11 Years Without Aaliyah: A Friend & A Fan Reflect on An Angel

[Aaliyah Dana Haughton (January 16, 1979 – August 25, 2001)]

There are few times in life when you come across someone and know instantly that you are in the presence of greatness. Aaliyah was just that. A genuine, sweet, unpretentious spirit that drew me to her from our first meeting. Her warmth & infectious smile made those around her feel as if they’d known her forever. She needed no particular reason or benefit for being nice to me or others. She just was. Aaliyah was approachable & relatable yet, maintained a mystique that made her that much more intriguing. When we’d go out, fans would swarm. She’d excuse herself, take pictures, never refuse an autograph, answer questions & without missing a beat; pick up where our conversation left off. As we’d walk away, she’d sometimes mention to me how beautiful a fan was or how moved she was by something they’d said.

During my lifetime, I’ve encountered some of the biggest celebrity’s in the world from performing at the Grammy’s with Mariah Carey to regularly working out with Princess Diana in Chelsea Harbor. I’ve seen the “effect” fame has had on many. Aaliyah was NOT changed by her celebrity. She understood & appreciated success & all that came with it; while not allowing it to turn her into someone she wasn’t.

Aaliyah was the perfect name for her as she embodied it’s meaning.When I first learned of her passing, I was devastated & paralyzed with profound sorrow. She was just beginning to flourish & rise to superstardom. I knew that her untimely death meant the world would never get to experience the depth of her talent, charm, charisma and unparalleled beauty; inside & out.

Looking back, I see myself as blessed & lucky to have known her. I feel like one of the chosen one’s to have had her in my life. Many search a lifetime & never get to experience that kind of spirit. In a world where people’s motive & ways are constantly put into question, my time with & memories of Aaliyah remind me how special a life can be, when you live it as she did. The quality & impact of her short years with us will never be forgotten.

Aaliyah was truly “One in a Million”. R.I.P Baby Gurl. I love & miss you.

Ivan Matias (Songwriter/Producer/Artist)

I remember it like it was yesterday, Thanksgiving 1993. Like every year me and my family were over one of my aunts and after dinner, me and my cousins went into their room to watch BET. When we turned it on there was a special on R. Kelly, highlighting his career up until that point. Half way through the broadcast, Kells introduced his new artist that he had just signed Aaliyah. They were sitting in a diner in Chicago and from the moment they showed her I was in love! Before I heard her speak or I heard that angelic voice in her songs, to me at that time she was just fine! During the broadcast Aaliyah spoke on what it meant to her being signed by R. Kelly and they showed footage of her in the studio laying down tracks for her upcoming debut album “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.”

It would be the following summer before any music from Aaliyah was released and in May of 1994 “Back & Forth” dropped. I was extremely excited to finally have a single by the girl who I already had a crush on and for her single to be as we use to say at the time “the bomb,” that made it even better. I remember buying the single from my local Musicland and later seeing the video on BET’s Video Soul. I was so mesmerized by her beauty, confidence and hood swag, she was definitely my new favorite singer. I use to bring my walk-man to school and in my English class the teacher was so laid back he would let us listen as we worked on our daily assignment. My friend Ricky and I would always debate who was the bigger Janet Jackson fan to the point our friends would always laugh and give us tests to see who knew more about her. Once Aaliyah came on the scene, that was our new debate — who was the biggest Aaliyah fan! Once her debut album dropped the following month, all of my friends were Aaliyah fans!

In August of 1994, R. Kelly headlined the Budweiser Superfest with other acts like Heavy D, Warren G and Coolio, but I was most excited to see and hopefully meet the shows opening act Aaliyah! The day the show came to Minneapolis, I went and bought the flyest outfit I could find & me and my cousin Kenji headed downtown hours before the show to get our tickets from a scalper. We had learned in the past we could always get better and cheaper seats if we did it that way instead of buying in advance. We had a system where we knew where the tour buses were and how we could meet people working for the artists as well. This time was no different and was actually much better than previous times. We met someone who worked with Coolio, who sold us two front row seats for $20 each! We were geeked, I was going to see Aaliyah live from the front row, you couldn’t tell me ish! However once we made our way to the front of the arena to enter, we noticed a disturbing sign on the front door. “Aaliyah Will Not be Performing Tonight, If You Want A Refund Go to The Counter.” I damn near fell to the ground! Budweiser had dropped Aaliyah from the tour because of her age, the Minneapolis show was the first show after they made the decision, she had performed just the night before in Wisconsin. To say I was extremely disappointed was an understatement. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts and I never got the chance to see Aaliyah live before she passed.

As the years went on and Aaliyah’s career continued to blossom and grow bigger and bigger, my appreciation for her grew even stronger. The follow up album “One In A Million” was the best sophomore release by any artists of that decade next to Mary J Blige’s “My Life.” Timbaland and Missy Elliott took Aaliyah somewhere many knew she could go, but didn’t expect her to go so soon in her music. They created a sound unlike no other and Aaliyah represented it well! I remember seeing her apart of the Tommy Hilfiger campaign in 1997 and being so proud that she was stepping into other areas of the business outside of music. When I heard about her doing “Romeo Must Die” in an interview she did with Honey Magazine I was ecstatic, finally Aaliyah on the big screen, what could be better than that. She nailed that role, I remember going to see it in theaters at least 5 times while it was playing and giving it rave reviews to all my friends and family. When I watched it, I never once felt like I was watching a new actress on the screen, Aaliyah took that role and she owned it! There was nothing amateur about Aaliyah, even when she tried new things, her gift from God was to clearly entertain millions and that she did with ease.

The “Aaliyah” album was a turning point in R&B when it was released in 2001. The 90s were gone and the music was changing, Aaliyah and her contributors Static Major, Timbaland, Missy Elliott & Bud’da all realized that and took her project to the next level. There’s nothing I can say about that release that hasn’t been said a million of times, it was classic! I’ll never forget watching Aaliyah’s last appearance on 106 & Park and thinking how happy and excited she looked. Her vibe was just so relaxed and she was so confident in what she knew the Aaliyah album would do as far as set a trend and be appreciated for the body of work it was. The album was only out a month and like so many “Rock The Boat” was one of my favorites and I was excited to learn she was on her way to The Bahamas to film the video. The lyrical content of the song, Hype Williams directing and Aaliyah in the Bahamas for the visuals, there was no way the video wouldn’t be hot!

There are things in my life I will never forget, no matter how old I get and the early morning of August 25, 2001 is one of those times. I had went out with some friends to a club, in the best of moods to be with good friends, dancing and doing what we did which was act a fool. I remember when I exited the club I had over 10 missed calls and I for the life of me didn’t know why being that it was 3 in the morning. Considering a few was from my brother and a cousin I immediately called my brother back, fearing there was some bad news in the family they were trying to reach me to tell me. Without even listening to my voicemails, I called and the first thing out of his mouth was is Aaliyah dead? I stopped in my tracks as me and my friends were walking to my car and asked him why would he say that? He told me it was on the radio, but he didn’t believe it, he wouldn’t believe it until he saw it on MTV or I confirmed. Thinking it was just another one of those silly rumors that tend to hit the internet here and there. before the days of smart phones, the only way to log onto the internet was a computer. I told my brother to log onto my site (T M H Entertainment at the time) and go to the message board. I told him that if there might be some truth to it, there would be a thread about it, if there was no thread, it was not true. As I was walking to my car, I swear that seemed like the longest few minutes of my life as he got on the computer, logged on the the site and then the forum. By the time I made it to the lot my car was in someone was screaming “Aaliyah died NO!” My friend asked them where they heard it, they said the DJ at the club they attended announced it. As soon as they finished that sentence my brother said there is a thread that says “Aaliyah Died In A Plane Crash” that has 12 pages, which page should I click on. I dropped my phone as I sat down in my car and just held my head down for the longest time, my friends were in shock as well and just kind of stood there and nobody said anything for at least 5 minutes. I later broke down and cried once I made it home and read and saw pictures of the accident online. The first time in my life I had ever cried for someone passing away I had never met.

There was just no one like Aaliyah, her presence, her voice, her style, her swag, her confidence all embodied what every entertainer should have, but there was only one Aaliyah! I thank her family for giving us the angel we still mourn 11 years later. Aaliyah’s music was there in my life at so many turning points and important times in my life from “I Don’t Wanna” her song from the Next Friday soundtrack being one of me and my ex’s song. We had it on our voicemails for each other and sang it to each other often. So many songs in Aaliyah’s catalog hold a special memory for me because whatever she put out, I made sure I bought!

Aaliyah spoke to and for a whole generation, without even saying a word at times. She was the definition of a star and she is truly missed!

– Aries (Founder of UrbanBridgez.com)

22 Comments
  1. You know someone is special when 11 years later her music is still fresh & better then most artists out. Her music & beauty are timeless & classic!

    1. HER LAST CD COULD OF BEEN PUT OUT LAST WEEK AND SOUNDS AS REFRESHING AS ANYTHING OUT NOW. NICE READ BTW GLAD TO KNOW SHE LOVED US FANS SAME AS WE LOVED HER

  2. love this, i feel the same way i broke down into tears just balling when i heard it late in the evening on MTV scrolled across the bottom of the screen i was also in denial until i seen footage, she was and is still one of my favorite artists definetly Gone To Soon…… Love u Aaliyah Rest In Peace…

  3. They loved her, much like we all did. A serious loss for so many, but even more a loss for those she knew personally. We will forever miss you Aalyiah. RIP ‘Liyah! We love you Babygirl!

  4. Love this piece. Well put. It gave me flash backs to so many good times and family memories. Aaliyah was a gem. She is missed by all music lovers. Her untimely death was a devastating blow to my fam and I. I loved all her albums and I used to like dancing along with her videos. No lie we’d be jammin’ :) RIP baby. I miss you and your music. I continue to rock to your music tho

  5. Dear I felt in love with your beloved without knowing her or even listening one R&B piece. Your emotion is perfect harmony, a harmony that pierces through text, I believe such this plain harmony is pure love.
    If gods do exist and so heaven, I’m sure even she cried after your emotion, alike us.

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