Release of Aaliyah’s music calls for a re-imagining of her legacy


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Music streaming from a cellphone.

By Janyce-Monique Johnson, Columnist

If you’re a millennial or born in that awkward time between the millennials and Generation Z, you’ve probably heard of R&B artist Aaliyah Haughton, professionally known as Aaliyah.

Aaliyah was a famous R&B singer, dancer, actress and model in the ‘90s who died Aug. 25, 2001, at the age of 22. After shooting the music video for “Rock the Boat” in the Bahamas, Aaliyah and her eight background dancers got on a small, private plane that crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff.

Even though I am only 23 years old, my mom was a huge fan of Aaliyah, so she introduced her music to me when I was growing up. Recently, I was driving home from work when I recognized the song “Rock The Boat” on the radio. I was shocked because this was the first time in two decades that I had heard her music publicly.

Aaliyah’s music became available on streaming services on Aug. 20, according to the New York Times. For 20 years, the bulk of her music has been unavailable on iTunes and all music streaming services because the owner of the record label, Aaliyah’s uncle, did not permit it. The only fans who had access to her music were people who owned her CDs.

Aaliyah had started her acting career just before she died. She landed lead roles in “Romeo Must Die” and “Queen of the Damned”, and she was cast in The Matrix sequels but never got to finish the role. She was largely known for her music, so the withholding of Aaliyah’s music on music streaming left little of her legacy.

In 2014, the Aaliyah movie was released, which was supposed to tell the story of Aaliyah’s career, specifically in music. However, I believe the movie was a flop. It lacked Aaliyah’s most famous songs, so no one really got to hear her music, and most of the movie was about her relationship with convicted felon R. Kelly, which diminished her legacy to simply being one of R. Kelly’s survivors. I was disappointed because I knew Aaliyah was much more than that.

Aaliyah inspired many artists today, such as Zendaya and Normani, with her unique vocal range and notorious melodies. She had a huge impact on the R&B music industry today. She worked with Missy Elliott and Timbaland on many of her hits, launching their careers as music producers and songwriters.

Now that her music is released to the public, I hope the film industry will consider making a proper movie about Aaliyah. The movie should broadcast her true legacy, and the role should be played by Zendaya, as it was originally supposed to be.

For so long, newer generations were deprived of the melodious notes, and infectious lyrics of a woman deemed the Princess of R&B, but now that’s changed. Aaliyah deserves a true legacy, and now we can give her that. I urge people to listen to her music. 

Here are some songs I recommend: “One In A Million,” “Rock The Boat,” “Try Again,” “We Need A Resolution,” “Miss You,”  and “Are You That Somebody.”