunately, due to poor management of the estate, much of Aaliyah's discography is absent from streaming services. As of now, only the debut Age Ain't Nothing, But A Number along with corresponding EP's and Singles are available on sites like Tidal and Apple Music. Luckily, I purchased every album when they dropped in stores, so I indulged in my collection. One of my biggest praises of Aaliyah is its timelessness. The album was ahead of its contemporaries sonically and continues to fit perfectly with the experimental R&B that Rihanna, Jhene Aiko, Tinashe, and The Weekend have released in recent years.
Admittedly, I remember disliking it when it came out in 2001. I was too young to accept that Aaliyah was aiming for a more mature sound and always looked to push the needle forward when it came to innovative production. It wasn't until after her tragic death that I begin to play the album more intently, mourning her lost presence on earth. In time, I've grown to appreciate this album, and it's definitely in my Top 20 of favorite LP's. With a majority of material written by the late Static Major, the album carried a cohesive train of content. There were other contributions from Missy Elliott, Tank, and Digital Black but they blended well with the lyrical subject matter. One of Aaliyah's strengths in her career was working with a small camp of talented creatives like Static, Timbaland, and Missy, who understood her style and voice. This mentality set her apart by sound and ensured she was modeled like no one else in the industry. Aaliyah explores adult themes dealing with infidelity, sensuality, domestic abuse and sheer confidence. One of my favorite tracks on the album "Loose Rap," is Aaliyah owning how fly she was and how she wasn't concerned with the competition; she muses "If You Just Quit Trying To Compete, No Telling What You Could Be, Might Even Be Doper Than Me, I Doubt It." The humblebrag is something we've become accustomed to with artists like Beyonce, Ciara, and Rihanna but the way Aaliyah did this was so magnetic to hear.
Surprisingly, only three songs were produced by former collaborator Timbaland; the majority of the album is divided between production duo, Keybeats and Bud'da. The vibe was sexy, sincere, and reflective R&B that highlighted Aaliyah's soft tone and painted her voice in the best light. In hindsight, she'd grown in her craft and was revealing her new chapter as a sensuous, caring adult.
There are countless hypothetical scenarios of what the industry would be like if Aaliyah were still here. This occurrence is widespread among fans of artists who have passed away early in their careers. I choose not to frustrate myself with unnecessary banter, but I will say Aaliyah's last effort was her some of her best work. It was forward-looking, original, and presented a mature sound without cheapening Aaliyah's character as an artist. Should any of the tracks from Aaliyah play on shuffle with today's music, there would be no need to fast-forward; she still fits right in with the current sound.
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