Reviewed on this page:
Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number - One In A Million - Aaliyah
On Saturday August 25th, 2001, Aaliyah and other eight people died when their plane crashed in the Bahamas.
Before her death at age 22, Virginia-based Aaliyah had three successful, though brief, careers: she shot to fame as R&B singer/producer R. Kelly's 15-year-old singing protege (and wife, though the marriage was soon annulled). Then she became
the first notable hitmaker for the writing/producing team of Timbaland and Missy
"Misdemeanor" Elliott. Then she started acting, and got pretty good notices for her turn in the action flick Romeo Must Die.
As a singer, Aaliyah's okay but isn't going to make anyone forget Des'ree or Mary J. Blige - she
sounds exactly as good as her producer.
I've noted a few guest appearances on records by Timbaland, Elliott, and fellow Virginian Ginuwine.
Here's a decent fan site.
Age Ain't Nothing But A Number (1994)
I'm no fan of R. Kelly's slow-groove production style - simple drum loops and keyboard vamps, with ungodly repetition and obvious catchphrases ("Back
& Forth") - or songwriting, so there's not much I can say about this record. "Street Thing" is a trademark pseudo-gospel anthem, so I guess
it's fine if you liked Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly"; most of the other tracks are harsher and slightly faster.
Aaliyah doesn't get to sing much, usually reciting sing-song vamps (the title track, her first hit; "I'm So Into You").
Perhaps she's best heard on a cover of the Isley Brothers's "At Your Best (You Are Love)," where she's light and
smooth, rather like Shanice or Minnie Riperton (without the high notes).
Kelly wrote everything else, produced, and played or programmed most of the instruments.
One In A Million (1996)
With R. Kelly out of the picture, Aaliyah worked with a slew of other producers: Rodney Jerkins ("Everything's
Gonna Be Alright"), Jermaine Dupri ("I Gotcha Back"), Kay-Gee, Vincent Herbert and Craig King.
Most important, though, were the seven songs produced by Timbaland and written with Missy
Elliott: the title track was a major hit single, and tracks like "If Your Girl Only Knew" and "4 Page Letter" established Virginia Beach as
the epicenter of a hot new hip hop/R&B sound. On dance tunes and ballads alike, Timbaland relies on ultratight snare and kick sounds, and a
broad palette of artificial-sounding synth tones, humanized by Elliott's down-to-earth lyrics and Aaliyah's casual but expressive vocals.
Outside of the Timbaland tunes, the standout is Craig King and Monica Payne's "Never Givin' Up," a slow duet with Tavarius Polk where Aaliyah
emotes like crazy.
There's another Isleys cover ("Choosey Lover") and a Marvin Gaye tune ("Got To Give It Up");
the other songs are by their respective producers (except for "The One I Gave My Love To," written by Diane Warren and
produced by Daryl Simmons). Guests include Slick Rick,
Freddie Washington and Paulinho Da Costa.
Between 1996 and 2001, Aaliyah turned up on numerous soundtracks: Sunset Park, Dr. Doolittle, Next Friday,
plus of course Romeo Must Die. (DBW)
Not as risky as her breakthrough, but still solid entertainment thanks to impressive variety and tunefulness.
The first single, "We Need A Resolution," sets a dispirted tone, with a laid-back beat, a neo-classical sample, and not much else.
It's one of just three tracks Timbaland produced - there's also a moving if formulaic soul ballad ("I Care 4 U," with the lyrics forming Missy Elliott's only contribution to the album),
and the equally slow but more electronic "More Than A Woman." The rest is divvied up among Rapture and E. Seats (the 80s-style electrosoul
"Rock The Boat"), Bud'da ("Never No More") and J. Dub aka Rockstar (the endless synth-Mantovani ballad "I Refuse" ).
If there are no groundbreaking tunes, there are plenty of good ones: the coiled but dangerous "Extra Smooth," the salsa piano-driven "Read Between The Lines," the carefully arranged keyboards and drum programming on "It's Whatever."
On the other hand, J. Dub's techno-metal "What If" and
the riff-filled hidden track "Messed Up" are the only songs with the off-kilter kick of One In A Million, and Aaliyah's straightforward delivery
doesn't have the personality that would bring transcendence to such a scattered, piecemeal project.
No matter who was producing, nearly all the lyrics are by Static (from Playa, a group I really will get around to reviewing); no covers this time.
I Care 4 U (2002)
Six unreleased tracks and eight hits. (DBW)
Never comin' back?