The story of R&B singer Aaliyah will be told in movie form later this year when Lifetime airs a biopic based around her short life. Young entertainer Zendaya Coleman, best known as an actress from the Disney Channel show Shake It Up, will be taking on the lead role and singing four of Aaliyah’s songs. Sadly, Aaliyah’s discography was rather short with just three albums recorded before her tragic passing in August of 2001. Though the quantity was small, the quality of the music she left behind was not only timeless, but massive.
There was no beating down the force she owned in music and there will never be another like “Baby Girl”. Here are five songs that will hopefully make their way to the Aaliyah movie in some form (even if Coleman is only singing four of them):
Back and Forth | Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number (1994)
“Now, let me see you go back…”
Of course, every story has a beginning. Although the rise to stardom began for Aaliyah well before her first single dropped (she appeared on Star Search five years before), the world came to know the then 15-year-old through the primary single of her first album. The hip-hop influenced jam, all about a girl getting ready for the weekend, would become her first top five hit for the Billboard charts. The party was just beginning for Aaliyah and sure enough, everyone who heard the opening chords to the track was ready to get down along with her.
At Your Best (You Are Love) | Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number (1994)
“If you ever feel the need to wonder why, let me know…”
One of Aaliyah’s earliest and most memorable songs is actually a cover. The track was originally recorded by the legendary Isley Brothers back in 1976. It was dedicated to their mother. Aaliyah’s take on the song showed off a much softer side to the phenom. With a soulful voice that surpassed her youth, At Your Best peaked at number 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. A remix was also released that featured a different instrumentation and an intro by her then producer, R. Kelly.
Side note: the title is often mistaken for Let Me Know.
If Your Girl Only Knew | One In A Million (1996)
“”If your girl only knew that I was tryin’ to kick it wit’ you, what would she do…”
The sophomore slump has nearly ended the careers of many other artists. Some try too hard to replicate a sound that made them known in the first place; others attempt a new way that differs too far from their introduction to music listeners. When it came to the first single from Aaliyah’s second album, she took a risk and worked with two new producers, Timbaland and Missy Elliott. Neither one had yet obtained the success they are known for today, but the fresh spin in their music styles were prominent from the first note.
Even Aaliyah changed up her vocal style. Playing less as the “homegirl” from around the block and more as a sultry young woman coming into her own, the song helped to push her in a new light and inevitably, it was that push that would take her from a singer to a superstar.
Are You That Somebody? | Dr. Doolittle Soundtrack (1998)
“Sometimes I’m goody-goody; right now, I’m naughty-naughty…”
One thing that Aaliyah became noted for was having a song that took over for most of the summer (“If Your Girl Only Knew” was released in August of 1996, for example). One of her most popular up-tempo tracks from another soundtrack (Try Again from Romeo Must Die) would not come for another two years, but her first track that was tied to a film was massive from the start. Furthermore, it somehow managed to become more popular than the movie it was actually connected to.
With producer Timbaland at the helm once more, the flamenco-influenced song (there was even a dance that reflected to the style of music in the video) changed the game once again and showed the originality that made Aaliyah such a force to be reckoned with. Listening to it almost 16 years later, it still feels as fresh as the day it was released.
More Than A Woman | Aaliyah (2001)
“I’ll be more than a lover, more than a woman, more than another…”
The video for this song would be released following her all too soon death in August of 2001. In essence, the title holds true to who Aaliyah Dana Haughton really was: a powerful female who had accomplished so much in a short amount of time. The clip, which sees the singer performing inside of a motorcycle of all things, carried the smooth, yet danceable groove of the song into the minds of many of her fans.
To see her ride off into the night sky in the video makes things all the more emotional. The music world, as well as the world in general, lost a truly great talent that August day and she will forever be missed.
And because, of course, nothing is complete without a proper bonus track:
Journey to the Past | Anastasia Original Soundtrack (1998)
“Courage, see me through; heart, I’m trusting you to bring me home at last…”
Every once in a while, a great song can sometimes go unnoticed. Aaliyah definitely made her mark on the charts and with fans, but a gem from a soundtrack to an almost forgotten animated movie rarely gets the mention it deserves. One of her most beautiful and most important, the song opened a new door for the young starlet. Her rendition (it was recorded by another artist for the actual movie) was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar in 1998. Aaliyah performed the song live during the telecast.
It would lose to another song from a huge movie (My Heart Will Go On from Titanic), but it continued to show the special factor within Aaliyah that made the world take notice. Coleman and the crew of the movie definitely have a lot to live up to. People will definitely be watching to make sure that it does.
Opinion by Jonathan Brown