Remarkably, she had provided us with three albums by then, and all of them were massively influential on modern pop, r&b, and even hip-hop. Even more remarkably, there is more talk about Aaliyah this summer than there was 20 years ago, and her legend is stronger than ever.
After a long and bitter legal battle, which is still ongoing, all of her music is finally available to the masses, on streaming services. And in the annals of music history, her legacy will only grow stronger in the decades to come.
The legal battle regarding her music is complicated, but her estate and her uncle/former manager and label chief, Barry Hankerson, have had disagreements for many years. His label, Blackground, is now distributing the music to streaming services via a deal with Empire, and we will get four of her releases.
Timbaland and Missy Elliot anchored this incredible album with the still-teenage singer, who was just coming out of a quickly annulled marriage to R Kelly, who had helped steer her first album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. R Kelly is in the news himself at the moment, on trial for allegations of sexual abuse.
The move from R Kelly to Timbaland and Missy brought a very minimal and down-tempo approach to One in a Million, a spellbinding album that sounds better than ever 25 years on.
We now have a lot of the Prince material on streaming and De La Soul look finally set to follow, after another bitter battle, this time with Tommy Boy Records.
Prince and the internet is a story for another day, but he had a love-hate relationship with the possibilities of the web, a platform that he was quick to use in its early days.
He was a great visionary, who wanted to control his own music, which is not always easy. It’s only in his death that the world can now hear most of his material, and that’s kinda’ mad, really.
For our culture, it’s imperative that we can get the music of Aaliyah, and these other great artists, to streaming services. Despite their often dubious artistic policies, these services are where the vast majority of people hear music in 2021. Accessibility is important, and while it’s fine for guys like me, who have most of the vinyl or CDs, buying music in a physical medium these days is very expensive and only for the privileged.
R&b is fashionable now, but many were dismissive of Aaliyah’s music when she was making it, and dismissive of others’ music, too (neo-soul was much more eagerly welcomed, as it was more in line with the acceptable face of soul music from the ’60s and ’70s).
The futuristic sounds brought by Aaliyah, Timbo, and Missy also drew from that era and from the shadow of Minnie Riperton and others, but it was forward-thinking music.
Timbaland incorporated UK drum ’n’ bass, and other styles, into very complicated drum patterns that provided an incredible background to some of the best music of the era.
At the time, as a DJ, this was the slowest music I played in the clubs, and it changed the whole game for me, too. The music was so good it still worked, and it preceded the more popular tempos of trap/drill and grime by many years. The influence of Aaliyah can be seen in electronic music, soul, rap, and pretty much everything else that has come since.
It’s a shame that we lost her so early, just as she was getting going. Finally, the world can now listen to the music that changed everything in the ’90s and early 2000s.