Before Britney Spears and the current crop of teen pop queens,
there was Aaliyah, rolling up the charts as her silky R&B voice
floated over the latest hip-hop beats in hits such as "Are You
That Somebody?" and the Grammy-nominated "Try Again."
The singer-actress and her crew had just completed filming her
latest video, "Rock the Boat," in the Bahamas when she and eight
others were killed in a plane crash Saturday night. The sultry song
was expected to return her and her latest CD, "Aaliyah" to the top
of the charts.
Though "Aaliyah" debuted at No. 2 earlier this month and has
already been certified gold, its drop from the top of the charts was
unexpected, especially since her acting career had taken off.
Aaliyah's big screen debut in the action thriller "Romeo Must Die"
was so well-received that she quickly landed the starring role in the
upcoming film adaptation of Anne Rice's "Queen of the Damned."
She also had signed on to appear in the next two installments of
Such a rapid climb would surprise many young stars. But to Aaliyah,
22, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. She made her stage debut
in a production of "Annie" at age 6 and she performed with Gladys
Knight, who was married to her uncle Barry Hankerson at the time,
in Las Vegas at age 11.
Aaliyah was 15 when she burst onto the music scene in 1995,
in all her streetwise, leather-clad, shades-wearing glory. "I got
jazz personality, 'G' mentality," she declared in her first single,
"Back and Forth," a funky introduction to her swaggering debut
CD, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number."
While most teen singers generally keep their target audience to their
peers and those younger, Aaliyah went after the whole spectrum of
listeners, with slick R&B songs that weren't age-specific, thanks mainly
to producer/mentor R. Kelly, who wrote the bulk of her early material.
Aaliyah called her style "street, but sweet" and was comfortable with
dance-floor fillers as well as ballads, turning the Isley Brothers'
"At Your Best (You Are Love)" into one of her biggest hits.
It was Aaliyah's collaboration with Timbaland and Missy "Misdemeanor"
Elliott, however, that kicked her career up another notch. Her hit,
"Are You That Somebody?" from 1998's "Dr. Dolittle" movie went
to No. 1 on the pop charts, while also breaking ground with a new
hip-hop rhythm track.
"Try Again" from "Romeo Must Die" repeated the success
and landed a Grammy nomination.
She seemed set to continue that pace with "Aaliyah" and was getting
ready to return to New York next week to present an award at MTV's
Video Music Awards, set for Sept. 6.
Though Aaliyah was up front about her career, she worked hard
to keep her personal life private.
"In this business, it is very hard to have anything for yourself, because
you become a public figure," she told Jet magazine last month.
"That's cool because that comes with the territory. But there are
certain things I want to keep to me. So I don't discuss my private life."
Little is known about her personal life, though it is widely reported
she was briefly married to R. Kelly when she was a teenager.
"She was like one of my daughters; she was one of the sweetest girls
in the world," Grammy-winning producer Quincy Jones told the
Associated Press. "She vacationed with me and my family together
in Fiji. I loved her and respected her, and I am absolutely devastated."
By Glenn Gamboa