Nine years ago today, Aaliyah was tragically killed in a plane crash, marking the too-soon end of one of the music industry’s most unique voices. Here’s our list of nine things we’ll never forget about Aaliyah’s too-brief time in the spotlight:
The Hotshot Debut
Aaliyah made an immediate impact on mainstream R&B music with 1994 debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” which peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard 200. The 15-year-old singer offered a catchy mix of street smarts and restrained vocals on first single “Back and Forth,” which was written and produced by R. Kelly.
The R. Kelly Marriage Rumors
Rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and her producer/mentor, R. Kelly, and an underaged Aaliyah allegedly got married to the 27-year-old R&B star in Chicago in 1994. Reports said that the 15-year-old had misrepresented her age, and that the marriage was quickly and quietly annulled. Aaliyah became involved with Roc-A-Fella co-CEO Damon Dash later in her career.
The Timbaland Collaborations
Aaliyah’s work with up-and-coming producer Timbaland reached a new height in 1998 with “Are You That Somebody?,” the lead single from the “Dr. Doolittle” soundtrack which netted the singer her first Grammy nomination. The combination of Timbaland’s crackling beats and Aaliyah’s coy yet powerful vocals would lead the pair to future success on singles like “If Your Girl Only Knew” and “We Need a Resolution.”
The Unique Style
With her outfits defined by baggy clothes, Aaliyah created an original sense of style while often covering her left eye to invoke the late actress Veronica Lake. The singer was tapped as a model for Tommy Hilfiger in 1996-1997, sporting a tube top, jeans and boxer shorts for the brand.
The Acting Career
The singer made a strong acting debut in 2000 with the Jet Li action flick “Romeo Must Die,” while also serving as the executive producer of the film’s soundtrack. Aaliyah then starred in the horror flick “Queen of the Damned,” which was released posthumously in 2002, and had signed on to the sequels of “The Matrix” before her death.
The Biggest Hit
“Try Again,” which was released as a single from the “Romeo Must Die” soundtrack, gave Aaliyah the biggest hit of her career and her only No. 1 on the Billboard 200. With Timbaland’s futuristic beats providing a backdrop for the singer’s vibrant vocals, the infectious hit earned two more Grammy nods and won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video in 2000.
The Tragic Turn of Events
The July 2001 release of “Aaliyah” signaled new growth for the singer, with the sexy R&B jam “Rock the Boat” serving as the second single. Tragically, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001 following the Hype Williams-directed music video shoot for the song in the Bahamas. Scenes from the video were filmed just hours before Aaliyah’s death.
Less than two weeks after her death at age 22, Aaliyah was honored at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. Friends and collaborators like Timbaland, Missy Elliott and Ginuwine all paid tribute to the singer, while Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad Haughton, concluded the audience by thanking her for her positive impact. “I am truly happy to have been given a gift like you, Aaliyah,” said Haughton.
The Final Songs
In December 2002, Blackground/Universal released “I Care 4 U,” a compilation of previous hits and unreleased tracks, and the disc debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. In the video for first single “Miss You,” artists like Missy Elliott and Jamie Foxx can be seen singing along to Aaliyah’s warm vocals, while rapper DMX introduces the video by sending a message to the departed singer: “I can understand why God would have wanted you close to him, because you truly were an angel on earth.”