Aaliyah was feeling royally blessed while filming her starring role in 2002’s “Queen of the Damned,” the sequel to 1994’s “Interview With the Vampire.”
Not only was the “One in a Million” singer on her way to becoming a certified movie star — she had already starred alongside Jet Li in the action hit “Romeo Must Die” — but she was also recording her third album at night after long days of filming “Queen” in Melbourne, Australia, following her first No. 1 single, “Try Again,” in 2000.
“We all tripped off of that. She must have had some spinach,” Eric Seats — one of the main producers on Aaliyah’s self-titled final LP — told The Post. “She came in never complaining, always ready to work. She would do two or three songs a night and then go film [again]. Her superwoman powers were on point. When you’re hungry, nothing’s gonna stop you.”
But, unfortunately, something stood in the way of the rising star’s apparent ascension: Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001, just weeks after her self-titled album was released and following the filming of her “Rock the Boat” video in the Bahamas. The music world was rocked when Babygirl, as she was affectionately known by family, friends, and fans, died at the age of 22.
When she was just 15 years old, Aaliyah Haughton had already survived the scandal of a secret marriage to her mentor R. Kelly, the producer of her debut album, 1994’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.”
(According to the prosecution, Kelly got her a fake ID so that he could marry the underage Aaliyah, who was pregnant at the time, according to the prosecution — a claim Kelly denies.) Regardless of the controversy, it appeared as if Aaliyah was destined to win over and over again.
“She would have been the queen of the world right now,” said producer Jeffery “J.Dub” Walker, who also worked on Aaliyah’s last studio LP, also known as “The Red Album.” “She was on that trajectory. I’m just grateful to be a part of her legacy and to have experienced such an angel.”
Aaliyah was an angel whose sound — a futuristic fusion of R&B, pop, and hip-hop — and trendsetting style influenced everyone from Beyoncé and Rihanna to Justin Timberlake and Drake, who called her “the biggest influence on my music.”
Despite the fact that Aaliyah had already made a significant impact prior to her death, there was a sense that she was only getting started. “You’re talking about a seven-year career, but her identity was only taking shape in those last five years,” said Kathy Iandoli, author of “Baby Girl: Better Known as Aaliyah,” a new biography released this week. “The sky was literally the limit for her.”
Aaliyah’s career took off after her uncle and Blackground Entertainment label head Barry Hankerson landed her a deal with Jive Records — and then introduced his niece to R. Kelly — after she appeared on “Star Search” when she was just ten years old.
Kelly was Jive’s biggest star at the time, coming off of sexy hits like “Bump N’ Grind” and “Your Body’s Callin’,” and Aaliyah was just 12 when she first sang for him.
“Barry knew that Kelly could mold her into something more successful than anyone had ever imagined,” Iandoli writes of the pairing, which would eventually lead to a 14-year-old Aaliyah — then a freshman dance major at the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts — recording “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” with Kelly. And it was Kelly who wrote everything from her hit debut single, “Back & Forth,” to the title track, about a teenage girl wanting to seduce an older man: “Age ain’t nothing but a number/Throwin’ down ain’t nothing but a thing.”
“If you listen to the lyrics that R. Kelly had written for her, it was constantly her trying to provoke the older gentleman,” said Iandoli. “It was almost like he was trying to write his innocence into the music.”
“This wasn’t a love story,” Iandoli said, despite the fact that Aaliyah and Kelly secretly married in August 1994 without her parents’ knowledge (they had it annulled six months later). “It was just another example of how R. Kelly attempted to damage another young black woman. But you know what? She left the situation, she endured getting booed at concerts [by Kelly fans], she endured people not wanting to work with her out of fear of not being able to work with him.”
Despite her debut album’s success, Aaliyah switched labels to Atlantic Records. “She had to separate herself from R. Kelly and his camp in the best interests of her career,” said Emil Wilbekin, founder of Native Son and former editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine, which uncovered the marriage certificate falsely stating that Aaliyah was 18 at the time of the marriage, making it illegal.