Tragically on August 25, 2001, at the age of 22, R&B singer, songwriter and aspiring actress Aaliyah Dana Haughton, was killed. Aaliyah, known worldwide by her single moniker, perished in a plane crash off the Bahamas after filming the video for the Hype Williams-directed “Rock the Boat,” a single from her third, self-titled album.
A decade later, the music world still feels the ache, sadness, and vacancy left by the beautiful, incandescent and talented young angel’s shocking and untimely death. Aaliyah’s career was aglow, and she was on the path to superstardom, paving the way for today’s young female chart toppers like Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and others.
Aaliyah, whose first name means “exalted” in Arabic, dropped her first album Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number at the tender age of 14. Her introduction to the music scene was produced by mega-selling R&B crooner R. Kelly. The musical duo were rumored to have married when Aaliyah was barely 15 and Kelly was over 27.
The scandal surrounding the marriage issue was brought front and center when hip-hop magazine Vibe ran a story based on a single document. Vibe declared that Aaliyah and R. Kelly had secretly tied the knot summer of 1994 in Rosemont, Illinois. In spite of Vibe’s article, there has been substantial information to the contrary stating that Aaliyah and R. Kelly had in fact never tied the knot.
For her sophomore outing, 1996’s One in a Million, the Brooklyn-born, Detroit-raised sensation collaborated with then musical unknowns Missy Elliot and Timbaland. Elliot and Timbaland were just getting started in the highly competitive producing and songwriting market. Shortly after One in a Million scored double-platinum, Elliot and Timbaland became hot commodities as a collaborative force and as solo hit makers, but Aaliyah was their musical muse and pairing, with her atributed to the status they acheived.
Aaliyah was the voice behind the flirty, fluid, heart-stirring and sexy hits, “We Need Resolution,” “Back and Forth,” “Try Again,” “One in a Million” and “Are You that Somebody” (from the blockbuster Eddie Murphy film Dr.Dolittle). Aaliyah uncovered another layer in her skillful arsenal by revealing and showcasing her acting chops in 2000’s Romeo Must Die and as a vampire queen in Anne Rice’s best-selling novel turned movie, 2002’s Queen of the Damned. Aaliyah was signed on to join the cast of the two Matrix sequels before her unexpected passing.
Bahamian investigators speculated and controversy billowed that the twin-engine Cessna 402B (N8097W) plane Aailyah was on at the time of the crash was at least 700 lbs over its maximum weight. Eager to return home after the video shoot wrapped early, and against the advice of baggage handlers and the pilot, all the equipment from the shoot was piled on the plane.
Sadly, the fated group was unaware that the returning aircraft wasn’t capable of carrying all of the equipment that their arriving 404 Cessna had. Gorged, the plane exceeded the weight and tolerance limit, which consequently led to the crash moments after takeoff from Marsh Harbour, Abaco Island, Bahamas at about 200 feet (60 m) from the runway. It claimed the precious lives of Aaliyah, 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.
The 1990s was the generation that blended the trademark R&B and hip hop flavor that is commonplace in today’s artists, and Aaliyah was the reigning princess. Still, 10 years after her ill-fated passing, grief is deeply attached to Aaliyah as if that unfortunate day just happened yesterday instead of a decade ago. Many ponder just what this illuminating powerhouse could have been if she had lived and others wonder why it happened—why the universe took her away. One thing is clear, the world is united in mourning Aaliyah and imagining what her legacy would be today.