Welcome back to Head to Head with Edd, where yours truly goes toe-to-toe with the superfans of the game’s biggest artists. We’ll take a look at the selected artist’s biggest hits and misses and see where we can find common ground.
Y’all know I don’t hide the fact that I’m a HUUUUGE fan of both Missy Elliott and Timbaland, and today we’re celebrating arguably their greatest muse, Aaliyah Dana Haughton. I’m joined by Soul In Stereo fan and frequent Soulback Podcast contributor Shaquille Perry. Don’t be fooled by my man’s relatively young age – he’s well-versed in 90s R&B and rides especially hard for Aaliyah.
He’s still a little salty at me for not giving her final album a higher ranking in my Best Albums of the 2000s list, but we’re letting bygones be bygones today as we look back at one of R&B’s most beloved artists.
Name Aaliyah’s three best albums
2. One in a Million
3. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
This was tough for me because I enjoy One In A Million slightly more, it’s my favorite album of all time and Aaliyah is #2 on that list, but in terms of what’s objectively better, I can’t deny the fact that Aaliyah is a better album. If “I Care 4 U” would’ve been on One In A Million like it was originally intended to be, I might have a different answer but since she saved it for the self-titled album, I gotta go with that being her best work. On her final project she took a risk by giving her fans music they weren’t necessarily used to from her with records like “I Can Be” and “What If” having rock elements. She sang about topics we hadn’t heard from her before, such as domestic violence (“Never No More”) and being the woman on the side (“I Can Be”). Even “Rock The Boat” was something different from her because it’s a sexual song but since she delivered it with such class and elegance, it doesn’t even cross your mind because you’re in such a trance by the smooth production of Key Beats and Aaliyah’s sultry vocals. Out of all three of her albums this was the one where she took the biggest risk but it turned successful considering how respected and loved this album is 20 years later. While I do listen to One In A Million a little more because records like “Never Givin’ Up” “4 Page Letter” “Choosey Lover” “Heartbroken” and “Came To Give Love (Outro)” align more with the mood of my music preference, I have to admit that Aaliyah in 2001 with her self titled album was her at her best.
2. One in a Million
3. Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number
No offense to Aaliyah’s debut, which is solid but far from spectacular, this is obviously a race between One in A Million and the so-called Red Album. Though neither album are as flawless as Aaliyah’s stan-base often proclaims them to be, both are groundbreaking in their own ways. One in A Million’s dark, layered production defined her sound for the next five years and became the springboard for Missy Elliott and Timbaland to become the game’s premier songwriter and producer combo. The Aaliyah album progressed both songwriting (thanks to Static Major’s impeccable pen) and sound, introducing the sparse, brooding instrumentation that y’all love to call THE VIBEZ today. I’ll have to give the slightest edge here to the Aaliyah album, mainly due to stronger consistency and sequencing. But it’s really close and I wouldn’t argue placing One in a Million above it.
What’s your pick for best single?
Shaquille: “One In A Million“
This one is close because she has some strong contenders but ultimately it’s “One In A Million.” This is undoubtedly her signature song, it was hard to decide between this and “Rock The Boat” but I think due to Aaliyah, Timbaland and Missy being recognized for changing R&B with this new sound, I have to give “One In A Million” the slight edge with “Rock The Boat” at a close second.
Edd: “One in a Million“
Shaquille, you wouldn’t know this because you’re not as ancient as me, but I can directly speak to the power of this incredible track. It was 1996 and I was riding around with my friend and this girl he was trying to date. “One in a Million” comes on – it had only been out a week or so at that point – and she absolutely LOSES. HER. MIND. This type of sound may be commonplace today, but hearing that kind of layered production in 1996 – from the random chirping crickets to the slowed-to-a-crawl pacing – was absolutely unearthly. It was like coming in contact with the weirdest, most beautiful alien life form. I don’t remember that girl’s name but I’ll never forget her reaction. Not only is it Aaliyah’s best track but a pivotal moment in music history.
Which album cut should have been a single?
Shaquille: “Loose Rap”
Easily “Loose Rap,” this one was a no brainer, this originally was meant to be the first single until she recorded the Timbaland produced songs but either way, the connection between her voice and Static’s pen couldn’t miss regardless of who the producer was. I wish this would’ve been a single and had a video because I think Static would’ve been more known and recognizable if we had got that from them.
Edd: “It’s Whatever”
There’s tons of candidates for this one – “Loose Rap,” “Never Givin’ Up,” etc., but “It’s Whatever” is a guaranteed hit. Sounding like it time traveled from 2020 to 2001, this laid back declaration of love would have resonated as strongly then as it still does today. All it needs is a smoky, ethereal video and this thing would have been all over 106 & Park’s countdown.
Aaliyah has a lot of great features. Which is her best?
Shaquille: Playa featuring Aaliyah, “One Man Woman”
This one doesn’t need much explaining, pretty much every Aaliyah fan that has heard this song is gonna go with this as her best feature, the chemistry behind her and Playa is on full display here. Static has a great opening verse and that leads to Aaliyah giving us a great performance on her verse as well and the bridge with Black is what puts this over the top as the overwhelming favorite for best feature. A gem from an album that never received its proper love and respect!
Edd: Timbaland and Magoo featuring Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, “Man Undercover”
Y’all gonna get mad because this is a HUGE cheat, but I’m going with this track from Tim and Magoo’s debut album, Welcome to Our World. Obviously this is essentially an Aaliyah record with Timbo tacked on the end. Magoo doesn’t even show up! But since it’s their album, Aaliyah gets the feature credit here, so I’m not wrong, just cheating a little. The song is all that’s great about early-era Supafriends – Aaliyah’s light vocals juxtaposed by Missy’s quirky lyrics, along with Timbo’s haunting production and boundless cool factor. Also, shout out to Nas’ “You Won’t See Me Tonight,” which features Aaliyah on the hook and was a HIT in the making. Should have been pushed as a legit single.
What’s Aaliyah’s best video?
Shaquille: “More Than a Woman”
This is a really tough one, her three most iconic videos are “Try Again,” because it was her biggest crossover record, “Rock The Boat,” because of her passing and “Are You That Somebody,” since everyone wanted to learn that choreography, it being made for Dr. Dolittle & that beat being so crazy and different from anything anyone had heard ever before. However, none of those are her best, her best video is “More Than A Woman,” the cinematography, choreography and the outfits she wore in this video are unmatched, this was peak Aaliyah visuals. I think “We Need A Resolution” also has a strong case for best visual because of the snake scenes and she gave us some of her best looks aesthetically but I think “More Than A Woman” still is a better all around music video.
Edd: “Are You That Somebody”
I feel you on “More Than a Woman” but the CGI really bugged me on that one, even back in 2001. Looked like she was dancing around in a $19.99 Playstation 1 game. You mentioned it but didn’t go all the way with “Are You That Somebody” but I will, and it’s all about the choreography. Like “One in a Million,” this was another track that absolutely stunned audiences – that bizarre baby coo had us utterly confused but endlessly entertained in 98. But it takes more than an insane beat to make an iconic video – peak 90s fashions, Aaliyah randomly playing with a raptor, clips of the Nutty Professor flashing against the old Batcave set from the 1966 show, and an incredible flamenco dance finale that had everyone trying to learn those steps. Man, I miss music videos.
Romeo Must Die or Queen Of The Damned – which movie is your go-to?
Shaquille: Romeo Must Die
Romeo Must Die, It has much more replay value than “QOTD” and it’s just flat out a better movie. She does a great job in both of her roles but In “QOTD” it takes too long for her to appear in the movie, she doesn’t show up until about an hour into the movie but when she does appear she steals the show, “QOTD” definitely showed her range as actress and proved she could do more than just the traditional roles singers take when going from musician to actress.
Edd: Lord, can I choose neither? Look, I loved Aaliyah as an artist but as the church folks would say, “acting just ain’t your ministry, baby.” At least not yet – maybe that Matrix role would have transformed her into Octavia Spencer. I guess I’ll pick Romeo Must Die – soundtrack was fun, at least.
If we didn’t tragically lose Aaliyah in 2001, where do you think her career would be today?
Shaquille: This question is hard to answer because you never really know what anyone would become when you lose them so young, I think many people forget she was only 22 when we lost her and don’t realize that most people are nowhere near their peak at 22. If we lost Drake, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rihanna, etc., at 22 and I told you they’d be where they are today you’d think I was crazy.
However, if I had to guess where her career would be today, I’d have to say that I think she would be a huge film star by now considering she already had roles in the Matrix sequels lined up, along with her planning to star in “Sparkle.” I think she would’ve continued to become bigger in that field along with releasing a few more albums, there was already a five-year gap between her second and third album and I think that would’ve become expected for her albums, especially since she was enamored with Sade and how she could leave music for years and come back and still be very much relevant. She potentially could’ve had a clothing line or makeup line by now, and I think that if she was here today she would be regarded as a brand instead of just a musician. Ultimately, I can’t definitively say what she would be doing or where she would be, but I do know that whatever it is, it would be nothing short of greatness.
Edd: Yeah man, this is a very difficult question. I’ve seen the Miss Cleos and Nastradmuses on Twitter predict that if Aaliyah was still here, she’d have Beyonce’s current spot and be the biggest star in the galaxy. Slow down Staniel, that’s a pretty big assumption.
It’s hard to predict this because you have to realize just how drastically R&B shifted at the turn of the decade. As Shaquille mentioned, Aaliyah was just 22 when she died (we were the same age; her death was a shocking lesson of mortality for my generation). However, it’s also very clear that she was interested in a movie career. It’s very possible that her film career could have taken off and music would become less of a priority, especially when R&B got topsy-turvy by 2009 or so. Also, we can’t forget about the passing of close collaborator Static in 2008, that may have taken a toll as well. There are so many factors.
But if I had to guess, if she decided to stay committed to music – and due to Timbaland’s continued dominance of the decade – she would remain a headliner for years to come, being a big player in music, film and even fashion, though she definitely would have slowed down over the years. I see her reaching Rihanna current levels at best.
And yes, Beyonce would still be around and still be a big deal, stop comparing the two.
Which current-day artists would you have liked to see Aaliyah collaborate with?
Shaquille: Definitely Drake because “Talk is Cheap” is a great posthumous record of Aaliyah, Static and Drake so I feel that there was potential there. Other than that there’s not too many newer artists I would’ve liked to see her work with, she could’ve made a great record with a SZA, Summer Walker or Jhene Aiko but it’s not something I think she would’ve really been interested in, if she was collaborating today it’d probably be with someone unique from other genres because she loved being different, experimenting and doing things her way rather then the conceptual way. I wish she would’ve gotten her dream collabs with Janet Jackson and D’Angelo that she wanted so badly rather than see her collab with current day artists just because they’re popular right now.
Edd: Sigh, Aubrey. Yeah, I mean Drake would be an OK pick I guess but I’m still creeped out by that giant Aaliyah tat on his back. That’s some Criminal Minds unsub stuff right there. The easy pick would be someone like The Weeknd, who basically screenshotted the Aaliyah album to create his original sound. But nah, I’d rather hear her duet with a strong male vocalist like Luke James or Gallant or see some dope choreography with Teyana Taylor in a classic video.
What’s the first song you’re playing when Aaliyah’s discography FINALLY hits streaming services?
Shaquille: “One In A Million” it’s my favorite song of all time & the song that led to my love and appreciation for her entire discography. Technically the first song I’ll be playing is “Beats 4 Da Streets (Intro)” because I’ll be playing “One In A Million” the full album first and that’s the first song on it but as far as the song I’m most looking forward to finally being able to stream is definitely “One In A Million.”
Edd: You Internet sleuths haven’t tracked down Uncle Barry yet so he can free up Aaliyah’s discography? The fact that it’s been withheld this long has gone from criminal to downright insane. First thing I’m playing is “Messed Up” or “We Need a Resolution” because both describe how I’ve felt about the situation all these years.
Is Aaliyah an R&B legend?
Shaquille: OF COURSE, she passed 20 years ago and you still see her impacting the current generation today. An artist with this body of work by the age 22 makes her undoubtedly a legend, most artists don’t scratch the surface of what she did in 22 years in their entire lifetime. She has the impact, two top-tier classic albums, classic singles and the respect from her peers as being regarded as such so I think this is an emphatic yes.
Edd: Listen playas, y’all know how stingy I am with the term “legend.” As I’ve said a million times, if EVERYONE is a legend, NO ONE is a legend. And when it comes to Aaliyah and that magic term, I go back and forth on it a lot. No pun intended, I promise.
Aaliyah’s situation is so unique. Was she a legend before she passed? No. She was an extremely successful singer – even groundbreaking, as a I stated before. But that’s not necessarily “legendary.” Even her beloved final album failed to break records when it was first released – it wasn’t until after she left us that it took off. Don’t get mad at me, go check the numbers.
That said, Aaliyah’s legacy was built in the afterlife. The countless artists who have mimicked her style, how her singles have become defining moments for late 90s R&B, how both the One in a Million and Aaliyah albums redefined music – with the latter STILL shaping modern music today. Sadly, she’s not here to see her greatest triumphs but yeah, I think it’s fair to say her contributions have become legendary.
Who got it right, Shaquille or Edd? Let us know down below.