13 years after her death, the R&B star lives on with an astonishing influence over music and fashion
On her aunt’s porch in Haines City, Fla., in 2001, you could find a 15-year-old Sevyn Streeter doing her best Aaliyah impression. She and her cousin would glide from side to side, emulating the R&B icon’s fluid choreography. "We were so excited to move like her and have that same vibe," remembers Streeter, now 28 and one of several new soul stars whose sound and style are blatantly influenced by Aaliyah. "When I think back on that, I realize how long she’s not only been in me, but in our generation, and how long we’ve tried to imitate her."
It’s been more than a decade since Aaliyah Haughton died in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001, at 22, and 20 years since her 1994 debut, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. Nonetheless, the singer has become the go-to muse for millennial R&B. Jhene Aiko’s calm coos and windswept beats, heard on "The Worst" (which peaked at No. 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 dated April 26 and precedes her debut LP, Souled Out, due Sept. 9), follow Aaliyah’s downtempo template. In 2013, Streeter paid homage to the singer with a cover of "Come Over," and you can hear Aaliyah’s phrasing in her duet with Chris Brown, "It Won’t Stop," which reached No. 30 on the Hot 100. Brown later sampled Aaliyah, crediting her as a guest on his 2013 song "Don’t Think They Know," and Drake has sampled her as well. Aaliyah’s soft vocals and electro-influenced beats, courtesy of go-to collaborator Timbaland, are also providing a blueprint for the alt-R&B sounds of FKA Twigs (who released her debut album, LP1, on Aug. 12), Kelela, and Tinashe, whose single "2 On" is No. 27 on the Hot 100.