It’s Thursday, it’s 9am, and we continue on with the second installment of The Story of Pop: 2002. This week’s entry has a slightly more sadder tone than usual, for reasons that will become apparent as you read on, so let us begin…
- Artist: Aaliyah
- Song: More Than A Woman
- Released: 07/01/2002
- Writers / Producers: Timbaland / Stephen Garrett
- Highest UK Chart Position: #1
- Weeks on Chart: 13
2002 will forever be remembered by fans of R&B and hip-hop music as a tragic year; namely, as they were when the world had lost some of its leading pioneers of the two genres. One was TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, who was killed in a car crash in Honduras in April of this year, just months before the record breaking girl group were due to release their new album.
And eight months prior to that in 2001 was the loss of someone who many believe – present writer included – was on the verge of further greatness. Brooklyn born and Detroit raised Aaliyah Dana Houghton – known simply by her stage mononym of Aaliyah – had made her breakthrough in 1994 aged just 15, with the album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.
Both that and the follow-up album, 1996’s One In A Million, her first to be produced in collaboration with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, went onto collectively shift 6 million units in the States alone. For a long time, she was – to wider UK audiences, at least – US R&B’s best kept secret.
My first knowledge of Aaliyah had come in the summer of 2000, when “Try Again”, a pulsating, futuristic yet effortless slice of soul was released as a single from the soundtrack to Romeo Must Die, the Jet Li action movie which she starred in, alongside rapper DMX. At the time, it had become her biggest hit, reaching the UK top 5 in July of that year. It is still one of my all time favourite songs from that era.
I was majorly into her music from that point onwards, and curious to hear what she would do next. So too, evidently, was the rest of the music world. In July 2001, she released her self-titled third album, from which the first single, “We Need A Resolution”, had become a top 20 hit here and a hit on the Billboard charts across the pond, whilst the album itself entered at #2 there upon release.
Around this time, I distinctly remember her appearing on the cover of and being interviewed in NME. To put this in context, this happened at a time when the very rock-ist magazine rarely put anyone on its cover that didn’t look like they’d crawled out of a skip in Hoxton, much less a woman of colour singing R&B and soul music. But it was clear that the oft touted ‘Princess of R&B’ was obtaining a transcending crossover appeal in a way that few others had had before.
So when a month later, the news reached my ears, listening to Radio 1 Newsbeat on 25th August 2001, that she had been killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas just days after filming a new video for her upcoming single “Rock The Boat” aged just 22, I was saddened and could scarcely believe it. This was absolutely not how the story was supposed to end, when it had only just seemed to have got started.
It sent shockwaves through the industry as tributes were paid, and support for her then available album saw it to the top of the US album chart and over 3 million copies sold. But it did leave Aaliyah’s label with a problem as to whether or not to press ahead with further promotion of the record that was lined up. As the world mourned the loss of a shining star, they bided their time, and eventually released the sensual but supremely confident sounding “More Than A Woman” as the album’s second single, and undoubtedly its highlight, in the US in October of that year.
The UK release followed 20 years ago this very month, in January 2002. Selling over 32,000 copies in its first week, it gave her a posthumous number one single – making Aaliyah the first woman to achieve this feat – and also made her part of another unique chart distinction, as a week later, the song vacated the top spot to make way for a re-release of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (The Beatles legend had also passed away in November 2001), marking the first time one posthumous artist had replaced another at the top of the UK chart.
Over two decades on from her untimely passing though, and this year is set to mark her memory in the best way possible; all her albums have now become available on streaming platforms as of last November, whilst they will also receive vinyl releases staggered across 2022. Hopefully therefore, it reminds a new generation of the promising impact and legacy Aaliyah left for us, meaning she will never be forgotten.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF AALIYAH: 1979 – 2001
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