Aaliyah worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album, One in a Million; it sold 3.7 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. In 2000, Aaliyah appeared in her first major film, Romeo Must Die. She contributed to the film's soundtrack, which spawned the single "Try Again". The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 solely on airplay, making Aaliyah the first artist in Billboard history to achieve this feat. "Try Again" earned Aaliyah a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist.
After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her part in Queen of the Damned. She released her third and final album, Aaliyah, in July 2001. On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in an airplane crash in The Bahamas after filming the music video for the single "Rock the Boat". The pilot, Luis Morales III, was unlicensed at the time of the accident and had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. Aaliyah's family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackhawk International Airways, which was settled out of court. Since then, Aaliyah's music has continued to achieve commercial success with several posthumous releases. Aaliyah is estimated to have sold 24 to 32 million albums worldwide. She has been credited for helping redefine contemporary R&B and hip hop, earning her the nicknames "Princess of R&B" and "Queen of Urban Pop". She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years, and 27th most successful R&B artist overall.
1979–90: Early life and career beginnings
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York. Born of African American descent, with Native American heritage from her grandmother, she was the second and younger child of Diane and Michael Haughton. At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled in voice lessons by her mother, and she would perform at weddings, church choir and charity events. When she was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad. She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where she received a part in the stage play Annie in first grade. From then on, she was determined to become an entertainer. Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight. As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television programs, including Family Matters; she went on to appear on Star Search at the age of nine. She then auditioned for several record labels and appeared in concerts alongside Knight at age 11.
1991–95: Age Ain't Nothing but a Number and marriage
After Hankerson signed a distribution deal with Jive Records, he signed Aaliyah to his Blackground Records label at the age of 12. Hankerson later introduced her to recording artist and producer R. Kelly, who became Aaliyah's mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of the album, which was recorded when she was 14. Aaliyah's debut album, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, was released under Jive and Blackground Records; the album debut at number 24 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 74,000 copies in its first week. It ultimately peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over three million copies in the United States, where it was certified two times Platinum by the RIAA. In Canada, the album sold over 50,000 copies and was certified gold by the CRIA. Aaliyah's debut single, "Back & Forth", topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for three weeks and was certified Gold by the RIAA. The second single, a cover of The Isley Brothers' "At Your Best (You Are Love)", peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also certified Gold by the RIAA. The title track, "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number", peaked at number 75 on the Hot 100. Additionally, she released "The Thing I Like" as part of the soundtrack to the 1994 film A Low Down Dirty Shame.
Age Ain't Nothing But a Number received generally favorable reviews from music critics. Some writers noted that Aaliyah's "silky vocals" and "sultry voice" blended with Kelly's new jack swing helped define R&B in the 1990s. Her sound was also compared to that of female quartet En Vogue. Christopher John Farley of Time magazine described the album as a "beautifully restrained work", noting that Aaliyah's "girlish, breathy vocals rode calmly on R. Kelly's rough beats". Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic felt that the album had its "share of filler", but described the singles as "slyly seductive". He also claimed that the songs on the album were "frequently better" than that of Kelly's second studio album, 12 Play.
With the release of Age Ain't Nothing but a Number, rumors circulated of a relationship between Aaliyah and R. Kelly. Shortly after, there was speculation about a secret marriage with the release of "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" and the adult content that Kelly had written for Aaliyah. Vibe magazine later revealed a marriage certificate that listed the couple married on August 31, 1994, in Sheraton Gateway Suites in Rosemont, Illinois. Aaliyah, who was 15 at the time, was listed as 18 on the certificate; the illegal marriage was annulled in February 1995 by her parents. The pair continued to deny marriage allegations, stating that neither was married. Aaliyah was engaged to co-founder of Roc-A-Fella Records Damon Dash at the time of her death and had plans to marry him after the premiere of The Matrix.
1996–99: One in a Million
In 1996, Aaliyah left Jive Records and signed with Atlantic Records. She worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who contributed to her second studio album, One in a Million. The album yielded the single "If Your Girl Only Knew", which topped the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for two weeks. It also generated the singles "Hot Like Fire" and "4 Page Letter". The following year, Aaliyah was featured on Timbaland & Magoo's debut single, "Up Jumps da Boogie". One in a Million peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200, selling over 3.7 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. The album was certified double platinum by the RIAA on June 16, 1997, denoting shipments of two million copies.
Aaliyah attended the Detroit High School for the Performing Arts, where she majored in drama and graduated in 1997. Aaliyah began her acting career that same year; she played herself in the police drama television series New York Undercover. During this time, Aaliyah participated in the Children's Benefit Concert, a charity concert that took place at the Beacon Theatre in New York. Aaliyah also became the spokesperson for Tommy Hilfiger Corporation. She contributed on the soundtrack album for the Fox Animation Studios animated feature Anastasia, performing a cover version of "Journey to the Past" which earned songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Aaliyah performed the song at the 1998 Academy Awards ceremony and became the youngest singer to perform at the event. The song "Are You That Somebody?" was featured on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack, which earned Aaliyah her first Grammy Award nomination. The song peaked at number 21 on the Hot 100.
2000–01: Romeo Must Die and eponymous album
In 2000, Aaliyah landed her first major movie role in Romeo Must Die. Aaliyah starred opposite martial artist Jet Li, playing a couple who fall in love amid their warring families. It grossed US$18.6 million in its first weekend, ranking number two at the box office. In addition to acting, Aaliyah served as an executive producer of the film soundtrack, where she contributed four songs. "Try Again" was released as a single from the soundtrack; the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, making Aaliyah the first artist to top the chart based solely on airplay; this led the song to be released in a 12" vinyl and 7" single. The music video won the Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film awards at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. It also earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist. The soundtrack went on to sell 1.5 million copies in the United States. After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah began to work on her second film, Queen of the Damned. She played the role of an ancient vampire, Queen Akasha, which she described as a "manipulative, crazy, sexual being". She was scheduled to film for the sequels of The Matrix as the character Zee.
Her the third and final studio album, Aaliyah, was released on July 17, 2001, under Blackground and Virgin Records. Preparation for the album started in 1998 but, with the filming of martial arts film Romeo Must Die (2000), Aaliyah postponed the recording of the album. Artists Timbaland and Missy Elliott, who were both major contributors on previous album One in a Million, were involved in disagreements with Aaliyah's label Blackground Records at the time and did not work on the project. Blackground owner Barry Hankerson envisioned another label similar to Bad Boy on the West Coast, and consulted lesser known writers and producers signed to his publishing company. These artists included Bud'da, Jeffrey "J-Dub" Walker, and Rapture, and E. Seats of Keybeats. Stephen "Static Major" Garrett of the R&B trio Playa, who had written the Aaliyah's previous singles "Are You That Somebody? and "Try Again", became involved in the project. Much of the album was completed in various studios throughout New York City prior to Aaliyah's trip to Australia for the filming of Queen of the Damned (2002). While recording process lasted more than a year, most of the tracks were completed by early 2000, when the production team and songwriters had secured recording time at New York Sound King Studios to work on the album together. In September 2000, Virgin Records flew the group out to Australia, where it spent a month recording the majority of the album at the Sing Sing Studio in Melbourne with Aaliyah. With three recording studios going simultaneously, producers J-Dub, Bud’da and Keybeats each worked in separate rooms. During the sessions, Garrett and co-writer Digital Black would move from studio to studio to check each producer's progress. At peak periods, they would work on 10 songs at the same time. With filming ending in Australia in December 2000, production of the album went into full-force in America and Europe.
The first single, "We Need a Resolution", featured Timbaland and was released in late April in the United States. The song reached number fifty nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the issue dated June 9, 2001, and remained on the chart for sixteen weeks. "We Need a Resolution" reached the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart and the top 30 in Canada. The music video was premiered on Much More Music, Black Entertainment Television's (BET) 106 & Park and MTV's TRL on April 26, 2001. "Rock the Boat", the second single, was released in early August. Aaliyah started promotion for the expected second single "More Than a Woman", but the single was pushed back because her label felt "Rock the Boat" was a summer single that needed to be released. "Rock the Boat" was the second single in America while and the third single internationally. On the Billboard Hot 100, the song entered the chart September 8, 2001, at number fifty-seven and peaked at number 14 in its twelfth week. The song stayed on the chart for twenty-five weeks. The third single, "More Than a Woman," was released in November 2001. Promotion for the single started in July 2001 but was pushed back. In the Billboard Hot 100, the song entered the chart dated issue February 2, 2002, at number seventy-one and peaked at number twenty-five in its ninth week. The song stayed in the chart for twenty-four weeks. The song ranked fifty-eighth on the 2002 year-end chart. On January 13, 2002, the song became Aaliyah's only number one hit in the United Kingdom, selling 32,081 copies for that week. It became the first time in UK chart history that a posthumous release had taken over from another posthumous release when the song was replaced by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord", and the first time that a woman had a posthumous number one single. All together, the single has sold 347,563 copies in the United Kingdom. The song reached the top twenty in Ireland and Switzerland. "I Refuse", the fourth single (France only), was released as a double A-side single along with "More Than a Woman". "I Refuse" was a moderate hit, peaking in at 12 its first week in the top 30 in France. "I Care 4 U", the fifth single (US only), was released on Mother's Day 2002. It managed to reach number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number three on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Although the single was only released in the U.S., the song achieved minor airplay on R&B stations in Europe.
Aaliyah entered the US Billboard 200 and the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums at number two, with 190,000 copies sold in the first week. Within 5 weeks of the album release it was certified Gold for sales/shipments 500,000 copies in the United States. In the week of her death (seventh week) the album rose to number one on the Billboard 200 and two on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums with 337,073 copies sold and more than 1,000,000 shipments in the total. As a percentage of sales increased 800%, making the biggest increase in sales in history. The album was certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of 2,000,000 copies in the US. It also became the third album from Aaliyah to receive the award of multi-platinum. The album has sold more 2.95 million copies in the US. The album spent 188 weeks on the Billboard 200. Physical copies of the album are out of print in the U.S. It is available for download in iTunes. The album debuted at number two on the charts worldwide, with more than 330,000 copies sold. In the week of her death the album rose from number 25 to number 1, with more than 888,000 copies sold. Until the release of I Care 4 U (December 2002), the album had sold in excess of 9 million copies worldwide. As of December 2008, the album sold more than 13 million copies worldwide (12 million physical copies and 1 million downloads via the Internet). The album is Aaliyah's highest-selling in the world.
2001: Death, Funeral and wrongful death lawsuit
On August 25, 2001, at 6:45 pm (EST), Aaliyah and various members of the record company boarded a twin-engine Cessna 402B (registration N8097W) at the Marsh Harbour Airport in Abaco Islands, The Bahamas, to travel to the Opa-locka Airport in Florida, after they completed filming the music video for the single "Rock the Boat". They had a flight scheduled the following day, but with filming finishing early, Aaliyah and her entourage were eager to return to the United States and made the decision to leave immediately. The designated airplane was smaller than the Cessna 404 in which they had originally flown. The whole party and all of the equipment were accommodated on board. As a result, when the aircraft attempted to depart, it was over its maximum takeoff weight by 700 pounds (320 kg) and was carrying one excess passenger, according to its certification. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway. Aaliyah and the eight others on board, pilot Luis Morales III, hair stylist Eric Forman, Anthony Dodd, security guard Scott Gallin, video producer Douglas Kratz, stylist Christopher Maldonado, and Blackground Records employees Keith Wallace and Gina Smith, were all killed.
According to findings from an inquest, conducted by the coroner's office in The Bahamas, Aaliyah suffered from "severe burns and a blow to the head", in addition to severe shock and a weak heart. The coroner theorized that, even if Aaliyah had survived the crash, her recovery would have been virtually impossible given the severity of her injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report stated that "the airplane was seen lifting off the runway, and then nose down, impacting in a marsh on the south side of the departure end of runway 27 and then exploding in flames." It indicated that the pilot was not approved to pilot the plane he was attempting to fly. Morales falsely obtained his Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) license by showing hundreds of hours never flown, and he may also have falsified how many hours he had flown in order to get a job with his employer, Blackhawk International Airways. Additionally, an autopsy performed on Morales revealed traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. The NTSB reported that the maximum allowed gross weight of the plane was "substantially exceeded" and that the center of gravity was positioned beyond its rear limit. John Frank of the Cessna Pilots Association stated that the plane was "definitely overloaded".
Aaliyah's funeral was held on August 31, 2001, at the Saint Ignatius Loyola Church in New York. Her body was set in a silver casket, which was carried in a glass hearse and was drawn by horse. An estimated 800 mourners were in attendance of the procession. Among those in attendance at the private ceremony were Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Gladys Knight, Lil' Kim and Sean Combs. After the service, 22 white doves were released to symbolize each year of Aaliyah's life. She was interred in a crypt in a private room in the Rosewood Mausoleum at the Ferncliff Cemetery.
The day of the crash was Morales' first official day with Blackhawk International Airways, an FAA Part 135 single-pilot operation. Morales was not registered with the FAA to fly for Blackhawk. As a result of the accident, Aaliyah's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, which was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Barry & Sons, Inc., a corporation formed in 1992 to develop, promote and capitalize Aaliyah and to oversee the production and distribution of her records and music videos, brought an unsuccessful lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court against Instinct Productions LLC, the company that was hired in August 2001 to produce the music video for "Rock the Boat". The case was dismissed because of New York's wrongful death statute only permitting certain people to recover damages for wrongful death.
2001–11: I Care 4 U, canceled film roles and Ultimate Aaliyah
The week after Aaliyah's death, her third studio album, Aaliyah, rose from number 19 to number one on the Billboard 200. "Rock the Boat" was released as a posthumous single. The music video premiered on BET's Access Granted; it became the most viewed and highest rated episode in the history of the show. The song peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It was also included on the Now That's What I Call Music! 8 compilation series; a portion of the album's profits was donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund. The following two singles from Aaliyah, "More than a Woman" and "I Care 4 U", peaked within the top 25 of the Billboard Hot 100. The album was certified double Platinum by the RIAA and sold 2.95 million copies in the United States. "More than a Woman" reached number one in the UK singles chart making Aaliyah the first deceased artist to reach number one in the UK single chart. "More than a Woman" was replaced by George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" which is the only time in the UK singles chart history where a dead artist has replaced another dead artist at number one.
She won two posthumous awards at the American Music Awards of 2002; Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B/Soul Album for Aaliyah. Her second and final film, Queen of the Damned, was released in February 2002. Before its release, Aaliyah's brother, Rashad, re-dubbed some of her lines during post-production. It grossed US$15.2 million in its first weekend, ranking number one at the box office. On the first anniversary of Aaliyah's death, a candlelight vigil was held in Times Square; millions of fans observed a moment of silence; and throughout the United States, radio stations played her music in remembrance. In December 2002, a collection of previously unreleased material was released as Aaliyah's first posthumous album, I Care 4 U. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the Aaliyah Memorial Fund, a program that benefits the Revlon UCLA Women Cancer Research Program and Harlem's Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, selling 280,000 copies in its first week. The album's lead single, "Miss You", peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In August of the following year, clothing retailer Christian Dior donated profits from sales in honor of Aaliyah.
Aaliyah was signed to appear in several future films, including Honey (recast to Jessica Alba). Some Kind of Blue and a Whitney Houston-produced remake of the 1976 film Sparkle were canceled due to Aaliyah's death. Before her death, Aaliyah had filmed part of her role in The Matrix Reloaded and was scheduled to appear in The Matrix Revolutions as Zee. The role was later recast to Nona Gaye. Aaliyah's scenes were later included in the tribute section of the Matrix Ultimate Collection series.
In 2005, Aaliyah's second compilation album, Ultimate Aaliyah was released in the UK by Blackground Records. Ultimate Aaliyah is a three disc set, which included a greatest hits audio CD and a DVD. Andy Kellman of Allmusic remarked "Ultimate Aaliyah adequately represents the shortened career of a tremendous talent who benefited from some of the best songwriting and production work by Timbaland, Missy Elliott, and R. Kelly." A documentary movie Aaliyah Live in Amsterdam was released in 2011., shortly before the tenth anniversary of Aaliyah's death. The documentary, by Pogus Caesar, contained previously unseen footage shot of her career beginnings in 1995 when she was appearing in the Netherlands.
2012–present: Second posthumous album
In 2012 music producer Jeffrey "J-Dub" Walker via twitter said "Just got great news today; the smash unreleased song called "Steady Ground" I produced on #Aaliyah is gonna be on her upcoming album:)". Walker co-wrote "I Refuse" and "What if" from Aaliyah's third self-titled album and produced the song "Steady Ground" for her 'One in a Million' album. This second proposed posthumous album would feature this song using demo vocals since Walker claims the originals were somehow lost by his sound engineer. However, Walker's original tweet announcing this event has since been removed, and Aaliyah's brother, via Twitter, has stated that "no official album [is] being released and supported by the Haughton family." On August 5, 2012 a song entitled "Enough Said" was released online. Thee song was produced by Noah "40" Shebib and features rapper Drake.