5 Ways Aaliyah Changed The Music Game


Many fans of Aaliyah Dana Haughton had been waiting over a decade to see the R&B singer’s life depicted in a motion picture. The Lifetime network’s attempt at making an Aaliyah biopic fell flat with many viewers which led to a social media torrent of critical tweets and memes lambasting the production and the movie’s executive producer Wendy Williams.

For many supporters of the “At Your Best” performer, it’s a sad circumstance that Aaliyah’s legacy is now attached to the universally panned television movie. In order to switch the conversation back to Aaliyah’s contribution to music history and pop culture, AllHipHop.com presents “5 Ways Aaliyah Changed The Music Game.”

Aaliyah Helped Create A New Union Between Hip Hop & R&B

It is understandable why Aaliyah is often referred to as “The Princess Of Hip Hop & R&B.” There’s a very defined fault line between what Rhythm & Blues music sounded like before Aaliyah’s second album and what it sounded like afterward. 1996’s One In A Million hit the musical scene like an atom bomb.

The syncopated drum patterns and the melding of Hip Hop production with soft vocals was a fresh approach from the New Jack Swing tunes and power ballads that dominated early 1990’s R&B. What was seen as avant-garde artistry in the mid 90’s eventually became the conventional design for hit records by the turn of the century. The genre has never been the same thanks to One In A Million.

Aaliyah Co-Signed Two Relative Unknown Artists Named Timbaland and Missy Elliott

Aaliyah’s One In A Million could not have been possible if it was not for two unheralded musicians out of Virginia. Producer Timbaland and songwriter Missy Elliott initially collaborated with R&B group Jodeci, but it was Timbo & Miss E’s efforts on Aaliyah’s sophomore album that transformed them into the go-to production team for everyone in the business.

If Aaliyah had not taken a chance on Timbaland and Missy, there is no guarantee that future projects by Usher, Jay Z, Nas, Ludacris, Justin Timberlake, and numerous others would have gotten the signature Da Bassment crew sound that has taken over the airwaves for two decades. Add in the fact that Baby Girl also embraced the early work of the late Static Major, and it is clear her musical family tree includes some of the most accomplished production minds of the last twenty years.

Aaliyah Brought A New Sense Of Fashion

Aaliyah famously described her style as “Street But Sweet.” Like Mary J. Blige and TLC before her, Aaliyah was not afraid to incorporate Hip Hop streetwear into her brand. She was able to break out from the pack by bringing an edgy appeal mixed with sexiness, but she pulled off that feat without crossing over into being overtly sexual.

The most recognizable image of the Brooklyn-born, Detroit-bred songstress was of her ebony bang covering her left eye. Aaliyah’s trendy fashion sense landed her an endorsement deal with Tommy Hilfiger in 1998. At one point her public persona became virtually synonymous with Hilfiger’s red, white, and blue palette.

Aaliyah Became The Blueprint For Future Female Performers

Aaliyah only released three studio albums during her life, but that was enough to leave such a large mark on the game that almost every R&B singer to come after her drew inspiration from the starlet. It’s hard to look at/listen to Rihanna, Ciara, Ashanti, Tweet, Cassie, Amerie, Jhene Aiko, Sevyn Streeter, Rita Ora, Tinashe and others and not see pieces of Aaliyah in them. Whether it’s CiCi’s dance moves, RiRi’s dark side aesthetic, or Tinashe’s silky singing, the Aaliyah element runs deeply through today’s biggest urban vocalists.

Even pop performers seemed to have been inspired by what Aaliyah brought to the table. It’s probably not a coincidence Britney Spears’ 2001 MTV Video Music Awards performance of “I’m A Slave 4 U” featuring Brit dancing with a python came just months after Aaliyah’s video for “We Need A Resolution” guest starred a large snake as well.

Aaliyah Influenced A Generation Of Hip Hop Stars

Aaliyah’s influence on later acts didn’t just include the women of R&B and Pop. This generation of male rappers have openly expressed their appreciation for Baby Girl too. The most well-known Aaliyah stan is perhaps Drake. The OVO front man’s approach to melody is an obvious homage to the “Rock The Boat” singer, and he even went as far as getting a tattoo of his muse on his back. Drizzy also used Aaliyah’s voice on Thank Me Later‘s “Unforgettable.”

Besides Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have demonstrated their love for the late entertainer as well. Kendrick’s Section.80 contained the track “Blow My High (Members Only).” On the song, K. Dot repeatedly says “R.I.P. Aaliyah” over a soundscape the TDE rapper admits is reminiscent of Aaliyah’s catalog.

Cole teamed with Missy for his “Nobody’s Perfect” single off Cole World: The Sideline Story. The Roc Nation rapper revealed he thought of Aaliyah after he crafted the beat and actually wished he could have had her on the hook. Cole also covered the Missy/Aaliyah duet “Best Friend” for his Friday Night Lights mixtape. Several other Hip Hop artists like Dom Kennedy, Nipsey Hussle, A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, Stalley, Crooked I, and Smoke DZA have sampled Baby Girl as well.

The world was only blessed to experience Aaliyah as an artist for eight years. Thankfully her multi-platinum selling albums Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, One In A Million, and the self-titled Aaliyah, as well as soundtrack cuts “Are You That Somebody”, “I Don’t Wanna,” “Try Again” and the Oscar-nominated “Journey To The Past,” will live on.

The iconic leading lady now sits comfortably in the entertainment pantheon next to “gone-to-soon” artisans The Notorious B.I.G., Buddy Holly, and James Dean –  legendary performers that were only able to leave behind a limited amount of work, but still managed to alter the landscape on which they stood. R.I.P. Baby Girl.