How Aaliyah solidified herself as a cultural icon at 22-years-old
It was her beauty that captivated us, her mystique that made her unique, and in the end, her influence that made her a musical icon.
At the age of 22, with Aaliyah’s star on the rise to supernatural heights, she succumbed to a tragic plane crash. It’s odd to think it’s been sixteen years since the passing of the critically acclaimed R&B princess.
In such a short time, she’d accomplished what takes some their whole lives to conquer.
Known for her infamous side swoop covering her face along with her forward lyrics and sensual delivery, it was no question that she was indeed an R&B sensation.
Niece of the legendary Gladys Knight, Aaliyah got her first break at only 11 years old singing on-stage with her aunt. She was managed by her uncle Barry Hankerson of Blackground Records, who had a hand in the careers of R.Kelly, Ginuwine, Timberland, and Missy Elliot.
She went on to garner 2 Grammy nominations, produce 3 hit albums, and act in high profile movie roles, including Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned.
Her fearlessness when it came to fashion made her a muse for years to come. Before Rihanna had Fenty, we had Aaliyah.
She emerged toting dark lipstick, overalls, a bandana, and dark shades in her debut single “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.”
Her tomboyish look paired with her angelic voice and sensuous lyrics gave her a memorable flair.
Essentially she was singing love songs in timbs and jerseys. Yeah, lit. No, SZA wasn’t the first.
She exhibited a certain confidence in her performances and a sureness in her singing and lyrics at a young age. She quickly became the poster child for renowned brands like Tommy Hilfiger, which included styles that are rapidly circling back around today.
Her tomboy repertoire subtly turned sexier over time. Her shades came off and her bang came through. She popularized streetwear in a lustful way and was among the fashion trailblazers of the ’90s.
Baggy jeans with bra tops, oversized sweatshirts, bandanas, and bucket hats were just some of the staples to her progressive attire. Her swag is often duplicated today. As “new” trends continue to emerge, we’re often reminded that Aaliyah did it first.
She formulated a timeless fusion of street chic. Her style was so pivotal to the culture, 16 years later, MAC cosmetics just announced the launch of an Aaliyah inspired lipstick collection after a Change.org petition led by her fans and backed by her brother, Rashad, garnered 26,000 signatures two years ago.
She’ll join the likes of Selena Quintanilla who was also honored with a posthumous collection with the company.
The only phrase to use when it comes to Aaliyah’s style and sound is “well ahead of her time.” She started off producing music with rumored ex-husband, R Kelly.
The legitimacy of their marriage is still in question today, she was 15 while Kelly was 27 at the time, but the marriage license claims that she was “18.”
After her parents demanded her departure from R.Kelly, she explored other avenues. She ditched her black shades for her swept bangs, and created a futuristic blend alongside producers Missy Elliot and Timberland.
Her music is still setting the vibes and relevant today despite the nearly two decade time lapse.
Whether she was coming with ballads like “One In A Million,” or soulful selections like “Are You That Somebody,” she had an undeniable range. It kind of sucks her songs aren’t available on any streaming services.
Her uncle is sitting on her digital discography in hopes of protecting her legacy, but fans worry that it will only harm her memorial efforts.
The biggest colloquy in the loss of Aaliyah is the constant debate on what she would have and could have been.
Seeing stars that came up in the same era is her makes it overwhelming to think about how far Aaliyah would have gone knowing how much she’d already done.
With her dating Dame Dash, co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, at the time of her death, it’s only natural that the comparisons involving Jay-Z and Beyonce come up often.
Her death directly after the completion of the her self titled album, Aaliyah, and the filming of her video for the same project leads me to wonder… did she simply fulfill her destiny?
Luckily, we have the remnants of her legacy to rest on and a bunch of artists coining her as their inspiration that she will continue to live through.
I’m one of many hoping her uncle comes up off her unreleased music.
The world deserves to hear all of her art. RIP Babygirl.