Aaliyah’s Legacy Still Lives On 20 Years Later

Aaliyah In Performance
R & B singer Aaliyah performs at the Apollo Theater

20 years ago today, the world lost Aaliyah. 

In early 1979, Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born in Brooklyn then soon moved to Detroit. These legendary music cities are symbolic of the groundbreaking music that Aaliyah would go on to produce during her meteoric rise to stardom. 

It was evident that Aaliyah was prolific at an early age, most would argue that she grew up too fast. She appeared on Star Search at ten-years-old, was signed to a record deal at 12-years-old, recorded her debut album at 14, and allegedly illegally married R. Kelly at fifteen. The New York Times reported that R. Kelly’s illegal marriage to Aaliyah are part of Kelly’s nine-count of indictment racketeering charges and sex trafficking across state lines.

Despite a turbulent upbringing, Aaliyah overcame much of her hardships to become an icon in both pop culture and fashion. Her debut album “Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number,” went double platinum and sold more than 3 million copies in the United States. Aaliyah went on to work with iconic producers such as Missy Elliot and Timbaland on her second album, One in a Million which peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over eight million copies worldwide. Billboard listed her as the 10th Most Successful Female R&B artist of the past 25 years.

Aaliyah was quickly recognized as the Princess of R&B, which would go on to be the title of a television movie about Aaliyah’s life. Movies were a growing part of Aaliyah’s legacy at the time of her death – she starred in Romeo Must Die, as well as Queen of the Damned which was released posthumously. Similarly, almost 20 years later fellow Brooklyn superstar Pop Smoke would similarly have a film release posthumously after a tragic early death.

Her style is still being mimicked until this day, a generation after her untimely passing.

On August 25, 2001 after recording scenes for the music video for Rock the Boat – Aaliyah’s plane crashed shortly after takeoff. Aaliyah along with eight others were killed in this plane crash, which is thought to be caused by an overweight plane and ill-trained pilot. Her death sent shockwaves around the world. She was mourned and honored consistently throughout the early 2000’s as fans struggled to grapple with her passing. 

Aaliyah’s music, style, and attitude helped influence her generation, as well as the current generation of musicians to be bold in creating art. The legacy of her sound, which is a combination of soul, R&B, and hip-hop is still popular today. Her sound was revolutionary during a time period where R&B was going through a major update. The snare drums used in One in a Million are a staple of modern rap music, the term “age ain’t nothin’ but a number” has been mainstreamed and sampled all over the world, and even the legacy of her relationships remain front page news. 

The world is being reintroduced to Aaliyah’s music as the 20th anniversary of her death has been approaching, and as R. Kelly’s litigation has brought her story back into the news. Fans of her music have fought for years for Aaliyah’s music to be released on streaming platforms, and have recently gotten their wish. Aaliyah’s album One in a Million was made available to stream on August 19.

Aaliyah’s other projects are set to be released on: 

  • September 3 – the soundtrack for the 2000 film Romeo Must Die,
  • September 10Aaliyah
  • October 8I Care 4 U and Ultimate Aaliyah

The death of Aaliyah is yet another case of an artist lost too soon. Her career remains one of the greatest “what ifs” in modern pop culture history, “What if Aaliyah was still alive?”

Today we honor the life of a young woman who had the world in the palm of her hands. We honor a woman who survived and overcame the impossible to become an icon. We honor Aaliyah, the Princess of R&B and a legend whose presence has been missed daily for two decades.