She died in a plane crash 20 years ago – but her records still sound like the future. As they finally hit streaming services, fans and acquaintances explore Aaliyah’s enduring appeal
Twenty years ago this month, the R&B superstar Aaliyah died at 22 after the badly overloaded plane she and her entourage were travelling in crashed taking off from the Bahamas, where she had been filming the video to her song Rock the Boat.
From the almost shockingly sparse Are You That Somebody? to the addictive robo-funk of If Your Girl Only Knew, Aaliyah’s relentlessly future-focused records were as radical as pop gets. As much as she was admired by critics and other musicians at the time – and everyone from George Michael to DMX Krew tipped the hat to her startling 2000 single Try Again – Aaliyah’s slim three-album catalogue continues to insinuate its way through pop. Normani’s recently released Wild Side takes production inspiration from Aaliyah’s 1996 single One in a Million. Mahalia and Ella Mai paid homage to her tomboy style in their video for What You Did in 2019, and rising Detroit rapper Kash Doll has called Aaliyah her idol. Frank Ocean payed oblique homage by, like Aaliyah, covering the Isley Brothers’ 1976 song (At Your Best) You Are Love. Ciara has cited her as an influence, while Tinashe has credited her with bringing a “chill vibe” to R&B.