Somber Black girls came to my school with CD players blasting “Back and Forth” and “One in a Million”. They mourned the loss of Baby Girl. Many were soft-spoken or silent for the day in solidarity with the singer who prematurely ascended. (Her name means “highly exalted” and “to ascend” in Arabic.)
Aaliyah’s birthday was last Monday. While the cyber world remembered Martin Luther King Jr., ruminated on various political, social and random ideas, many celebrated Aaliyah, her beauty, and her contributions to music.
The singer, who died in a plane crash in 2001, had a timeless face. Her smooth countenance was emblazoned on countless garb posthumously. She and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes of TLC were featured in murals and are commonly portrayed as guardians of hip-hop and r&b.
I was an awkward adolescent when the multitalented performed died. I was not and am not an Aaliyah fanatic, yet her music and persona speak to me.
During a time when physical appearance was of unrivaled discomfort for me, I was drawn to the undeniably stunning entertainer.
She seemed like a cool person, too, which explained beyond her art, why so many people who never met her were deeply troubled by her death.
On the one-year anniversary of the plane crash, I kept quiet, so as not to offend those whose hearts hurt more than mine.
Now I accept that her music came from a vibrant and complex place. My Aaliyah moments come at interesting times.
I have worked to meet deadlines, guzzled caffeinated beverages and bumped “Hot Like Fire”, “More Than a Woman” and “Try Again” as my fingertips tapped manically.
Her cautionary crooning alongside the gruff and God fearing DMX in “Back in One Piece” provides an appealing contrast, one that highlighted her ability to mesh with various artists to produce catchy, relatable music.
The “I Care for You”, “At Your Best” Aaliyah was softer, loving—but not what I needed. Productive Imani prefers edgier tunes.
The self-possessed, saggy pants donning performer who inspired countless women and girls to redefine the parts in their hair, and create sexy, side swept half-moon faces, kept my spirits high.
She also presented universal issues of love, liberty and women’s identities.
She was a performer who appeared to genuinely connect with her supporters, and impact those closest to her, yet she was tight-lipped about her personal life, despite articles, rumors and speculation.
She appeared to live fully and freely, but maintain that balance by aversion.
Whether it was presenting half of her golden, symmetrical face because her bangs covered it, or reminding people that she did not owe them answers offstage, the young star maintained an angelic persona while dealing with worldly conundrums.
An aside: If we allow it, the world will also sow seeds of doubt into our spirits.
But, Aaliyah seemed to love who and how she was, which transcends societal pressure.
She exuded complex, gender challenging sexiness, in that she was hyper-feminine from the neck up, while rocking everything from leather cutout pants with rhinestones, to men’s boxers and belly tops.
Famous before unfathomably surgically altered video vixens gained their peak notoriety, the singer’s slim frame was subtle, yet womanly.
While 22 years is an incredibly short lifespan, she appeared self-actualized.
“I breathe to perform, to entertain, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” she said in a VIBE interview.
“I’m just a really happy girl right now. I honestly love every aspect of this business. I really do. I feel very fulfilled and complete.”