Aaliyah Dana Haughton accomplished much in the 22 years she was afforded. She recorded three seminal R&B albums, all of which sold at least one million records. She starred in a hit movie. She worked with nearly everyone who was popping in the industry from 1994 to 2001, a list that includes Ginuwine, Treach, Jermaine Dupri, Static Major, Missy Elliott, and Timbaland. More importantly, while working alongside those people, she developed a sound that’s lived on and influenced an entirely new generation of artists, R&B and otherwise. You can hear Aaliyah’s influence all through the music industry right now.
Aaliyah is best remembered for her genre-bending collaborations with Timbaland. Starting with her sophomore album, One in a Million (which arrived on streaming services in August, 25 years after its release), the two, along with Missy Elliott and other Blackground Records producers, crafted a space-age funk feeling with a string of hits that left an indelible mark on popular music. But it all began in 1994, with her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number. The album was written and produced entirely by R. Kelly, who was introduced to the young Aaliyah by her uncle, Blackground Records founder Barry Hankerson. (Kelly’s relationship with the singer has come under increased scrutiny in light of disturbing facts that have surfaced in recent years.) Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number introduced the world to a daring young woman equipped with a stunning voice just starting to explore the terrain of love, lust, and trust. And the releases that followed, the last of which, Aaliyah, arrived a little more than a month before the singer’s death, further cemented her star.
Here are the 25 best songs of Aaliyah’s brief but extraordinary career.