12 Years On: Could Aaliyah Have Been As Big As Rihanna & Beyonce?


Today marks 12 years since the tragic death of Aaliyah Haughton who sadly passed away on August 25th 2001 after the plane she was on crashed killing her and everyone else on board.

Every year since her passing there has been much debate of whether if she were alive today would she be as big as Rihanna and Beyonce, who are easily the biggest black female singers in the industry right now. Initially I always agreed with the sentiment that if Aaliyah were alive today then Rihanna would be working in her local McDonalds in Barbados and Beyonce wouldn’t be half the pop star she is today. But now I’m not so sure…

All we can really do is speculate because we will never really know what would have been but to Aaliyah’s credit she was brilliant at what she did. Her low register is so recognisable even today that you instantly know its an Aaliyah song and she showed tremendous growth and flair as an artist coming of age with her 3rd and last album titled ‘Aaliyah’. As much as it is going to upset a lot of people to read this but Aaliyah wasn’t the greatest vocalist or the greatest dancer, she didn’t posses the massive vocal range of Whitney Houston or own the dance floor like Michael Jackson but unlike many artists today she knew her strengths and worked towards then rather than trying to be something she was not.

There are a lot of factors you have to take into account when you begin to question whether Aaliyah would have been a massive global star in 2013 and one of those is the genre of music she belonged to. She was the poster girl for 90s RnB with R.Kelly and Timbaland along with Missy Elliot all acting as her mentors she was in the most capable hands for the genre. Some people like to call Aaliyah an icon but personally I feel that is just some people’s overzealous tribute to a singer who is no longer here. It happens a lot. I remember when Amy Winehouse passed away all of a sudden she an icon for British music and not a crack addict slowly decaying in front of us. But hey thats the media for you.

Like I said she belonged to RnB and with Brandy and Monica the 3 ladies were the leading faces of RnB in the 90s. Songs like ‘One In A Million’, ‘The First Night’ and ‘Sitting Up In My Room’ were everywhere and I remember blasting them all on my Sony Walkman as a kid, how retro of me!

But lets remember that this is 2013 and where is the once dominant genre of RnB? Its a dying genre which has sadly been pushed aside to make way for more Pop/Euro Dance sounds. Now if Aaliyah was still making music today I highly doubt she would have sold out and made generic EDM songs with David Guetta in a bid to stay relevant (yes Usher I am looking at you!). And you can see the struggle both Brandy and Monica are going through musically as they stick to their signature sound. Lacklustre sales, albums pushed back and this past week only 40 people showed up to Brandy’s concert in Africa. SIGH!!!  Even the ladies that came after Aaliyah; Christina Milian, Ashanti, Ciara, Amerie etc. they all experienced varying levels of success but where are they now? And don’t even get me started on the fact Keri Hilson once performed in a Walmart car park. DOUBLE SIGH!!! So to think that if Aaliyah was alive today making RnB music she’d be this global superstar is pretty naive to say the least. It’s a nice thought definitely but highly un-likely given the current state of the music industry in 2013.

Aaliyah In ‘Queen Of The Damned’

Another factor there is to consider when questioning whether Aaliyah would be a huge music star in 2013 is the direction her career was heading before she died. Yes she released her 3rd album ‘Aaliyah’ before her death but what people tend to forget was she was forging a name in Hollywood too. Aaliyah wasn’t only a singer, she was an actress too! And having starred in ‘Romeo Must Die’ alongside Jet Li and DMX and filming for what ended up being her posthumous role in ‘Queen of the Damned’ it seemed as if Aaliyah was moving more into the field of acting rather than singing. She was even meant to be in The Matrix Reloaded but the role was filled by Nona Gaye shortly after her death. So perhaps Aaliyah wouldn’t of been credited for her music in this day and age but rather as an actress. Like I said, this is all speculation but its a thought to consider!

The last main factor to take into account is one that literally just popped into my head! Aaliyah was signed to Blackground Records all the way up until her death and we all know how much of a terrible label they currently are with our fallen sister JoJo currently signed to them. If you’re not aware of the current label drama then why not cop a gander at my article on JoJo and her battle with Blackground Records here ? For the sake of this article lets just say Blackground are currently bankrupt and unable to promote or even communicate with any of their acts on their roster. If Aaliyah was still alive today whose to say that the she wouldn’t find herself in the same situation as JoJo is now? Again, another thought to consider!

Rihanna Inspirting young girls
Rihanna Inspirting young girls

On top of all the factors I’ve mentioned already the fact that Aaliyah never sold sex as a way to sell her music is something to consider. While we have Rihanna and her revolving door vagina and Beyonce’s stage outfits getting shorter and tighter its worth a thought to wonder if Aaliyah would’ve followed suit and become more overtly sexual in order to sell her music. I mean yeah she was already becoming more a sexually minded woman with songs like ‘Rock The Boat’ before her death but, unlike Rihanna, Aaliyah had an air of class and grace and even if she did bare her midriff in music videos she wasn’t patting her vagina or giving 40 year old men lap dances on stage. You only have to look at Nicki Minaj to see just how selling sex can help sell your music in 2013. I’d personally like to think Aaliyah would have kept it classy but hey even talented singers resort to selling their body to sell their music today. *ahem* Mariah Carey.

We’ll never really know if Aaliyah would have become a major international star had she not boarded that fateful flight in 2001 but it is nice to know that even after her death many singers and rappers make conscious efforts to keep her music alive. While The Weeknd and J.Cole opt for more subtle ways of tributing Aaliyah by sampling her music, we have Drake tattooing her face on his body, wanting to release her un-released tracks and generally being what Chris Crocker was to Britney Spears, to Aaliyah. TRIPLE SIGH!!!

It’ll always be a case of an un-finished story with Aaliyah as she never did really get to meet her potential and that itself makes it hard for a lot of people to accept her passing but even 12 years on we’re still talking about Aaliyah and her music. I think that itself is a pretty good sign of how great she was.

6 thoughts on “12 Years On: Could Aaliyah Have Been As Big As Rihanna & Beyonce?

  1. Ok so this is the problem….you’re living under the assumption that Aaliyah wouldn’t have continued being the forward-minded artist that she was. Her music was never like anything that was released at the time, and she had both the looks and the talent to become a major force in the music industry. For instance Beyonce has never went into the hard-hitting edm or dance sign to stay relevant. Yes she has dabbled in pop, but she mostly an R&B artist with crossover appeal. Aaliyah could have and would have done the same thing as well. She could do hardcore r&b/hip-hop like “If Your Girl Only Knew” or she could do pure pop like “The One I Gave My Heart To” or she could do a middle ground like “Try Again”. I have no doubt in my mind that if she were still alive she would be HUGE.

  2. Look at Rihanna’s first album, and then her latest. Her voice got more powerful with age and her vocal range improved because of that. The same happened to Brandy. (Proof: Human) Aaliyah’s voice was also improving, if you listened to “Aaliyah”.

    Not everyone is blessed with a powerful voice like Whitney, and to a lesser extent Beyonce. Some have to work for it.

    And let’s not call Aaliyah a bad dancer. She’s heaps ahead of Beyonce and Rihanna. Infact, the only black girl in the game that would probably be better than her is Ciara, but we all know she’s much more content being a mom or a girlfriend to a rapper, rather than an artist.

    Her being as big as Rihanna and Beyonce is a big what if in itself. Aaliyah’s last album was to her what Good Girl Gone Bad was to Rihanna, two young girls throwing away the sweet and naive persona for a darker one. If Rihanna (god forbid. Wouldn’t wish that on anyone) was in a similiar accident as Aaliyah just two months after that album, do you really think we all would think that she would be the top girl in the game in 2014? I think not.

    1. However let’s be honest. Rihanna is a terrible live performer. It’s not about having the greatest vocals however everything just comes across as lazy. As if she is fine depending on her looks and body to sell the sell. She stands and touches herself the entire time. Even her hard core stans where disappointed.

  3. RnB was huge in 2007/first half of 2008 so it is not like she would’ve started struggling after 2001 anyway.

  4. Till this day, people are still covering songs to ‘age ain’t nothin but a number’ and ‘one in a million’. Aaliyah had that soothing melodic voice that defined mid 90’s R&B. I’m sure Aaliyah would have been an even bigger name in Hollywood and be starring in many high profile movies. She truly is the princess of R&B, Queen is undoubtedly Mariah.btw…Saw that shade towards Mariah. Mariah actually based her career on her talent, She decided to ‘bare skin’ 7 years into her career. come on…. girl has a wider vocal range than Whitney, Whitney had power but it was Mariah who had the bigger vocal range. Not to mention she produced and wrote all her songs ffs, and still has the unbeatable 18 no 1’s.She’s a living legend, who even Aaliyah praised.

  5. Hey let me tell you that Amy Winehouse is the very biggest of all of the artists you have mentioned.

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