Two years ago, we made Aaliyah the star of our annual Icon Issue, interviewing her friends, family and fans to pay homage to the Baby Girl who gave us so much greatness. Nine years after her death, we pay tribute once again, because we'll never stop listening. Download DJ Caps' exclusive Aaliyah mix here, and read our Missy Elliott as-told-to interview from FADER 54 after the jump. To purchase a copy of our Aaliyah Icon Issue, go here.
Me and Timbaland flew to Detroit. They was testing us out to see if we could make a hit record for Aaliyah, because she was coming off the project for R Kelly and I guess they wanted to try some new producers. We was kinda nervous because we hadn’t done records for any artists of that caliber, but when we first met her, she treated us like she knew us for years, like we grew up with her. She was always very sweet, always smiling and she made us feel like we was big producers when we didn’t have no record out. Even coming off a big album, she never once treated us like we were beneath her.
Me and Tim, our sound was so far left that it was kinda hard for people. They liked it, but they didn’t know if they really liked it, because it was so different from everything else on the radio. But the weird thing was, as soon as we did “One in a Million,” she immediately thought it was a hit. We didn’t have to convince her, she was like, “I’m telling you, this is hot.” I knew then there was a chemistry. She wasn’t close-minded. She was an artist that got it.
After that, we became family. She was my little sister and Tim was my brother. And we became the Super Friends! We felt like we was gonna save the world. We was gonna change music every chance that we got. We felt like we was gonna always be family. Forever.
I think when "If Your Girl Only Knew" first came out, people kinda said, Oh, she got a new sound. But then when "One in a Million" came out, the beat and the melody were so different from anything. I was in a club one night, the DJ took it back TEN TIMES, no lie. And this was in the middle of him playing, like, Biggie records and Tupac records, and here goes “One in a Million” in the middle of all this street rap! That’s when I said, OK, this is something different—we are going somewhere else, we are kind of switching the sound.
Sometimes when I’m talking to Ciara, we’ll bring Aaliyah into the conversation. I know that she would be somewhere in outerspace at this moment, because she grabbed onto the same mentality that we had: be risky. We always said we don’t want somebody else to do it before we do it, so let’s just take it there. How do you know that people are gonna like it or not if you don’t at least try it?
I never seen Aaliyah get mad. She was always so relaxed and reserved. I remember one time at an awards show, me and her and Tim went and got these outfits. I ain’t dressed like somebody else since junior high school, but we all got these Pony burgundy outfits. We was so mad cause we felt like she’s gonna win, and she didn’t get anything! And she was like, It’s cool. But us, we was like, “Nah, man, that One in a Million album was a classic!” But she was like, I’m just happy to be nominated. I never seen her go out of character. She was always sweet and caring and compassionate. Just a good person.
With the sunglasses, I think it was just persona. I mean, she was always a star, but when people can’t see your eyes, they really don’t know how you looking. Your eyes tell a lot, and by her covering them, they really never knew what her personality was. I think once she took the sunglasses off and got into her girl clothes, it was like, Wow, she’s grown. I think people started to feel like they knew her.
Even though she had the big baggy pants on, there was still like a sex appeal. She was like that round the way girl, cause at that time, you had a lot of females dressing in baggy clothes. She kind of related to the regular chicks but at the same time she had a sex appeal to her, so I think it translated. It was a mystique, and it gave her room to keep growing each album.
I still get guys that are like, I used to love me some Aaliyah or I got her on my screensaver. I think every guy had a crush on Aaliyah. If a guy tried to approach her, she was always nice, but you know, it wasn’t like, OK, I’m gonna call you in an hour! But she was always like, Thank you so much, and that was that. She was very focused on her music and her family, so I don’t think she really took to anything they said, until her third album, when she was like, “OK, I’m grown now. Maybe I’ll give you a call."
Right before she did Queen of the Damned, she came to my hotel and she had these huge gold teeth from one of those comedy stores. I kept begging her to do the lines, and she was doin’ them with these big teeth that was sticking out of her mouth. And we just laughed and laughed and laughed, over and over again. That was my last, greatest memory because, like, she’s a clown! She liked to have fun.
I was in Jamaica when I found out she passed. Somebody called me, but there were so many different rumors on other artists like Luther [Vandross] and Whitney [Houston] at the time that I really cursed another artist out cause I thought they were playin. People were calling cause they thought me and Tim was with her. Then when they started saying this person was with her and this person and this person, I kept hanging up on people. But when I called Tim I could tell something was wrong.
It’s like losing a family member. It’s not like Aaliyah the superstar, the celebrity. It’s like my little sister. You feel empty, you feel in shock, you feel angry. That’s a feeling I can’t even really explain.
Most people look at her as an angel. That’s what she was. I’m not saying that because people feel like they have to say great things because somebody passed away. It is what it is. She was a sweet person with great, incredible talent who didn’t compromise who she was for the world. It was like: I’m gonna be a trendsetter, I’m gonna be an icon, even when I’m gone, you gonna always remember me.
To read interviews with Timbaland, Damon Dash, Mark Ronson, Chromeo, Ciara, Method Man, Kidada Jones and more, grab our Aaliyah Icon Issue here.