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What is there to be said about late R&B legend Aaliyah Dana Haughton that hasn’t already been eulogized in the 20 years since her untimely passing? Strikingly beautiful? Check. Voice of an angel? Listen to her cover of The Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best” and get back to us. Unmatched fashion icon? Go ask Tommy Hilfiger or Robert Cavalli. However, one of the cores of Aaliyah’s eternal Black girl magic lies within her timeless music, which you unfortunately still can’t stream at the moment but seems to be on the horizon very soon.
Out of the three studio albums she was able to release in her short-yet-impactful career, the 2001 self-titled masterpiece, Aaliyah, truly reigns supreme even 20 years after its release.
“I decided to self-title this album, Aaliyah, and I wanted to do that because my name is Arabic and it has beautiful meaning; it means ‘the highest, most exalted one, the best,’ and I wanted the name to really carry the project,” she said in a behind-the-scenes DVD featurette (seen above) that fans who first bought a deluxe edition copy of the LP were treated to 20 years ago today (July 17) — oh, and exalted it most definitely was! Hits like “We Need A Resolution,” “More Than a Woman,” “Rock The Boat” and “I Care 4 U” were officially released and helped the late music icon achieve major success with the LP, but Aaliyah as a whole is a genre-bending, sonically next level LP from start to finish that over the span of 14 tracks, 15 if you copped the rare limited edition that featured a hidden bonus song, serenades you with a combination of soul, jazz, rock, dance pop, funk, heavy metal and even salsa just to name a few.
Although Aaliyah herself never got a chance to fully see how influential this album became, selling over 13 million globally and expected to quadruple once it finally hits DSPs, her musical legacy has surely expanded across generations because of it. As the world awaits to see Baby Girl make her posthumous debut into the digital era of streaming, it goes without saying that our undisputed Princess Of R&B is more relevant in 2021 than ever before. One of the primary reasons for that is due to the unwavering appeal of the Aaliyah album, and we’ll continue to cherish this amazing body of work along with the rest of the world for another 20 years on….and on and on and on.
Celebrate the 20th anniversary of Aaliyah’s iconic self-titled album by taking a track-by-track listen below. R.I.P. forever Baby Girl, and thanks for blessing us with a timeless R&B classic:
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1. “We Need A Resolution” (feat. Timbaland)
The lead single that started it all. Timbaland’s production work still sounds fresh, and Aaliyah keeps it cool as always while getting to the core of a relationship on the rocks.
2. “Loose Rap” (feat. Static from Playa)
Many fans consider this one to be a favorite deep cut, and funny enough it was originally pegged as the album’s lead single. A video for this banger would’ve been aah-mazing!
3. “Rock The Boat”
As this video captures some of Aaliyah’s last moments on Earth, “Rock The Boat” will always hold a special place in the hearts of many even though she’s singing about, well, grown folks things.
4. “More Than A Woman”
This energetic Top 40 smash hit could’ve definitely achieved the same success of her 2000 chart-topper “Try Again” had Aaliyah been around to properly promote the eye-grabbing video. Still, we’re just glad she was able to complete it roughly two weeks before making a heavenly transition.
5. “Never No More”
Talking about the topic of abuse wasn’t the most glamorous thing for a pop star back in 2001, so seeing a sweet-as-tea singer like Aaliyah go there emotionally was powerful to say the least.
6. “I Care 4 U”
Combine Timbaland beatboxing over a sample of The Newcomers’ “(Too Little in Common to Be Lovers) Too Much Going to Say Goodbye,” Missy Elliott’s pen game going completely insane and Baby Girl giving one of the most beautiful vocal performances in her seven-year career, and you’ve got one classic soul record.
Props to Director X, who spearheaded her “Come Back in One Piece” video with another late music icon DMX, for cooking up this anime-inspired video for the posthumous release of “I Care 4 U.”
7. “Extra Smooth”
No song title has ever proved to be more true than this one. Aaliyah is literally floating on “Extra Smooth.”
8. “Read Between The Lines”
Before Cardi B had the salsa steez on lock with “I Like It,” Aaliyah was on the verge of crushing flamenco with this funky album cut.
9. “U Got Nerve”
Core album producers Eric Seats and Rapture Stewart really got a chance to flex with this one, and Aaliyah complimented their string-heavy instrumental with unmatched smoothness.
10. “I Refuse”
The cinematic drama of “I Refuse” just makes you wish with every listen that a video was made for the track, and Aaliyah’s stance as a budding Hollywood star would’ve easily made it an experience to see both visually and live on tour.
11. “It’s Whatever”
While the rest of the album saw Aaliyah reaching far and wide to pull from other genres, “It’s Whatever” stands as the LP’s sweet spot in terms of hip-hop soul. You’ll never get tired of listening to her serenade you with this breezy tune.
12. “I Can Be”
As a vocal fan of Nine Inch Nails and expressing a desire before her passing to work with the band’s lead singer, Trent Reznor, Aaliyah proved she could rock out with the best of them on her guitar-blaring album highlight “I Can Be.” Now, if only it wasn’t a pro-cheating anthem!
13. “Those Were The Days”
Another cool contemporary R&B cut, “Those Were The Days” plays it safe to prepare you for the big finishing number that closes the project out.
14. “What If”
Is it heavy metal? Is it acid rock? Is there a King Crimson sample thrown in there? However you look at it, “What If” showcases a daring side of Aaliyah that is so unfortunate we weren’t able to see come to full fruition.
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