Rewinding the Charts: In 1994, Aaliyah Went 'Forth' & Conquered
At just 15, the singer topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and allegedly married R. Kelly in secret.
"I HEARD FIRST OF ALL THIS SOFT voice, but … a lot of charisma … and I said, 'This girl's going to be a star, whether I work with her or not,' " R. Kelly told GQ in its February issue. That girl was Aaliyah, and his instincts were on the money. Her debut single, "Back & Forth," which Kelly wrote and produced, rocketed to No. 1 on the May 21, 1994, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where it reigned for three weeks.
Just 15 at the time, Detroit-raised Aaliyah would score more hits with her Kelly masterminded first album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, which was packed with lush ballads, funky grooves and the singer's "passionate, velvety vocals," as a Billboard review then described them. Her instant stardom also came with a controversial backstory: speculation that she and Kelly, who was 27, were romantically involved and even secretly – and illegally – married. (In 1994, Vibe magazine published a photo of an alleged Illinois marriage certificate that listed Aaliyah as 18 and later reported that the marriage was quietly annulled.) Although neither artist ever confirmed the allegations – Kelly declined to discuss it with GQ and described his relationship with her as "deep friends" – the pair never collaborated again.
After enlisting then-newcomers Timbaland and Missy Elliott to produce her next album, 1996's One in a Million, Aaliyah devoted much of the next five years to acting, filming Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned. Her third LP, Aaliyah, arrived in 2001. On Aug. 25 of that year, after shooting a video in the Bahamas for "Rock the Boat," she and eight others were killed when the overloaded plane they were taking back to the United States crashed after takeoff. She was 22.
Following her death, Aaliyah hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, her only week atop the chart.
A version of this article first appeared in the May 28 issue of Billboard magazine.