15 years ago I was just another 10-year-old kid who watched too much T.V., loved McDonald’s, and was trying to survive my final year in the troublesome hierarchy of elementary school. The memories of those days are blurry; if my mind was a television I would need antennas to adjust the picture. What I do recall fairly well is the feeling of tragedy when it was announced on this day Aaliyah had died in a plane crash.
Death is an interesting concept at the curious age of 10, you are aware that people don’t live forever, but you see death in the old and not the young. Grandmothers go to heaven, grandfathers pass away, but Aaliyah was young, beautiful, a talent who made the world swoon - even at 10 her death felt too soon. 15 years later, that feeling hasn’t changed.
Immortality is the concept of eternal life. The very idea is so farfetched that it can only truly exist within fiction and fantasy - worlds that are based in witchcraft and wizardry. But the artist is an exception. An artist can cease to age if able to produce art that transcends into the sanctuary of timelessness.
Aaliyah stopped aging and has lived among us for the last 15 years. What has kept her very name and likeness alive are all the people that were inspired by what she accomplished while on Earth. To keep her alive in the very medium that introduced her to the world. Three albums isn’t a lot of material, but it was enough. According to WhoSampled, Aaliyah’s music has been sampled over 182 times, and that number isn’t the most accurate, but a good guess on all the major albums and mixtapes that have borrowed her vocals. Imagine all the bedroom producers and closet rappers that are flipping, stretching, and covering her music. She died in music, and has continued to live in music.
Sampling is the art of revival. Taking what is old and ancient, and adding a new gloss, a coat of newness, that brings it back into the world as nostalgic artifact. Aaliyah's music has spent the last 15 years being constantly resurrected for the old and the new. Frank Ocean’s angelic falsetto of “At Your Best (You Are Love)” was done in her honor. Given that the song originally was released during Frank’s hiatus, it was a huge deal. Imagine all the new listeners who weren’t aware of the song's origins and traced them back; they discovered both The Isley Brothers and Aaliyah's version. That’s the beauty of samples and covers - how it is a cookie crumb can cause you to retrace your steps through time. Frank’s position as one of the most in-demand R&B acts of today makes his homage to Aaliyah a notable gesture, a prince tipping his crown to the world’s former princess.
There have been plenty of new, modern artists who have helped to keep her work alive in today’s new age. Never forget that The Weeknd sampled “Rock The Boat” on “What You Need” from House Of Balloons, or how T.I. also used the song in his new single “Dope.” J. Cole took Missy’s “Best Friend” and recorded a verse while keeping Aaliyah’s vocals in tact. It’s almost like he’s having a candid conversation with a friend and not the voice belonging to a ghost.
One of the most underrated, introspective Rick Ross songs is "She Crazy" - a song that features Aaliyah’s vocals beautifully looped in the background. Dom Kennedy’s “Gold Alpinas” features Ross, but it’s the way Aaliyah’s “Never Coming Back” voice is simplistically used throughout the beat that gives the song a tranquilness that will put your ear at ease. OVO’s DVSN found a way to weave Aaliyah’s “One In A Million” and Prince’s “Purple Rain” into a surprisingly pleasant fusion.
Everyone has their own way of approaching a tribute, but Kendrick created my favorite. 15 years separate Kendrick’s “Blow My High (Members Only)” and Aaliyah’s “Four Page Letter.” I remember watching Kendrick perform the song in Atlanta, he makes the same demand on stage as he does in the song, “Everybody sing this shit,” and the entire venue filled up with voices reciting her every word. I was only 5 in ‘96, imagine how many of the kids in attendance were younger, possibly not even born yet? Kendrick was able to connect his growing legacy with hers, forever intertwined as long as listeners go back to Section80. Go back to “Four Page Letter.”
I can’t imagine a world where artists stop finding new ways to show their appreciation for what Aaliyah accomplished in music and fashion. If the writers keep writing, singers keep singing, and producers keep flipping, the result will be immortality. Eternal life within music. You can bury the flesh, but you can’t coffin a voice, a sound, or a soul that has left behind an impact. As long as we continue to remember and reflect, she will be revived.
Age ain’t nothing but a number when you stop aging and live forever within art. Aaliyah is forever.
By Yoh, aka Yohliyah, aka @Yoh31.
Art Credit: McFlyy