Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York, and was the younger child of Diane and Michael "Miguel" Haughton (1951–2012). She was African American, and had Native American (Oneida) heritage from a grandmother. Her name has been described as a female version of the Arabic "Ali"; however, the original Arabic and Jewish name "Aliya (Hebrew: אליה)" derived from the Hebrew word "aliyah (Hebrew: עלייה)", and meant "highest, most exalted one, the best." Regardless of origin, the singer was highly fond of her Semitic name, expressing support by calling it "beautiful" and asserting that she was "very proud of it," and she thus spent her entire life striving to live up to her name every day. At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled in voice lessons by her mother. She started performing at weddings, church choir and charity events. When she was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad. She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where in first grade, she received a part in the stage play Annie. From then on, she was determined to become an entertainer. In Detroit, her father began working in the warehouse business, one of his brother-in-law Barry Hankerson's widening interests. Her mother stayed home and raised Aaliyah and her brother.
Throughout her life, she had a good relationship with her brother, which traced back to their childhood as Rashad reflected that growing up with Aaliyah was "amazing". He recalled her running around their home singing and that never being annoying due to her having a "beautiful voice". She and her brother became close with their cousin Jomo Hankerson, since growing up, they lived "about five blocks apart". Jomo walked Aaliyah and Rashad to their home from school when their mother was not able to pick them up and recalled the Haughton household being filled with music. Aaliyah's family was very close due to the struggles of her grandparents and when the Haughtons moved to Detroit, the Hankersons were ready to take them in if necessary. These same bonds led to ties in the music industry, under the Blackground Records label.
Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight. As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television programs, including Family Matters; she went on to appear on Star Search at the age of ten. Aaliyah chose to begin auditioning while her mother made the decision to have her surname dropped. She auditioned for several record labels and at age 11 appeared in concerts alongside Knight. She had several pet animals in during her childhood, which included ducks, snakes and iguanas. Her cousin Jomo had a pet alligator, which Aaliyah felt was too much, remarking, "that was something I wasn't going to stroke."
Her grandmother died in 1991. Years after her death, Aaliyah said her grandmother supported everyone in the family and always wanted to hear her sing, as well as admitting that she "spoiled" her and her brother Rashad "to death." She also enjoyed Aaliyah's singing and would have Aaliyah to sing for her. Aaliyah stated that she thought of her grandmother whenever she fell into depression. Aaliyah's hands reminded her of her aunt, who died when she was "very young" and Aaliyah referred to her as an "amazingly beautiful woman".
When she was growing up, Aaliyah attended Detroit schools and believed she was well-liked, but got teased for her short stature. She recalled coming into her own prior to age 15 and grew to love her height. Her mother would tell her to be happy that she was small and compliment her. Other children disliked Aaliyah, but she did not stay focused on them. "You always have to deal with people who are jealous, but there were so few it didn't even matter. The majority of kids supported me, which was wonderful. When it comes to dealing with negative people, I just let it in one ear and out the other. Those people were invisible to me." Even in her adult life, she considered herself small. She had "learned to accept and love" herself and added: "... the most important thing is to think highly of yourself because if you don't, no one else will".
During her audition for acceptance to the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts Aaliyah sung the song "Ave Maria" in its entirety in the Italian language.
Aaliyah, who maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average when graduating from Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, felt education was important. She saw fit to keep her grades up despite the pressures and time constraints brought on her during the early parts of her career. She labeled herself as a perfectionist and recalled always being a good student. Aaliyah reflected: "I always wanted to maintain that, even in high school when I first started to travel. I wanted to keep that 4.0. Being in the industry, you know, I don't want kids to think, 'I can just sing and forget about school.' I think it's very important to have an education, and even more important to have something to fall back on." She did this in her own life, as she planned to "fall back on" another part of the entertainment industry. She believed that if she could teach music history or open her own school to teach that or drama if she did not make a living as a recording artist because, as she reasoned, "when you pick a career it has to be something you love".
After Hankerson signed a distribution deal with Jive Records, he signed Aaliyah to his Blackground Records label at the age of 12. Hankerson later introduced her to recording artist and producer R. Kelly, who became Aaliyah's mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of her first album, which was recorded when she was 14. Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, was released under her mononym "Aaliyah", by Jive and Blackground Records on May 24, 1994; the album debut at number 24 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 74,000 copies in its first week. It ultimately peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over three million copies in the United States, where it was certified two times Platinum by the RIAA. In Canada, the album sold over 50,000 copies and was certified gold by the CRIA. Aaliyah's debut single, "Back & Forth", topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for three weeks and was certified Gold by the RIAA. The second single, a cover of The Isley Brothers' "At Your Best (You Are Love)", peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also certified Gold by the RIAA. The title track, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number", peaked at number 75 on the Hot 100. Additionally, she released "The Thing I Like" as part of the soundtrack to the 1994 film A Low Down Dirty Shame.
Age Ain't Nothing But a Number received generally favorable reviews from music critics. Some writers noted that Aaliyah's "silky vocals" and "sultry voice" blended with Kelly's new jack swing helped define R&B in the 1990s. Her sound was also compared to that of female quartet En Vogue. Christopher John Farley of Time magazine described the album as a "beautifully restrained work", noting that Aaliyah's "girlish, breathy vocals rode calmly on R. Kelly's rough beats". Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic felt that the album had its "share of filler", but described the singles as "slyly seductive". He also claimed that the songs on the album were "frequently better" than that of Kelly's second studio album, 12 Play. The single "At Your Best (You Are Love)" was criticized by Billboard for being out of place on the album and for its length.
In 1996, Aaliyah left Jive Records and signed with Atlantic Records. She worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who contributed to her second studio album, One in a Million. Missy Elliott recalled Timbaland and herself being nervous to work with Aaliyah, since Aaliyah had already released her successful début album while Missy Elliott and Timbaland were just starting out. Missy Elliott also feared she would be a diva, but reflected that Aaliyah "came in and was so warming; she made us immediately feel like family." The album yielded the single "If Your Girl Only Knew", which topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for two weeks. It also generated the singles "Hot Like Fire" and "4 Page Letter". The following year, Aaliyah was featured on Timbaland & Magoo's debut single, "Up Jumps da Boogie". One in a Million peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200, selling 3 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. The album was certified double platinum by the RIAA on June 16, 1997, denoting shipments of two million copies. The month prior to One in a Millions release, on May 5, 1997, music publisher Windswept Pacific filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Aaliyah claiming she had illegally copied Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do for Love" for the single "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number".
Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, where she majored in drama and graduated in 1997 with a 4.0 GPA. Aaliyah began her acting career that same year; she played herself in the police drama television series New York Undercover. During this time, Aaliyah participated in the Children's Benefit Concert, a charity concert that took place at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Aaliyah also became the spokesperson for Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. In 1997 Aaliyah performed the Christmas carol What Child Is This at the annual holiday special Christmas in Washington. She contributed on the soundtrack album for the Fox Animation Studios animated feature Anastasia, performing a cover version of "Journey to the Past" which earned songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Aaliyah performed the song at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony and became the youngest singer to perform at the event. The song "Are You That Somebody?" was featured on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack, which earned Aaliyah her first Grammy Award nomination. The song peaked at number 21 on the Hot 100.
In 1999, Aaliyah landed her first film role in Romeo Must Die, released March 22, 2000. Aaliyah starred opposite martial artist Jet Li, playing a couple who fall in love amid their warring families. It grossed US$18.6 million in its first weekend, ranking number two at the box office. Aaliyah purposely stayed away from reviews of the film to "make it easier on" herself, but she heard "that people were able to get into me, which is what I wanted." In contrast, some critics felt there was no chemistry between her and Jet Li, as well as viewing the film was too simplistic. This was echoed by Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times, who wrote that while Aaliyah was "a natural" and the film was conceived as a spotlight for both her and Li, "they have so little chemistry together you'd think they're putting out a fire instead of shooting off sparks. Her role was well received by Glen Oliver by IGN who liked that she did not portray her character "as a victimized female" but instead "as a strong female who does not come across as an over-the-top Women's Right Advocate."
In addition to acting, Aaliyah served as an executive producer of the film's soundtrack, where she contributed four songs. "Try Again" was released as a single from the soundtrack; the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, making Aaliyah the first artist to top the chart based solely on airplay; this led the song to be released in a 12" vinyl and 7" single. The music video won the Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film awards at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. It also earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist. The soundtrack went on to sell 1.5 million copies in the United States.
After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah began to work on her second film, Queen of the Damned. She played the role of an ancient vampire, Queen Akasha, which she described as a "manipulative, crazy, sexual being". Prior to her death, she expressed the possibility of recording songs for the film's soundtrack and welcomed the possibility of collaborating with Jonathan Davis. She was scheduled to film for the sequels of The Matrix as the character Zee.
In May 2001, Shaquille O'Neal admitted that his remarks where he claimed to have engaged in sexual intercourse with Aaliyah, Cindy Crawford and Venus Williams were false after making the allegations during an appearance on a radio station and apologized to the three. All three denied the claims. The following month, June 2001, Aaliyah posed for a photo shoot with Eric Johnson. Johnson kept the images in his "private personal archive" for thirteen years before providing digital copies of 13 Aaliyah photographs to an online photography magazine and authorizing the publication to use the photographs for a story they were doing on Aaliyah. Not long after, he filed a lawsuit claiming ABC had infringed his rights since the corporation authorized further reproduction by reproducing them online.
Aaliyah released her self-titled album, Aaliyah, in July 2001. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 187,000 copies in its first week. The first single from the album, "We Need a Resolution", peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. She finished recording the album in March 2001 after a year of recording tracks that began in March of the previous year. At the time she started recording the album, Aaliyah's publicist disclosed the album's release date as most likely being in October 2000. Filming for Queen of the Damned delayed the release of Aaliyah. Aaliyah enjoyed balancing her singing and acting careers. Though she called music a "first" for her, she also had been acting since she was young and had wanted to begin acting "at some point in my career," but "wanted it to be the right time and the right vehicle" and felt Romeo Must Die "was it".
Aaliyah was released five years after One in a Million. Aaliyah had not intended for the albums to have such a gap between them. "I wanted to take a break after One in a Million to just relax, think about how I wanted to approach the next album. Then, when I was ready to start back up, "Romeo" happened, and so I had to take another break and do that film and then do the soundtrack, then promote it. The break turned into a longer break than I anticipated." Connie Johnson of the Los Angeles Times argued that Aaliyah having to focus on her film career may have caused her to not give the album "the attention it merited." Collaborator Timbaland concurred, stating that he was briefly in Australia to work on the album while Aaliyah was filming and did not feel the same production had gone into Aaliyah as One in a Million had. He also said Virgin Records had rushed the album and Aaliyah had specifically requested Missy Elliott and Timbaland work on Aaliyah with her.
The week after Aaliyah's death, her third studio album, Aaliyah, rose from number 19 to number one on the Billboard 200. "Rock the Boat" was released as a posthumous single. The music video premiered on BET's Access Granted; it became the most viewed and highest rated episode in the history of the show. The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was also included on the Now That's What I Call Music! 8 compilation series; a portion of the album's profits was donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund. Promotional posters for Aaliyah that had been put up in major cities such as New York and Los Angeles became makeshift memorials for grieving fans.
"More than a Woman" and "I Care 4 U" were released as posthumous singles and peaked within the top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100. The album was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold 2.6 million copies in the United States. "More than a Woman" reached number one on the UK singles chart making Aaliyah the first female deceased artist to reach number one on the UK singles chart. "More than a Woman" was replaced by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" which is the only time in the UK singles chart's history where a dead artist has replaced another dead artist at number one. In July 2001, she allowed MTV's show Diary behind-the-scenes access to her life and stated "I am truly blessed to wake up every morning to do something that I love; there is nothing better than that." She continued, "Everything is worth it – the hard work, the times when you're tired, the times when you are a bit sad. In the end, it's all worth it because it really makes me happy. I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world. I've got good friends, a beautiful family and I've got a career. I thank God for his blessings every single chance I get."
Aaliyah was signed to appear in several future films, including Honey, a romantic film titled Some Kind of Blue, and a Whitney Houston-produced remake of the 1976 film Sparkle. Whitney Houston recalled Aaliyah being "so enthusiastic" about the film and wanting to appear in the film "so badly". Houston also voiced her belief that Aaliyah was more than qualified for the role and the film was shelved after she died, since Aaliyah had "gone to a better place". Studio officials of Warner Brothers stated that Aaliyah and her mother had both read the script for Sparkle. According to them, Aaliyah was passionate about playing the lead role of a young singer in a girl group. The film was released in 2012, eleven years after Aaliyah's death. Before her death, Aaliyah had filmed part of her role in The Matrix Reloaded and was scheduled to appear in The Matrix Revolutions as Zee. Aaliyah told Access Hollywood that she was "beyond happy" to have landed the role. The role was subsequently recast to Nona Gaye. Aaliyah's scenes were included in the tribute section of the Matrix Ultimate Collection series.
In November 2001, Ronald Isley stated that Aaliyah and the Isley Brothers had discussed a collaboration prior to her death. She had previously covered the Isley Brothers' single "At Your Best (You Are Love)". By 2001, Aaliyah had enjoyed her now seven-year career and felt a sense of accomplishment. "This is what I always wanted," she said of her career in Vibe magazine. "I breathe to perform, to entertain, I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I'm just a really happy girl right now. I honestly love every aspect of this business. I really do. I feel very fulfilled and complete."
Aaliyah had the vocal range of a soprano. With the release of her debut single "Back & Forth", Dimitri Ehrlich of Entertainment Weekly expressed that Aaliyah's "silky vocals are more agile than those of self-proclaimed queen of hip-hop soul Mary J. Blige." In her review for Aaliyah's second studio album One in a Million Vibe magazine, music critic Dream Hampton said that Aaliyah's "deliciously feline" voice has the same "pop appeal" as Janet Jackson's. Aaliyah described her sound as "street but sweet", which featured her "gentle" vocals over a "hard" beat. Though Aaliyah did not write any of her own material, her lyrics were described as in-depth. She incorporated R&B, pop and hip hop into her music. Her songs were often uptempo and at the same time often dark, revolving around "matters of the heart". After her R. Kelly-produced debut album, Aaliyah worked with Timbaland and Missy Elliott, whose productions were more electronic. Sasha Frere-Jones of The Wire finds Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?" to be Timbaland's "masterpiece" and exemplary of his production's start-stop rhythms, with "big half-second pauses between beats and voices". Keith Harris of Rolling Stone cites "Are You That Somebody?" as "one of '90s R&B's most astounding moments".
Aaliyah's songs have been said to have "crisp production" and "staccato arrangements" that "extend genre boundaries" while containing "old-school" soul music. Kelefah Sanneh of The New York Times called Aaliyah "a digital diva who wove a spell with ones and zeroes", and writes that her songs comprised "simple vocal riffs, repeated and refracted to echo the manipulated loops that create digital rhythm", as Timbaland's "computer-programmed beats fitted perfectly with her cool, breathy voice to create a new kind of electronic music." When she experimented with other genres on Aaliyah, such as Latin pop and heavy metal, Entertainment Weekly's Craig Seymour panned the attempt. While Analyzing her eponymous album British publication NME (New Musical Express) felt that Aaliyah's radical third album was intended to consolidate her position as U.S.R&B's most experimental artist. As her albums progressed, writers felt that Aaliyah matured, calling her progress a "declaration of strength and independence". ABC News noted that Aaliyah's music was evolving from the punchy pop influenced Hip hop and R&B to a more mature, introspective sound on her third album. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic described her eponymous album, Aaliyah, as "a statement of maturity and a stunning artistic leap forward" and called it one of the strongest urban soul records of its time. She portrayed "unfamiliar sounds, styles and emotions", but managed to please critics with the contemporary sound it contained. Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone felt that Aaliyah reflected a stronger technique, where she gave her best vocal performance. Prior to her death, Aaliyah expressed a desire to learn about the burgeoning UK garage scene she had heard about at the time.
As an artist, Aaliyah often voiced that she was inspired by a number of performers. These include Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sade, En Vogue, Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Prince, Naughty by Nature, Johnny Mathis, Janet Jackson and Barbra Streisand. Aaliyah expressed that Michael Jackson's Thriller was her "favorite album" and that "nothing will ever top Thriller." She stated that she admired Sade because "she stays true to her style no matter what ... she's an amazing artist, an amazing performer ... and I absolutely love her." Aaliyah expressed she had always desired to work with Janet Jackson, whom she had drawn frequent comparison to over the course of her career, stating "I admire her a great deal. She's a total performer ... I'd love to do a duet with Janet Jackson." Jackson reciprocated Aaliyah's affections, commenting "I've loved her from the beginning because she always comes out and does something different, musically." Jackson also stated she would have enjoyed collaborating with Aaliyah.
Aaliyah focused on her public image throughout her career. She often wore baggy clothes and sunglasses, stating that she wanted to be herself. She described her image as being "important ... to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack". She often wore black clothing, starting a trend for similar fashion among women in United States and Japan. Aaliyah's fashionable style has been credited for being an influence on new fashion trend's called "Health Goth" and "Ghetto Goth" also known as GHE20 GOTH1K Aaliyah participated in fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger's All America Tour and was featured in Tommy Jean ads, which depicted her in boxer shorts, baggy jeans and a tube top. Hilfiger's brother, Andy, called it "a whole new look" that was "classy but sexy". Carson Daly A former VJ on MTV's Total Request Live commented on Aaliyah's style by saying that she was "cutting edge" ,"always one step ahead of the curve" and that "the TRL audience looks to her to figure out what's hot and what's new".
When she changed her hairstyle, Aaliyah took her mother's advice to cover her left eye, much like Veronica Lake. The look has become known as her signature and been referred to as fusion of "unnerving emotional honesty" and "a sense of mystique". In 1998, she hired a personal trainer to keep in shape, and exercised five days a week and ate diet foods. Aaliyah was praised for her "clean-cut image" and "moral values". Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote of Aaliyah's artistry and image, "she was lithe and dulcet in a way that signified neither jailbait nor hottie—an ingenue whose selling point was sincerity, not innocence and the obverse it implies."
Aaliyah was viewed by others as a role model. Emil Wilbekin, described by CNN as "a friend of Aaliyah's" and follower of her career, explained: "Aaliyah is an excellent role model, because she started her career in the public eye at age 15 with a gold album entitled Age Ain't Nothing but a Number. And then her second album, One in a Million went double platinum. She had the leading role in Romeo Must Die, which was a box office success. She's won numerous awards, several MTV music video awards, and aside from her professional successes, many of her lyrics are very inspirational and uplifting. She also carried herself in a very professional manner. She was well spoken. She was beautiful, but she didn't use her beauty to sell her music. She used her talent. Many young hip-hop fans greatly admire her."
She also was seen by others as a sex symbol. Aaliyah did not have a problem with being considered one. "I know that people think I'm sexy and I am looked at as that, and it is cool with me," she stated. "It's wonderful to have sex appeal. If you embrace it, it can be a very beautiful thing. I am totally cool with that. Definitely. I see myself as sexy. If you are comfortable with it, it can be very classy and it can be very appealing." The single "We Need a Resolution" was argued to have transformed "the once tomboy into a sexy grown woman". Aaliyah mentioned that her mother, during her childhood, would take pictures of her and notice a sex appeal. She reinforced her mother's belief by saying that she did feel "sexy for sure" and that she embraced it and was comfortable with this view of her.
In her spare time, she was mostly a home person, which dated back to her younger years, but on occasion went out and played laser tag. She reasoned this was due to her liking "the simple things in life". Despite having a prosperous career that allowed her to purchase the vehicle she wanted, Aaliyah revealed during her final interview on August 21, 2001 on 106 & Park that she had never owned a car due to living in New York City and hiring a car or driver on a regular basis.
Aaliyah's family played a major role in the course of her career. Aaliyah's father Michael Haughton, who died in 2012, served as her personal manager. Her mother assisted her in her career while brother Rashad Haughton and cousin Jomo Hankerson worked with her consistently. Her father's illness ended his co-management of Aaliyah with her mother Diane Haughton. She ran all of her decisions by Rashad.
Aaliyah was known to have usually been accompanied by members of her family and the "Rock the Boat" filming was credited by Rashad Haughton as being the first and only time her family was not present. In October 2001, Rashad stated: "It really boggles everyone [that] from Day One, every single video she ever shot there's always been myself or my mother or my father there. The circumstances surrounding this last video were really strange because my mother had eye surgery and couldn't fly. That really bothered her because she always traveled. My dad had to take care of my mom at that time. And I went to Australia to visit some friends. We really couldn't understand why we weren't there. You ask yourself maybe we could have stopped it. But you can't really answer the question. There's always gonna be that question of why." Her friend Kidada Jones said in the last year of her life her parents had given her more freedom and she had talked about wanting a family. "She wanted to have a family, and we talked about how we couldn't wait to kick back with our babies."
Gladys Knight, who had been married to Aaliyah's uncle Barry Hankerson, was essential to the start of Aaliyah's career as she gave her many of her earlier performances. One of their last conversations concerned Aaliyah having difficulty with "another young artist" that she was trying to work with. Knight felt the argument was "petty" and insisted that she remain being who she was in spite of the conflict.
With the release of Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly. Shortly after, there was speculation about a secret marriage with the release of "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" and the adult content that Kelly had written for Aaliyah. Vibe magazine later revealed a marriage certificate that listed the couple married on August 31, 1994, in Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Illinois. Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, was listed as 18 on the certificate; the illegal marriage was annulled in February 1995 by her parents. The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married. One particular allegation among the rumor was that Aaliyah wedded R. Kelly without her parents' knowledge.
Aaliyah reportedly developed a friendship with R. Kelly during the recording of her debut album. As she recalled to Vibe magazine in 1994, she and R. Kelly would "go watch a movie" and "go eat" when she got tired and would then "come back and work". She described the relationship between her and R. Kelly as being "rather close." In 2016, Kelly said that he was in love with Aaliyah as he was with "anybody else." In December 1994, Aaliyah told the Sun-Times that whenever she was asked about being married to R. Kelly, she urged them not to believe "All That mess" and that she and R. Kelly were "close" and "people took it the wrong way." In his 2011 book The Man Behind the Man: Looking From the Inside Out, Demetrius Smith Sr., a former member of R. Kelly's entourage, wrote that R. Kelly told him "in a voice that sounded as if he wanted to burst into tears" that he thought Aaliyah was pregnant.
Jamie Foster Brown in the 1994 issue of Sister 2 Sister wrote that "R. Kelly told me that he and Aaliyah got together and it was just magic." Brown also reported hearing about a relationship between them. "I've been hearing about Robert and Aaliyah for a while—that she was pregnant. Or that she was coming and going in and out of his house. People would see her walking his dog, 12 Play, with her basketball cap and sunglasses on. Every time I asked the label, they said it was platonic. But I kept hearing complaints from people about her being in the studio with all those men. At 15," Brown said. "you have all those hormones and no brains attached to them."
Aaliyah admitted in court documents that she had lied about her age. In May 1997, she filed suit in Cook County seeking to have all records of the marriage expunged because she was not old enough under state law to get married without her parents' consent. It was reported that she cut off all professional and personal ties with R. Kelly after the marriage was annulled and ceased having contact with him. In 2014, Jomo Hankerson stated that Aaliyah "got villainized" over her relationship with R. Kelly and the scandal over the marriage made it difficult to find producers for her second album. "We were coming off of a multi-platinum debut album and except for a couple of relationships with Jermaine Dupri and Puffy, it was hard for us to get producers on the album." Hankerson also expressed confusion over why "they were upset" with Aaliyah given her age at the time.
Aaliyah was known to avoid answering questions regarding R. Kelly following the professional split. During an interview with Christopher John Farley, she was asked if she was still in contact with him and if she would ever work with him again. Farley said Aaliyah responded with a "firm, frosty" 'No' to both of the questions. Vibe magazine said Aaliyah changed the subject anytime "you bring up the marriage with her". A spokeswoman for Aaliyah told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000 that when "R. Kelly comes up, she doesn't even speak his name, and nobody's allowed to ask about it at all". Kelly later commented that Aaliyah had opportunities to address the pair's relationship after they separated professionally but chose not to.
R. Kelly would have other allegations made about him regarding underage girls in the years following her death and his marriage to Aaliyah was used to evidence his involvement with them. He refused to discuss his relationship with her, citing that she was dead. "Out of respect for her, and her mom and her dad, I will not discuss Aaliyah. That was a whole other situation, a whole other time, it was a whole other thing, and I'm sure that people also know that." Aaliyah's mother Diane Haughton reflected that everything "that went wrong in her life" began with her relationship with R. Kelly. The allegations have been said to have done "little to taint Aaliyah's image or prevent her from becoming a reliable '90s hitmaker with viable sidelines in movies and modeling."
Aaliyah was dating co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records Damon Dash at the time of her death and, though they were not formally engaged, in interviews given after Aaliyah's death, Dash claimed the couple had planned to marry. Aaliyah and Dash met through his accountant and formed a friendship. Dash has said he is unsure of how he and Aaliyah started dating and that the two just understood each other. "I don't know [how we got involved], just spending time, you know, we just saw things the same and it was new, you know what I mean? Meeting someone that is trying to do the same thing you are doing in the urban market, in the same urban market place but not really being so urban. It was just; her mind was where my mind was. She understood me and she got my jokes. She thought my jokes were funny."
Dash expressed his belief that Aaliyah was the "one" and claimed the pair were not officially engaged, but had spoken about getting married prior to her death. Aaliyah publicly never addressed the relationship between her and Dash as being anything but platonic. In May 2001, she hosted a party for Dash's 30th birthday at a New York City club, where they were spotted together and Dash was seen escorting her to a bathroom. Addressing this, Aaliyah stated that she and Dash were just "very good friends" and chose to "keep it at that" for the time being. Just two weeks before her death, Aaliyah traveled from New Jersey to East Hampton, New York to visit Dash at the summer house he shared with Jay Z.
The couple were separated for long periods at a time, as Dash recalled that Aaliyah continuously shot films and would be gone for months often to come back shortly and continue her schedule. Dash was also committed to "his own thing", which did not make matters any better. Despite this, they were understanding that the time they had together was special. Dash remembered they would "be in a room full of people talking to each other and it felt like everyone was listening but it would be just us. It would be like we were the only ones in the room". Dash always felt their time together was essential and Aaliyah was the person he was interested in being with, which is why, as he claimed, they had begun speaking about engagement. The relationship was mentioned in the lyrics of Jay-Z's remix to her song "Miss You", released after her death.
On August 25, 2001, at 6:50 p.m. (EDT), Aaliyah and the members of the record company boarded a twin-engine Cessna 402B (registration N8097W) at the Marsh Harbour Airport in Abaco Islands, the Bahamas, to travel to the Opa-locka Airport in Florida, after they completed filming the music video for "Rock the Boat". They had a flight scheduled the following day, but with filming finishing early, Aaliyah and her entourage were eager to return to the United States and made the decision to leave immediately. The designated airplane was smaller than the Cessna 404 on which they had originally arrived, but the whole party and all of the equipment were accommodated on board. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the end of the runway and exploded.
Aaliyah and the eight others on board—pilot Luis Morales III, hair stylist Eric Forman, Anthony Dodd, security guard Scott Gallin, family friend Keith Wallace, make-up stylist Christopher Maldonado, and Blackground Records employees Douglas Kratz and Gina Smith—were all killed. Gallin survived the initial impact and spent his last moments worrying about Aaliyah's condition, according to ambulance drivers. The plane was identified as being owned by Florida-based company Skystream by Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Atlanta. Initial reports of the crash identified Luis Morales as "L Marael".
According to findings from an inquest conducted by the coroner's office in the Bahamas, Aaliyah suffered from "severe burns and a blow to the head", in addition to severe shock and a weak heart. The coroner theorized that she went into such a state of shock that even if she had survived the crash, her recovery would have been nearly impossible given the severity of her injuries. The bodies were taken to the morgue at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where they were kept for relatives to help identify them. Some of the bodies were badly burned in the crash.
As the subsequent investigation determined, when the aircraft attempted to depart, it was over its maximum take-off weight by 700 pounds (320 kg) and was carrying one excess passenger, according to its certification. The National Transportation Safety Board report stated that "the airplane was seen lifting off the runway, and then nose down, impacting in a marsh on the south side of the departure end of runway 27 and then exploding in flames." It indicated that the pilot was not approved to fly the plane. Morales falsely obtained his FAA license by showing hundreds of hours never flown, and he may also have falsified how many hours he had flown in order to get a job with his employer, Blackhawk International Airways. Additionally, toxicology tests performed on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system.
Aaliyah's funeral services were held on August 31, 2001, at the Frank E.Campbell Funeral Home and St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan. Her body was set in a silver-plated copper-deposit casket, which was carried in a glass horse-drawn hearse. An estimated 800 mourners were in attendance at the procession. Among those in attendance at the private ceremony were Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Gladys Knight, Lil' Kim and Sean Combs. After the service, 22 white doves were released to symbolize each year of Aaliyah's life. Aaliyah was initially entombed in a crypt at the Ferncliff mausoleum in Hartsdale, New York; she was later moved to a private room at the left end of a corridor in the Rosewood Mausoleum. The inscription at the bottom of Aaliyah's portrait at the funeral read: "We Were Given a Queen, We Were Given an Angel."
After Aaliyah's death, the German newspaper Die Zeit published excerpts from an interview done shortly before her death, in which she described a recurring dream: "It is dark in my favorite dream. Someone is following me. I don't know why. I'm scared. Then suddenly I lift off. Far away. How do I feel? As if I am swimming in the air. Free. Weightless. Nobody can reach me. Nobody can touch me. It's a wonderful feeling."
Immediately after Aaliyah's death, there was uncertainty over whether the music video for "Rock the Boat" would ever air. It made its world premiere on BET's Access Granted on October 9, 2001. She won two posthumous awards at the American Music Awards of 2002; Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B/Soul Album for Aaliyah. Her second and final film, Queen of the Damned, was released in February 2002. Before its release, Aaliyah's brother, Rashad, re-dubbed some of her lines during post-production. It grossed US$15.2 million in its first weekend, ranking number one at the box office. On the first anniversary of Aaliyah's death, a candlelight vigil was held in Times Square; millions of fans observed a moment of silence; and throughout the United States, radio stations played her music in remembrance. In December 2002, a collection of previously unreleased material was released as Aaliyah's first posthumous album, I Care 4 U. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund, a program that benefits the Revlon UCLA Women's Cancer Research Program and Harlem's Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, selling 280,000 copies in its first week. The album's lead single, "Miss You", peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In August of the following year, clothing retailer Christian Dior donated profits from sales in honor of Aaliyah.
In 2005, Aaliyah's second compilation album, Ultimate Aaliyah was released in the UK by Blackground Records. Ultimate Aaliyah is a three disc set, which included a greatest hits audio CD and a DVD. Andy Kellman of AllMusic remarked "Ultimate Aaliyah adequately represents the shortened career of a tremendous talent who benefited from some of the best songwriting and production work by Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and R. Kelly." A documentary movie Aaliyah Live in Amsterdam was released in 2011, shortly before the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah's death. The documentary, by Pogus Caesar, contained previously unseen footage shot of her career beginnings in 1995 when she was appearing in the Netherlands.
In March 2012, music producer Jeffrey "J-Dub" Walker announced on his Twitter account that a song "Steady Ground", which he produced for Aaliyah's third album, would be included in the forthcoming posthumous Aaliyah album. This second proposed posthumous album would feature this song using demo vocals, as Walker claims the originals were somehow lost by his sound engineer. Aaliyah's brother Rashad later refuted Walker's claim, claiming that "no official album [is] being released and supported by the Haughton family." On August 5, 2012, a song entitled "Enough Said" was released online. The song was produced by Noah "40" Shebib and features Canadian rapper Drake. Four days later, Jomo Hankerson confirmed a posthumous album is being produced and that it was scheduled to be released by the end of 2012 by Blackground Records. The album was reported to include 16 unreleased songs and have contributions from Aaliyah's longtime collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott, among others. On August 13, Timbaland and Missy Elliott dismissed rumors about being contacted or participating for the project. Elliott's manager Mona Scott-Young said in a statement to XXL, "Although Missy and Timbaland always strive to keep the memory of their close friend alive, we have not been contacted about the project nor are there any plans at this time to participate. We've seen the reports surfacing that they have been confirmed to participate but that is not the case. Both Missy and Timbaland are very sensitive to the loss still being felt by the family so we wanted to clear up any misinformation being circulated." Elliott herself said, "Tim and I carry Aaliyah with us everyday, like so many of the people who love her. She will always live in our hearts. We have nothing but love and respect for her memory and for her loved ones left behind still grieving her loss. They are always in our prayers."
In June 2013, Aaliyah was featured on a new track by Chris Brown, titled "Don't Think They Know"; with Aaliyah singing the song's hook. The video features dancing holographic versions of Aaliyah. The song appears on Brown's sixth studio album, X. Timbaland voiced his disapproval for "Enough Said" and "Don't Think They Know" in July 2013. He exclaimed, "Aaliyah music only work with its soulmate, which is me". Soon after, Timbaland apologized to Chris Brown over his remarks, which he explained were made due to Aaliyah and her death being a "very sensitive subject". In January 2014, producer Noah "40" Shebib confirmed that the posthumous album was shelved due to the negative reception surrounding Drake's involvement. Shebib added, "Aaliyah's mother saying, 'I don't want this out' was enough for me ... I walked away very quickly."
Aaliyah's vocals were reported to be featured on the T-Pain mixtape, The Iron Way, on the track "Girlfriend", but were pulled after being met with criticism by fans and many in attendance at a New York listening session that he hosted for the project. In response to the criticism, T-Pain questioned if Aaliyah's legacy was driven by her death and claimed that were she still alive, she would be seen as trying to emulate Beyoncé. According to T-Pain, he was given her vocals from a session she had done prior to her death after being approached to work on a track for a posthumous Aaliyah album and completing the song, calling the exchange "just like a swap."
She was featured on the Tink track "Million", which was released in May 2015 and contained samples from her song "One in a Million". Collaborator Timbaland was involved in the song's creation, having previously claimed that Aaliyah appeared to him in a dream and stressed that Tink was "the one".
In August 2015, Timbaland confirmed that he had unreleased vocals from Aaliyah and stated a "sneak peek" would be coming soon.
In September 2015, Aaliyah by Xyrena, an official tribute fragrance was announced.
On December 19, 2015, Timbaland uploaded a snippet of a new Aaliyah song title "He Keeps Me Shakin" on his Instagram account and said it would be released December 25, 2015, on the Timbaland mixtape King Stays King. On August 24, 2017 MAC Cosmetics announced that an Aaliyah collection will be made available in the summer of 2018
Aaliyah has been credited for helping redefine R&B, pop and hip hop in the 1990s, "leaving an indelible imprint on the music industry as a whole." According to Billboard, Aaliyah revolutionized R&B with her sultry mix of pop, soul and hip hop. In a 2001 review of her eponymous album, Rolling Stone professed that Aaliyah's impact on R&B and pop has been enormous. Steve Huey of AllMusic wrote Aaliyah ranks among the "elite" artists of the R&B genre, as she "played a major role in popularizing the stuttering, futuristic production style that consumed hip-hop and urban soul in the late 1990s." Bruce Britt of "music world" on Broadcast Music, Inc's. website stated that by combining "schoolgirl charm with urban grit", Aaliyah helped define the teen-oriented sound that has resulted in contemporary pop phenom's like Brandy, Christina Aguilera and Destiny's Child.
Described as one of "R&B's most important artists" during the 1990s, her second studio album, One in a Million, became one of the most influential R&B albums of the decade. Music critic Simon Reynolds cited "Are You That Somebody?" as "the most radical pop single" of 1998. Kelefah Sanneh of The New York Times wrote that rather than being the song's focal point, Aaliyah "knew how to disappear into the music, how to match her voice to the bass line", and consequently "helped change the way popular music sounds; the twitchy, beat-driven songs of Destiny's Child owe a clear debt to 'Are You That Somebody'." Sanneh asserted that by the time of her death in 2001, Aaliyah "had recorded some of the most innovative and influential pop songs of the last five years." Music publication Popdust called Aaliyah an unlikely queen of the underground due mainly to her influence on the underground alternative music scene, which consists of heavy sampling and references to her music by underground artists. Popdust also mentioned that the forward-thinking music Aaliyah did with Timbaland and the experimental music being made by many underground alternative artists are somewhat cut from the same cloth. While compiling a list of artists that take cues from Aaliyah, MTV Hive mentioned that it's easy to spot her influence on underground movements like dubstep, strains of indie pop, and lo-fi R&B movements. With sales of 8.1 million albums in the United States and an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide, Aaliyah earned the nicknames "Princess of R&B" and "Queen of Urban Pop", as she "proved she was a muse in her own right". Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone dubbed her as the "undisputed queen of the midtempo come-on". Aaliyah has been referred to as a pop icon and a R&B icon for her impact and contributions to those respective genres. Japanese pop singer Hikaru Utada has said several times that "It was when I heard Aaliyah's Age Ain't Nothing but a Number that I got hooked on R&B.", after which Utada released her debut album First Love with heavy R&B influences. Another Japanese pop singer Crystal Kay has expressed how she admired Aaliyah when she was growing up and how she would practice dancing while watching her music videos.
Aaliyah was honored at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards by Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Ginuwine and her brother, Rashad, who all paid tribute to her. In the same year, the United States Social Security Administration ranked the name Aaliyah one of the 100 most popular names for newborn girls. Aaliyah was ranked as one of "The Top 40 Women of the Video Era" in VH1's 2003 The Greatest series. She was also ranked at number 18 on BET's "Top 25 Dancers of All Time". Aaliyah appeared on both 2000 and 2001 list of Maxim Hot 100 in position 41 and the latter at 14. In 2002 VH1 created the 100 sexiest artist list and Aaliyah was ranked at number 36. In memory of Aaliyah, the Entertainment Industry Foundation created the Aaliyah Memorial Fund to donate money raised to charities she supported. In December 2009, Billboard magazine ranked Aaliyah at number 70 on its Top Artists of the Decade, while her eponymous album was ranked at number 181 on the magazine's Top 200 Albums of the Decade. She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist overall. In 2012, VH1 ranked her number 48 in "VH1's Greatest Women in Music". Also in 2012, Aaliyah was ranked at number 10 on Complex magazine's 100 hottest female singers of all-time list and number 22 on their 90 hottest women of the 90's list. In 2014, NME (New Musical Express) ranked Aaliyah at number 18 on NME's 100 most influential artist list. Aaliyah's dress that she wore at the 2000 MTV Video Music Award's was featured in the most memorable fashion moments at the VMA's list by the fashion publication Harper's Bazaar In October 2015 Aaliyah was featured in the 10 women who became Denim Style icons list created by the fashion publication Vogue.
Aaliyah's music has influenced numerous artists including Adele, The Weeknd, Ciara, Beyoncé, Monica, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Azealia Banks, Sevyn Streeter, Keyshia Cole, J. Cole, Kelly Rowland, Zendaya, Rita Ora, The xx, Arctic Monkeys, Speedy Ortiz, Chelsea Wolfe, Haim, Angel Haze, Kiesza, Naya Rivera, Cassie, Hayley Williams, Jessie Ware, Yeasayer, Bebe Rexha, Omarion, and Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander. Canadian R&B singer Keshia Chanté who was said to play as her in her pending biopic back in 2008, complimented the singer's futuristic style in music and fashion. Chanté backed out of the biopic after speaking to Diane Haughton, but has expressed a willingness to do the project if "the right production comes along and the family's behind it". Keisha also mentioned that Aaliyah had been part of her life "since I was 6." R&B singer and friend Brandy said about the late singer "She came out before Monica and I did, she was our inspiration. At the time, record companies did not believe in kid acts and it was just inspiring to see someone that was winning and winning being themselves. When I met her I embraced her, I was so happy to meet her." Rapper Drake said that the singer has had the biggest influence on his career. He also has a tattoo of the singer on his back. Solange Knowles remarked on the tenth anniversary of her death that she idolized Aaliyah and proclaimed that she would never be forgotten. Adam Levine, the lead vocalist of the pop rock group Maroon 5, remembers that listening to "Are You That Somebody?" convinced him to pursue a more soulful sound than that of his then-band Kara's Flowers. Erika Ramirez, associate editor of Billboard.com, said at the time of Aaliyah's career "there weren't many artists using the kind of soft vocals the ways she was using it, and now you see a lot of artists doing that and finding success," her reasoning for Aaliyah's continued influence on current artists. She argued that Aaliyah's second album One in a Million was "very much ahead of its time, with the bass and electro kind of R&B sounds that they produced", referring to collaborators Timbaland and Missy Elliott and that the sound, which "really stood out" at its time, was being replicated.
In 2012, British singer-songwriter Katy B released the song Aaliyah as a tribute to Aaliyah's legacy and lasting impression on R&B music. The song first appeared on Katy B's Danger EP and featured Jessie Ware on guest vocals. In 2016, Swedish singer-songwriter Erik Hassle released a song titled "If Your Man Only Knew" which serves as a tribute to Aaliyah's 1996 single "If Your Girl Only Knew".
There has been continuing belief that Aaliyah would have achieved greater career success had it not been for her death. Emil Wilbekin mentioned the deaths of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur in conjunction with hers and added: "Her just-released third album and scheduled role in a sequel to The Matrix could have made her another Janet Jackson or Whitney Houston". Director of Queen of the Damned Michael Rymer said of Aaliyah, "God, that girl could have gone so far" and spoke of her having "such a clarity about what she wanted. Nothing was gonna step in her way. No ego, no nervousness, no manipulation. There was nothing to stop her."
On July 18, 2014, it was announced that Alexandra Shipp replaced Zendaya for the role of Aaliyah for the Lifetime TV biopic movie Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B, which premiered on November 15, 2014. Zendaya drew criticism because people felt that she was too light skinned and did not greatly resemble Aaliyah. She voiced her strong respect for Aaliyah before dropping out of the project. She explained her choice to withdraw from the film in videos on Instagram. Aaliyah's family has been vocal in their disapproving of the film. Her cousin Jomo Hankerson stated the family would prefer a "major studio release along the lines" of What's Love Got to Do with It, the biopic based on the life of Tina Turner. Aaliyah's family has consulted a lawyer to stop Lifetime from using "any of the music, or any of the photographs and videos" they own and Jomo Hankerson claimed the TV network "didn't reach out." On August 9, 2014, it was announced that Chattrisse Dolabaille and Izaak Smith had been cast as Aaliyah's collaborators Missy Elliott and Timbaland. Dolabaille received criticism for her appearance in comparison with that of Missy Elliot. Despite negative reviews, the film's premiere drew 3.2 million viewers, becoming the second highest rated television movie of 2014. In February 2015, a tribute dinner was held for Aaliyah by The Sugar Club in Dublin, Ireland.Age Ain't Nothing but a Number (1994)One in a Million (1996)Aaliyah (2001)