Babygirl. Better known (to me, anyway) as the woman who first kindled my interest in R&B. Aaliyah first came to me in ’97, when I was about 15. I was immersed in my own world, listening to Sonic Youth and generally being a Moody Teen, when I happened to hear ‘4 Page Letter’ at possibly the mall. Before then, R&B held no thrills for me. I’d dabbled a bit in hip-hop, mostly of the Wu-Tang variety, but the idea of smooth pop-friendly vocals was antithesis to my gritty, grunge-punk soul. Aaliyah changed all that. Whether it was the heartache passion in her voice or the throbbing, minimalistic beat, it didn’t matter. I was hooked, humming the song all day without any idea of what it was. I learned, though. One In A Million soon took pride of place in my record collection, sitting comfortably alongside Throbbing Gristle and Public Image, Ltd.
These days, when re-examination and reconceptualization of the ghosts of pop culture past are so en vogue, it’s easy to say ‘this person was a genius before their time’. But Aaliyah was a genius PAST her time. The seamless blend of genres contained on her final album ??LIY?H is still a huge source of inspiration, not just for new artists in the R&B field but also house producers like Brenmar, who’s remix of ‘Are You That Somebody‘ is probably the best I’ve ever heard. Left-field musicians like How To Dress Well are also learning from her, borrowing her more gothic elements and spinning beautiful aural shrouds from the webs. If she was still alive today, she would fucking own the business. Instead, her ghost hangs strong over the world of music, leaving us with an ache in our hearts and, yes, a dope beat to step to. Rest well, Aaliyah. You made me love R&B.
Now turn it up.