Remembering Aaliyah: A Reflection on Her Triumphant and Transcendent Return to Cultural Dominance in 2021 (10/4/2021)

Since the end of August 2021, the world has been thrilled and revitalized with the presence of Aaliyah’s impressive musical catalog. After years of public disputes between her estate and her uncle, who reestablished and rebranded the infamous record label Blackground this year, the wait was finally over. However, the usual conflicts and financial woes were still very present, which initially left many fans feeling conflicted about streaming and purchasing her music. Yet, I believe this time, what preserved over the usual noise from both parties was Aaliyah’s cultural relevance. 

Despite what people have believed about her transcendent legacy, Aaliyah, much like her song, was more than a woman. Her artistry legacy has far surpassed the singer’s shortened lifespan and continues to break new records and expectations. In a day of streaming and platforms that support all things current and fresh, Aaliyah’s resurgence into cultural dominance has provided much to talk about and much to reconsider about the often guarded singer. 

What’s also undeniable is the lasting imprint that the singer left on the culture of fashion and beauty. I remember vividly watching and waiting to see what the beautiful songstress would wear or create as she attended award shows and appeared everywhere from print to the screen. I still possess several magazines that have Aaliyah’s beauty featured on the cover along with her trendsetting and, in my opinion, trend-creating looks. She essentially made the smokey eye look from several videos and photographic shoots in the late 90s. Ombre hair? Aaliyah began that trend in the late ’90s. Fem/tomboy chic? Aaliyah. The creative eye looks? Once again, Aaliyah. Bridging runway and hip-hop culture on the red carpet? Aaliyah. 

As I am seeing more of her photographs resurface this year, it literally blows my imagination how forward-thinking she actually was. Several female artists of today credit Aaliyah for their sense of style musically and fashion-wise. And overall, Aaliyah’s name has been dropped in countless music since her presence on the entertainment scene. 

In 2001, the world tragically witnessed the loss of the starlet alongside her crew after filming what would be her final music video. I was in my mid-teens. I couldn’t comprehend fully what and why this happened. I felt a sense of connection to her work for years, but it didn’t feel the same after her passing. Like many others, I often wanted to find a source to blame for such a tragic loss. However, I have grown to look at her life and her career with a very different lens. 

At the time, I hadn’t equated her career span in terms of how pivotal it really was. Sure she sold millions of records and was slated to appear in several movies. That was sort of par for the course with that era in terms of entertainment. However, as an adult that views time and achievements in a whole new light and my current profession, Aaliyah accomplished what most entertainers dream of achieving in 5 years. From 1996 to 2001, it’s comparable to a college student entering college, graduating with their Bachelors and then earning an accelerated Master’s Degree. 

And in many ways, it’s a very accurate assessment because she genuinely mastered her craft and essence. Aside from her first album, I don’t really consider that a part of her career that was very pivotal apart from the fashion esthetic that followed. Unfortunately, those years were shadowed by the unwelcomed and unwarranted abuse she endured. Furthermore, she had to unfairly shoulder the ramifications in an unforgiving and male-oriented industry and society.  

But, Aaliyah beat the odds and persevered to become a highly sought-after legend. Those years between the rebranding of her persona from the cool/chill girl to the beautiful young woman the world came to know, and revere were her shining moments. Since the re-release of her music, Aaliyah has charted as if it were 1996 and 2001 again. Her sophomore release, One in A Million, charted for the first time in the Top 10 after re-appearing on streaming platforms. And her final self-titled album Aaliyah and the posthumous release I Care 4 U charted at number one and number three, respectively. 

Over the years, the what-ifs and the what could’ve been were dominant themes when discussing her musical legacy and impact. But let’s look at it from a different perspective. Many of the experimental sounds and techniques that Aaliyah boldly tried are still happening in today’s musical climate. Her albums, aside from the era’s cultural references, still sounds like the future. R&B, Pop, and Hip Hop music have been blended together more than ever. Its creations have been the product of inspiration from Aaliyah. In addition, much credit also goes to the group of superproducers that welcomed her flair for innovation and ingenuity. 

There are thousands of artists today, but only a few will have music that stands the test of time. Aaliyah has more than proved that she can stand the test of time without physically being with us. New things are being revealed about the songstress’s impressive mark every day. Next year, I can guarantee that more artists will incorporate her work into their songs and performances. 

So, when I reflect on her triumphant and transcendent return, I choose to look at the impressive life story she lived. Her songs now take on anthems and inspirational qualities like never before. People can now actively see that Aaliyah was the consummate entertainer and that her life was well spent for the time she was given. In a time where many people were hardly brave enough to follow one dream, Aaliyah tackled and conquered many. Aaliyah’s love and warmth are now shining through her music again. And as time moves on, it will be wonderful to see the countless people and generations that will discover and rediscover her.