The 15 Best Aaliyah Samples in Modern R&B/Hip-Hop

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At her best, and long after she passed away, Aaliyah is loved still by the many R&B and hip-hop artists that she’s influenced.

The Princess of R&B put out three albums — Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number (1994), One in a Million (1996) and Aaliyah (2001) — before she was tragically killed on Aug. 25, 2001 in an airplane accident, following filming of her “Rock the Boat” music video in the Bahamas. While the visual was the last project Aaliyah ever worked on, the legacy of “Rock the Boat” and her other hits has lived on over the last two decades in other major artists’ songs, sampling and lifting from her classics a million times over (or at least 325 times, according to WhoSampled).

Although there have been numerous covers dedicated to the late songstress — notably Frank Ocean’s version of Aaliyah’s “At Your Best (You Are Love)” rendition, itself a cover of The Isley Brothers’ 1976 radio hit — this list focuses on samples and interpolations, showcasing how artists from Jay-Z to The Weeknd have expertly embedded the DNA of Aaliyah’s discography (which is slowly coming to streaming services) into their own successful catalogs.

Below, Billboard has compiled a list (in chronological order) of the best modern samples and interpolations that pay homage to Aaliyah.

Jay-Z, “Intro: A Million and One Questions/Rhyme No More” (1997)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “One in a Million”

Although Aaliyah and Hov didn’t directly work together in her lifetime, he found a way to make a collab of sorts happen when he sampled the title track of her multi-platinum sophomore album One in a Million on the opener of his own sophomore album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1. The song’s producer DJ Premier said in an interview that the “A Million and One Questions” title instantly reminded him of “One in a Million,” — so he sampled the “a million” hook from the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay No. 1 hit for the first-half of Jay’s song, and pitched it up, before the East Coast heavyweight laid down his verse over Premier’s piano-driven beat.

OutKast, “Pink & Blue” (2003)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number”

The chopped and screwed hook of Aaliyah’s Age Ain’t Nothin But a Number title track set the tone for OutKast’s slick-tongued ode to cougars, from the hip-hop duo’s 2003 double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. André 3000 fantasizes about getting with an older woman on the track,c rooning, “Miss Lady, you could have been born a little later — but I don’t care/ So what if your head sports a couple of grey hairs?” He lightheartedly flipped the script of the original recording from Aaliyah’s multi-platinum debut album — which was speculated to be about the relationship between then-15-year-old Aaliyah and her 27-year-old mentor R. Kelly.

Drake feat. Young Jeezy, “Unforgettable” (2010)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “At Your Best (You Are Love)”

The eternal magnetism of The Isley Brothers’ quiet storm gem “At Your Best (You Are Love)” didn’t stop at Aaliyah’s equally outstanding gold-certified 1994 cover. Drake’s “Unforgettable” underlined the breathless a cappella “Let me know, let me knows” from her soulful rendition — which broke into the top 10 of the Hot 100 — with pensive percussion. The Young Jeezy-assisted Thank Me Later cut highlighted Drizzy’s desire to become one of the genre’s greatest, proving that “At Your Best (You Are Love)” is a force that’s quite unforgettable — as are the artists who pushed it forward.

J. Cole, “Best Friend” (2010)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “Best Friends” (by Missy Elliott, feat. Aaliyah) 

While “Best Friends” comes from Missy Elliott’s 1997 LP Supa Dupa Fly, J. Cole found direct inspiration from the strength of Missy and Aaliyah’s ties heard on the sisters-before-misters anthem, and flipped the script on his own “Best Friend” track from his 2010 mixtape Friday Night Lights. Cole’s now the culprit in the narrative, while his girl’s best friend tried to convince her to leave him because he’s playing her — while the best friend had her hands full with her own ill-fated relationship. But he slipped his vocals underneath Missy and Aaliyah’s on the triple-layered “I’ll still be there for you/ In your time of need, you can lean on me” chorus, welcoming his girl back after each heated argument with open arms.

Rick Ross feat. Ne-Yo, “She Crazy” (2010)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “Rock the Boat”

Aaliyah’s “Yeahhh mhmm mhmm” ad-libs from her self-titled album’s “Rock the Boat” floated over Rick Ross’ verses on “She Crazy,” which also paid tribute to the rapper’s late friend Peanut. The atmospheric ’80s synths, similar to the ones heard on the original Hot 100 top 20 hit (which earned Aaliyah her third best female R&B vocal performance nod at the Grammys), anchored Ne-Yo’s soulful chorus on the track, and reminded listeners of the hypnotic sway of “Boat.”

The Weeknd, “What You Need” (2011)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “Rock the Boat”

While Aaliyah’s eponymous third and final album is set to land on streaming services Sept. 10, a portion of “Rock the Boat” arrived early after The Weeknd made his original 2011 debut mixtape House of Balloons available to stream for the first time on the project’s 10th anniversary in March. After the sample wasn’t cleared, and an alternate version of “What You Need” appeared on The Weeknd’s first compilation album Trilogy, the R&B superstar was finally able to give his fans what they needed almost a decade later. The Princess of R&B played a role in The Weeknd’s first glimpse of the alternative R&B genre he helped shape, as Aaliyah’s looped line “Baby, now hold me close” in “What You Need” put his fans in a gentle, instant trance and channeled the high of a lover’s touch.

Kendrick Lamar, “Blow My High (Members Only)” (2011)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “4-Page Letter”

When the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper penned the Section.80 cut “Blow My High (Members Only),” he took a page out of Aaliyah’s songbook. While the R&B star poured her heart out onto her “4-Page Letter” about that “one particular guy” she’s crushing on, Lamar poured his out to her in a tribute. “R.I.P. Aaliyah, R.I.P., yep/ That’s exactly what this sound like/ A to the A to the L-I-Y-A-H, give it up two times/ Then give it right back, don’t blow my high,” he rapped in a pour-one-out-for-the-homies paean, before his lucid vocals intertwined with Aaliyah’s for the prompted sing-a-long chorus: “I’m sending him a four-page letter/ And I enclosed it with a kiss/ And when I write him, he better/ Get it on time.”

A$AP Rocky feat. 2 Chainz, Drake and Kendrick Lamar, “F—in’ Problems’” (2012)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “Quit Hatin”

A$AP Rocky’s first Grammy-nominated song and highest-charting hit on the Hot 100 where he’s credited as the lead artist — “F—in’ Problems,’ featuring Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar — came in part thanks to Aaliyah. Drake (under the pseudonym C. Papi) and his longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib were previously set to helm a posthumous Aaliyah project, before the two walked away from it after the late singer’s mother disapproved, But they ended up producing “F—in’ Problems,” and the “Oh-oh, oh-ohs” that kick off the song and are peppered throughout belong to Aaliyah’s track “Quit Hatin,” which was leaked online in January 2013.

Tamar Braxton feat. Future, “Let Me Know”

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “At Your Best (You Are Love)”

Braxton let the world know that she respected Aaliyah, whom she was connected to through her sister Toni and Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson, when she remixed her version of “At Your Best (You Are Love).” The chipmunk-pitched version of the “Let me know” hook, paired with Future’s Auto-Tune-laced “Do you love the way I do when I’m lovin’ your body” chorus, are juxtaposed with the trap&B song’s heavier subject matter of a relationship’s “ups and downs and in betweens.” Similar to Aaliyah, Braxton made the sincerity in her voice loud and clear, flexing the dexterity of her soprano range when she breaks out the whistle tones at the end.

Tink, “Million” (2015)

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “One in a Million”

In 2015, Timbaland said Aaliyah had previously appeared to him and said Tink was “the one.” The rapper-singer-songwriter, who was previously signed to his Mosley Music Group, took the highest compliment, as well as Timbo and Missy Elliott’s foundation for Aaliyah’s “One in a Million,” and ran with it on her own track “Million.” Tink twinkled on the remixed version and turned up the song’s sensuality with her hip-hop/R&B hybrid vocals all while proving Aaliyah’s legacy goes on and on and on, as long as the classic cut stays in rotation within other artists’ songs.

Kanye West, “Fade” (2016)

Aaliyah Song Interpolated: “Rock the Boat”

The staying power of Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat” didn’t disintegrate on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo cut “Fade.” The rapper interpolated her original lyrics by singing, “I’ma rock the boat, work the middle ’til it hurt a little” in the first verse. And Teyana Taylor played a part in the ‘Ye-led tribute, by working her rock-solid middle in the official “Fade” music video.

Solange feat. Q-Tip, “Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care)” (2016)

Aaliyah Song Interpolated: “More Than a Woman”

Solange is more than a ’90s R&B lover on her A Seat at the Table cut “Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care),” which is an ode to both A Tribe Called Quest and Aaliyah. While she and ATCQ’s Q-Tip subtly interpolated his group’s 1994 hit “Electric Relaxation,” “Borderline” outwardly showed respect to Aaliyah’s 2001 hit “More Than a Woman” — which peaked at No. 25 on the Hot 100 and received a 2003 Grammys nomination for best female R&B vocal performance — as Solange sings, “Let’s take it off tonight/ Break it off tonight/ Baby, I’ve been more than a woman.” And she touched on her appreciation of both Aaliyah and the song’s co-songwriter Static Major in an interview conducted by her sister Beyoncé: “Aaliyah was also a huge influence and has always been. Her vocal arrangements with Static Major are some of my favorite in the world.”

Kehlani, “Personal” (2017)

Aaliyah Song Interpolated: “Come Over” (feat. Tank)

Kehlani saluted the Princess of R&B twice on her debut album SweetSexySavage, as “Personal” took inspiration from Tank’s vocal melodies on Aaliyah’s 2002 hit “Come Over.” (Aaliyah’s demo was given to R&B duo Changing Faces for their 2000 album Visit Me, before the Tank-assisted track was included in her posthumously released compilation album I Care 4 U.) “Too Much,” from Kehlani’s debut LP, also interpolated Timbaland’s twitchy, mid-tempo percussion on Aaliyah’s “More Than a Woman.” The R&B singer-songwriter didn’t accept being crowned a new generation’s Aaliyah, arguing that the latter was “one in a million, it’s shoes no one should be aimed to (or even could) fill.”

Blxst, “Be Gone” (2020) 

Aaliyah Song Sampled: “I Don’t Wanna”

Blxst traces the source of his cinematic blend of R&B and hip-hop to his ’90s upbringing, and he’s not alone in having Aaliyah be a lasting influence on his records. The hook of his No Love Lost highlight track “Be Alone” spotlighted the late R&B singer’s ode to rekindled romance “I Don’t Wanna,” which was featured on both the movie soundtracks for Next Friday and Romeo Must Die, the latter of which she made her feature film debut in.

Normani feat. Cardi B, “Wild Side” (2021)

Aaliyah Song Interpolated: “One in a Million”

The most recent example of “One in a Million” being interpolated lies within the drum pattern on Normani’s latest Hot 100 top 20 single “Wild Side,” featuring Cardi B. In a recent interview, Normani called Aaliyah “one of my favorite artists of all time” and said her team built the nostalgia-inducing R&B song around the drums on “One in a Million.” Timbaland, who produced and co-wrote the original song with Missy Elliott, gave “Wild Side” his stamp of approval and thanked Normani for what she did on the song, while beatboxing to the beat.

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