Does everybody have an Aaliyah T-shirt? Gang Gang Dancer Lizzi Bougatsos has one. Chromeo dude Dave 1 has one. I have one too—it’s black, cotton, incredibly comfortable and emblazoned with a grainy photo from the Aaliyah album cover. I was wearing it last summer when a little girl stopped me on the street. “You know about Aaliyah?” She couldn’t have been older than seven—putting her birth around the time of Aaliyah’s death—but she was obviously a fan. I could only return the question: “You know about Aaliyah?” She rolled her eyes at me and smirked. “Everybody knows about Aaliyah,” she said. Then she flashed another look, realizing that she and I were both a part of “everybody.” Then she ran off to catch up with her friends.
It’s easy to gush about the universal appeal of Aaliyah, considering she revolutionized the popscape so quickly, so effortlessly. And while we’d be happy to wax on about making out to “One in a Million” after junior prom, we chose Aaliyah to grace The FADER’s annual icon issue not out of nostalgia, but because she embodies so much of what we love about music RIGHT NOW. Her influence in 2008 is omnipresent, from the futuristic megahits dominating airwaves to the demure pop sensibilities fluttering throughout the underground. She made chart-topping R&B that still feels avant garde, with a voice that could either freeze time or stretch it into blissful, Möbius strip choruses that float on and on and on…
Where did she come from? The future? Heaven? Deep space? Detroit? We spoke with her friends, family and collaborators to find out more about the girl behind the sunglasses. We also hooked up with artists from the FADER generation, with testimonies from Dri, Vampire Weekend, Ciara, Kid Sister and others to illustrate how Aaliyah dared pop music to get weird and inspired the fringe to get weirder. Squint your ears and you’ll hear Aaliyah in this issue’s other features: the daring pop of Sweden’s Lykke Li, the woozy whoomp of England’s emerging bassline scene and the gleeful buoyancy of El Guincho. Their music, like Aaliyah’s, invites us to the same terrain we try to explore with every issue of The FADER—a place where the beats jam hard and the possibilities feel endless.