Giving You More



Around two and a half years ago, you could not step into an underground London club without hearing Aaliyah’s comely voice, whispering out the speakers. It wasn’t that her original songs had suddenly become de rigueur—indeed, they’ve never been out of style, whether for wedding DJs or the most forward-thinking of musicians. It’s just that a new generation of producers, of which London always seems to have a glut, was finding infinite inspiration in the otherworldly come-ons and gentle teases of Babygirl, sampling her voice to guide their way. The most memorable was James Blake’s “CMYK,” a completely avant-garde banger that scrambled a sped-up “Are You That Somebody?” into crossword-puzzle echoes, but other tracks by British bass producers mined strips from back catalog favorites like “Rock the Boat” (Zomby) and “One in a Million” (Timzed). She was more than a guest. She was the reason.

Aaliyah Dana Houghton was the brightest type of light, strong and unwavering, and when she first began releasing music at the astonishing age at 14, she was already her own distinct woman. We completely fell in love with the breathiness and clarity in her voice, the sweetness and the shy attitude. As she grew older, she became even more mesmerizing: the sensual mystique; the attraction to darkness; the slithery shimmy of her choreography. We’d already been through the years of Janet [Jackson] and of SWV, who brought elements of hip-hop culture to R&B, but Aaliyah was the first to fuse R&B cool fully to hip-hop swagger, just in time for rap to take over the world. She transformed Tommy baggies and boxers into a look so feminine it was almost preternatural, and when she sang about desire, it was so knowing you knew she was one-upping her subject. Shit was like Xanadu. Her presence in music was so earth-shattering that nearly every R&B singer today is stamped with at least a little Aaliyah swag—The-Dream (who covered “One in a Million”—breathily), Ciara (who, clearly, cites her as her biggest influence), Frank Ocean (whose minor-key compositions echo her entire estilo). Last year Drake, in an interview with Soul Culture, said it best: “I wanna be like that.”

Eventually, though, with the help of the Supafriends—Timbaland, the beatmaker; Steve “Static” Major and Missy Elliott, the writers—Babygirl actually surpassed, and transcended, hip-hop with her futurism. It wasn’t just the way she sang with a muted vulnerability, her voice breaking down the fourth wall merely by existing. She was always game to take her music further left. Her adventurousness extended from her beat choices—she always picked Timbo’s weirdest, which were also his best—to her imagery. Snakes, motorcycles, black cloaks and lipgloss, leather, all of that. That goth angle was singularly hers, and hasn’t been repeated in pop music to that effortless degree. Y2K? She was doing anime. Her entrepreneurial acumen was just as fearless: in a 2008 interview, her best friend Kidada Jones told me that in 2001 they’d been planning a girl’s clothing line with heavy Japanese influences—years before Gwen Stefani discovered Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku sector.

And every day, something else pops up to prove that Aaliyah was the matrix before The Matrix even dropped—which is why her music has been consistently looked to, sampled, covered, remixed, and screwed-down for the past ten years. She still sounds more visionary than most vocalists today (you can imagine her laughing in the face of Auto-Tune), and of course experimental bass producers in London’s dance scene would want to work with Aaliyah’s voice, since her weightless lilt atop Timbo’s outer-space crickets remains one of the most renegade sounds in popular music. But her emotional depth translates across genres. Agitprop soul punks The Gossip covered “Are You That Somebody,” and goth impressionist Forest Swords did “If Your Girl Only Knew.” Latin and Afro-Caribbean beat-makers infuse her hits with cumbia rhythms, as on Sonora’s take on “Rock the Boat” and DJ Still Life’s full-length tribute project Tropicaliyah. She was the first girl to request her music up in the monitors on the track (“4 Page Letter”), setting a trend for dude rappers across the landscape. So-called “witch house,” the opaque dance music submerged and slowed down, DJ Screw style, wouldn’t exist without the ghostliness and melancholy hinted at in her singing. And the concurrent impulse for musicians like The Weeknd and Salem to remain obscure, submerged, anonymous? That’s signature Aaliyah Houghton, who didn’t need to hide her face to create mystery. She threw on the Locs and gave just enough. We never won’t want more.

40 Responses to Giving You More

  1. LissaNJ says:

    #RIP Aaliyah i miss you so much i love you so much 1979 – 2001
    Aaliyah die on august 25 2011
    we miss you Aaliyah so much
    we love you Aaliyah so much 🙁

  2. LissaNJ says:

    LISSANJ #RIP Aaliyah i miss you so much i love so much
    1979 – 2001 Aaliyah die on august 25 2001

  3. wow it’s been sometime since i first saw you in R kells video. round the time arond hall. [I MISS YOU]

  4. Harris since age aint nothin ##[aron hall] i miss you. so much swagg mah

  5. Thank you for this beautiful article. It actually contains many of my thoughts. I can’t believe it’s 10 years already. She was so much more than just a visionary.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful article. It actually contains many of my thoughts. I can’t believe it’s 10 years already. She was so much more than just a visionary.

  7. Thank you for this beautiful article. It actually contains many of my thoughts. I can’t believe it’s 10 years already. She was so much more than just a visionary.

  8. Edith Torok says:

    we miss you Aaliyah

  9. Edith Torok says:

    we miss you Aaliyah

  10. Edith Torok says:

    we miss you Aaliyah

  11. Clarence Fruster says:

    Beautifully written Julianne. I particularly enjoy the fact that you summarize her career while constantly referencing what she’s influenced as well as what influences her, giving a full view of the otherworldly entity we know as Aaliyah. I believe those who may not have experienced Aaliyah while living, will find her living on through these words. Love

  12. Anonymous says:

    Amazing article…Touching,well written and put together.. RIP AALIYAH- WE MISS YOU

  13. She will forever be the most humble, and most talented artist in history. She is inspirational, there will never be another Aaliyah. Many have tried but never come close. She is truly an angel. I know if she were here now, she would be inspiring young girls to be themselves, and strive for what they believe in , and fuck those who say you cant achieve it. I love her, my idol. Miss you Aaliyah you inspire me to be a woman with dignity and respect.

  14. This is a very well written article on Aaliyah. I was young when she died, but she is/was my favorite artist growing up. I cried so hard when she (you) passed away. God bless and know you are in my thoughts.

  15. All I wanted as a child was the chance to meet my favorite singer. When I heard the news of her passing I was hurt and I felt like my dreams would never come true. Now that I’m older my confidence is stronger in though I can’t see her on earth, she and my baby girl, are waiting for me in Heaven. I love you and I miss you Aaliyah Dana Haughton!

    Your fans love you so much, and miss you dearly. As she stated in her interview with MTV Diary of Aaliyah, “What I want my legacy to be when I’m long gone… I want people to remember me as a Good person.” She’s more than a Good person she’s a Great person!


  17. LaTorya says:

    R.I.P Aaliyah you are truely missed and we all love you

  18. Que Reid says:

    Where were you when you heard the disheartening news??!!?? I remember like it was yesterday. My best friend (at the time) Geoffrey and I were in Canada @ Casino Windsor and he and I had a conversation on the 24th about who was better; Aaliyah or Beyonce. My argument was I prefer Aaliyah cuz her swag was ridiculous and her voice was incomparable! At the time Bey was over-saturating the market, but I anticipated the next album from Aaliyah. He agreed but of course a man likes him some rotund bottom so he begged to differ. Nevertheless I was abruptly awakened the following morning by what I thought was cruel joke! Geoff kept repeating, Quishia, Aaliyah is dead….I jumped up and said STFU!!! That was last night, get over it!! He replied no, look and he turned the television up and my eyes welled with tears and I just cried and cried and cried some more. I have never been back to Canada after that because I associate it with a horrible memory. Her voice, her moves, her grace, her smile…..In the words of Al Green….Simply Beautiful…… I love you Aaliyah!

  19. Article oversight: On the 10th anniversary of her flight from a glorious life.
    Not everyone knows the dates, it’s not about being obvious but informative.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Aliyah, at your best you are eternally blessed. May your soul rest in peace

  21. Whozdat says:

    I miss home girl. I hear one of her songs shuffle on my ipod and it still sound fresh and brand new. She can never be duplicated. Miss her for sure.

  22. Thanks Jay Z. We loved her so much. Forever an Angel, forever in our hearts and minds!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Gone too soon , she was amazing xxx

  24. Love the rare audio of her singing Great is Thy Faithfulness. She was precious and is missed.

  25. V R says:

    R.I.P. another date I neva forget

  26. DeeKickCame says:

    Article is beautifully written…It shows how Aaliyah and her music is and will continue to stay genuinely relevant and as classic a Sade. Aaliyah’s sense of self will always be an inspiration to me. She wasn’t worried about competing but how to be true to oneself and relate to the world.

    Love You, Baby Girl.

  27. R.I.P the world miss u

  28. Erica M. says:

    I remember coming home everyday after school to watch TRL to watch her videos. Then I’d watch 106 & Park to watch them again. I also AOL did an online chat room with Aaliyah and one of my questions were chosen. I looked up to her so much and she will forever be my favorite R&B artist, and that even ten years later no one can even compare to her. From her image to her sound, to her personality. She was amazing and I cried when she left us and refused to believe it. Now we’re just stuck with what could’ve been. She was one in a million and she is missed so much.

  29. Anonymous says:

    That was my girl. I used to wear my hair covering one eye.

  30. i need to her dream and heart and her life see what i thank you all this time i ever feel the same time is the way we feel my life when she is leave this world she always be in my heart will ever feel the same my heart l love her and what year it is i always have her heart this day got o8/25/2001

  31. Chrysa Koumoundourou says:

    it is a wonderful tribute post written for , dedicated to and inspired by AALIYAH. So true, so touching…Babygirl is still around having conveyed Her warmth, love, spirit, optimism, care, perfectionism to all Her fans and close people, even people having met and known Her a little bit. She remains definitely ONE IN A MILLION…long gone but never forgotten…daily remembered, prayed and praised. She has managed to remain eternal both to us the fans through Her music, vibe, personality and smile… and to the musicians as Her beats, smooth and sweet, have been reused and used as inspiration many times. She has been unique in Her style as an artist; always into everything, always experimental, always shining via Her darkness… AALIYAH has been the one and only, the untimate, the most exalted and Her name AALIYAH therefore is not a coincidence. I am very deprived for the last 10years since She flew away but perhaps God needed Her , an Angel that stayed on earth only for a while and had to fly back to heaven… what to say – i keep Her spirit and legacy alive for as long as i live…till we meet again. Thanx for the post – it was wonderful reading it esp. in JAY’s blog. ”It’s been too long and I ‘m lost without you … I MISS U”, as also Jay Z wonderfully resang. RIP our Babygirl._

  32. Crystal C says:

    This writing excerpt definitely brought the great Aaliyah back to life! You gave her a presence in 2011 by recognizing the different ways her music plays an influence in modern international music. What I loved the most is the fact that you brought to light that she was the first female to requested for the baseline to be kicked up some more! Her swag will never be duplicated!

  33. Lboogie says:

    I just look at the way things turned out in this “music Business” and I think what would things be like if Aaliyah was still around the major music circle broke apart when she left us. I miss those days everyday and yet life goes on

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