This gem is lifted from Aaliyah's 1994 debut album, Age Ain't Nothing But a Number, and finds the then-15-year-old embodying an effortless swagger that guys twice her age could only dream of having. The singer's mellow, deep voice throughout the song would become her signature later in her career.
Aaliyah's third and final album found her shifting away from the expected R&B/soul sounds, as she dove into opera, rock, jazz, hip-hop and more. "I Can Be" is one of the LP's standouts, thanks to her controversial storytelling of being the "other woman" over a rumbling electric guitar production.
Missy Elliott and Aaliyah were not only frequent collaborators, but also very close friends. "Best Friends," taken from Missy's 1997 debut Supa Dupa Fly, is a smooth retelling of just how much the two ladies have each other's back.
"4 Page Letter" was the third single from Aaliyah's sophomore album One in a Million, but it unfortunately failed to get a lot radio play or chart love (it peaked at No. 59 on Billboard's Hot 100). Nevertheless, it still remains one of the best ballads from her discography. The video, whose concept was created by Aaliyah's brother Rashad, drove the romantic message home.
The original "Hot Like Fire" from One in a Million was a nice slow jam, but let's face it: Timbaland's epic remix the following year was infinitely better! The producer added his magic hip-hop-infused touch to the steamy track, which was anchored by Aaliyah's laidback vocals.
Aaliyah's musical versatility made it easy for her to collaborate with rappers, and her "Come Back in One Piece" collaboration with DMX will always be a stand out. The 2000 Romeo Must Die soundtrack cut features a sample from '70s funk band Parliament and balances DMX's thuggish flow with the singer's honey-sweet melody.
The singer was a huge fan of rock music, especially bands like Nine Inch Nails. Their industrial metal influence rips through her self-titled album closer, "What If." Aaliyah's intimidating vocals, the trippy frog croaks and the downright nasty guitar riffs resulted in her most experimental tracks.
This song, which was meant to be featured on Aaliyah, featured Timbaland's signature Middle Eastern-influenced string production that made Aaliyah's story about a failing relationship all the more dramatic. "Don't compare me to your last one / I can't help that she was a fast one, a sassy one / I'm a classy one," will always be a stinger (and a good subtweet).
"I Don't Wanna," featured on the soundtracks for 1999's Next Friday and 2000's Romeo Must Die, is quintessential Aaliyah. The singer's pleading vocals and undying love for her man brought tears to my eyes when I first heard it on the radio at 14 and continues to tug at my heartstrings to this day.
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