Aaliyah: One in a million
Words: Omar DuBois
Just a week after this interview, and while discussions were taking place about the possibility of her performing at this year's MasterCard MOBO Awards, Aaliyah was tragically killed in a plane crash on the way back from a video shoot in the Bahamas. Her death marks the loss of a major talent in the entertainment world. She was without doubt a beautiful young lady who was an inspiration to the many people she touched around the world through her music. We send out our sincere and heartfelt prayers to her family and friends.
So here's the interview we published in MOBO Magazine 2001:
Beautiful. Sultry. Sumptuous. Sleek. Dainty. Enigmatic. Elusive. Diplomatic. Cautious. Daring. Meticulous. Intriguing. Alternative. Insightful. Pensive. Intelligent. Engaging. Charming. Charismatic. Loyal. Private. Cool. Indeed, these are but a few adjectives (well, twenty-two!) that spring to mind whenever the name Aaliyah is mentioned.
At the tender age of twenty-two, Aaliyah Haughton is already a household name in the USA and an industry veteran who's had as many label changes as she's had albums. It must have been written: Barely out of her toddler years, Aaliyah was enrolled in dance and acting class; as a pre-teen she, on more than one occasion, joined Gladys Knight in song on the latter's tour; and when not even sixteen years old she released her highly successful R.Kelly-produced debut 'Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number' on Jive Records. And' as the most abused cliche in showbiz goes: the rest is history! Well, you know, the trend setting, Timbaland-helmed 'One in a Million' sophomore album; the soundtrack smashes; the blockbusting 'Romeo must Die'; the just released eponymous album; and the forthcoming 'Queen of the Damned' and 'Matrix' sequels. Aaliyah does quite a few things, and she does them well. She is undoubtedly an icon in the making – heir to a throne that is part Sade's and part Janet's.
Processing all these thoughts before meeting Aaliyah doesn't help one bit. So it should come as no surprise that I had my heart firmly in my mouth from the moment I leave my cock-pit in New-Jersey 'til I arrive at the door of Aaliyah's plush condo in the heart of Manhattan. I stand at her door for what seems like twenty-two years contemplating how I should ring her doorbell, the expression I should have when she opens the door, and most importantly, what I should say, and how I should say it! Do forgive me, but this is the twenty-first century: idol worship is very much in vogue, thanks!
Having mustered the valiance to ring her doorbell, in what I can only describe as surreal and even trance-like, the deliverer of such seductive hits as 'At your best', '4 Page Letter', and 'Are you that Somebody', emerges, and politely invites me in. In all truth, the journey from the door to my designated seating place is one I only faintly recall. Even Mobb Deep couldn't call it: 'shook' ain't the word! Being the 'thespian' that I am, I feign the confidence of Charles Windsor and the ease of Barry White. And in keeping with Jesse Jackson's mantra of keeping hope alive, I dare to ask her what she looks for in a man (note that I totally disregard the fact that she might be seeing Dame Dash of Roc-a-fella fame) – I also plead with her not to be generic with her answer. With very carefully chosen words, Aaliyah states: "Understanding...this business is a major part of my life, so I need someone who is going to understand what I do and be secure with the fact that I travel a lot. He should be secure with what I do as well. As you can see, I like to laugh a lot, so he has to be funny – that's very important."
Bliss, O Bliss! Well, firstly, I know for a fact that I'm very secure – being Mister Aaliyah should be no problemo! Secondly, not to toot one's own platinum trumpet, but I'm by all accounts a natural stand-up! Hmmm...this is going rather well. I further proceed to ask a most begging question: "Does he have to be in the music industry?" Heaven smiles on me again: "No he doesn't have to be in it to understand it...I just want a guy who knows what he wants and can get it. Oh, and he has to be sweet and considerate." As I digest her ever so 'assuring' words, my host interrupts my train of thought to ask me if I'd like something to drink. Of course, I answer in the affirmative, and choose to go with grape juice. As she leaves for her kitchen my eyes are fixated on her every move. Her regally stealthy walk is a joy to watch. As I glance around her sparse yet exquisitely decorated apartment, I think to myself that this lady is a man's true dream: Her favorite actors are DeNiro and Pacino; she lives for Sade and Lewis Taylor (who I'm very much into now!); she's a homebody; she loves to travel; treasures her family; appreciates Mark Romanek; has read 'Red Dragon'; and swears by Demme's 'Silence of the Lambs'. How wrong it was of me to think the concept of soul mates was corny and idealistic!
Upon her return, in an attempt to sound more professional and less self-indulgent, I ask her why Timbaland produced only three tracks on her new album? (Most of the production on her most progressive album to date is handled by newcomers E. Seats & Rapture, and former Dr. Dre understudy, Budda.) Sounding rather like a Valley girl, Aaliyah explains that she "totally wanted to work with new people...with different producers that had something hot, new and different. And with this album they just totally gave me all that I was looking for. Tim would probably have done more songs if our schedules had permitted us to work a little longer. But that's like a collaboration that would always be." In fact all of Timbaland's productions (which includes the already released 'We need a Resolution') are scheduled as singles: the 'More than a Woman' video was just lensed in L.A. by the hottest director of the moment, Dave Myers (Janet Jackson, Outkast) and the half a decade old 'I care for You' (Aaliyah's personal favourite), destined to be a classic, is going to be fourth in line. ('Rock the Boat' is the third.) If it seems as though Aaliyah has it all too mapped out, you're damn right she does! Things didn't just fall into her lap, she made them happen! She just does it at her own pace, and on her own terms – always careful not to over-expose herself. That's why we love and crave her so much. Who knows, maybe Miss Haughton just might've programmed me somewhere in her personal database: "Scoop him up in five years or so." I'll be waiting ma!