Released in 2001, Aaliyah’s self-titled third album marked her true arrival. Five years following the singer’s 1996 hit One in a Million, the Detroit-raised singer—warmly christened the “Princess of R&B”—locked in with songwriter Static Major and mega-producer Timbaland to flip the genre on its head, and cement her legacy. Work on the album had begun as far back as 1998, but thanks to her budding acting career—which included roles in the films Queen of the Damned and Romeo Must Die—the singer recorded in fits and stops. But Aaliyah arrived at the perfect time: The album was her most ambitious yet—a record that helped push forward R&B’s mainstream takeover through experimental instrumentation and pop infusions. It was also, sadly, the last album to be released during her lifetime, as the 22-year-old died in a plane crash just two months after Aaliyah’s debut. Aaliyah was soft-spoken, elusive, and sweet—much like one of her musical idols, the British singer Sade. But Aaliyah revealed another side of the young performer, one that was edgier, more self-assured. She’d started in the industry as a teen, but she was a woman now, and Aaliyah reflected her newfound growth. Static Major worked closely with her on every track, bringing the singer’s stories alive, and helping to refine her own writing skills, with the singles “Rock The Boat” and the futuristic “More Than a Woman” climbing the pop charts. The world lost Aaliyah far too soon, but her style, attitude, and visuals continue to influence mainstream pop, carried on by the likes of Ciara, Rihanna, Solange, and Frank Ocean, among others. Aaliyah may have left us—but she’s never disappeared.

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