A remarkable tribute to her ability.
Daryl Easlea 2009
Aaliyah is a fascinating work; it shows a 22-year-old artist truly finding her direction, delivering well-tailored material with élan. It rode the nu- and neo-soul wave perfectly and made her two previous, not unaccomplished albums (Age Ain't Nothing but a Number and One in a Million) look like exercises in juvenilia. She had waited nearly five years to release Aaliyah – in the meantime she had been working in film and finishing school.
Produced and largely written by Timbaland, and mixed by veteran New York studio man Jimmy Douglass, the sound is still frighteningly contemporary, eschewing the obvious while not alienating the urban market. There are middle-eastern influences, hop-hop beats, RnB smoothness.
Opener We Need A Resolution – a duet with Timabland – demonstrates her strength. She was not a teenager anymore and the almost gothic setting over skeletal beats underlines this new maturity.
UK hit More Than A Woman is a standout. Over a grinding electronic backdrop, and a coda of dirty, squelchy synths, Aaliyah sings breathily and economically; I Care 4 U, a Missy Elliot co-write, would be a conventional ballad on a more obvious soul star's album. It's what Aaliyah doesn't do that make it still sound stunning – it would have been so easy to over-ladle the emoting here.
Aayliah will forever be seen through a lens of what happened next. Within a month of release, she died in a plane crash in the Bahamas returning from filming the video for Rock the Boat. The album became an enormous international hit. Just how huge a star she would have become is obvious throughout. Aayliah stands as remarkable tribute to her ability.