At Your Best: What Made Aaliyah A Great Singer

“So who is your favourite vocalist/artist/singer male and female?”

That’s the question that is fired out in most interviews. Sometimes it gets jazzed up, for example “Who would you most like to work with?” but the essence of the question is the same.

I think on it for a minute and then the usual answers come out..

“Male… I’d have to say Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder… And Female… Aaliyah”.
And it’s at this point I’m usually met with a blank stare, followed by the statement “Aaliyah? Really??”


Let’s skip past the formulaic R. Kelly offerings of “Back’n’Forth”, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” etc..

The Aaliyah we know and now miss came into existence when she teamed up with Missy Elliott and Timbaland, in my opinion. It was a partnership on the same scale as that of Jam and Lewis working with Janet Jackson. They didn’t just come up with songs or grooves; they came with a style unique to the artist, which is what all great teams deliver.

Like Janet, her voice wasn’t the strongest or most powerful. So why was she – why is she still to this day my favourite?

Because she had control of her voice, she knew exactly what she could and couldn’t do. She trusted her production team enough to let them guide her and deliver what was needed for each song.

She was a singer in the true sense of the word in that she was able to lay a vocal on the song, deliver what the production required and still transmit an emotion.

I often tell artists that I’m working with, especially when recording vocals, that there is a huge difference between a great vocalist and a great singer.

A vocalist is technically correct, able to hit any note and pretty much do whatever he or she wants over the tune. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but they seldom pay any attention to the overall result. They focus more on their performance and their voice.

A good singer will focus purely on delivering what is required for the song.

What made Aaliyah a great singer in my eyes is that she sat on every track she did from the Missy and Timbaland phase onwards effortlessly, and in order to do that you have to be brave enough to know what works for you and what doesn’t. You have to be able to let go of your ego.

At the end of the day, if you were asked to sing an Aaliyah riff could you think of one straightaway? Is there a trademark? I don’t think there is, but you can sing along with all her tunes. And that’s what great singers do; they make you feel comfortable with singing along.

But it wasn’t just her vocals and music. In a time now where a percentage of female artists now define their sexual attraction by how much camel-toe they can get away with showing in a video (yes, I took it there), Aaliyah was sexy in the classic sense of the word.

She was sexy in the way she dressed and carried he self. The focus of her beauty was not plunging necklines, the size of her backside or how little she wore in her videos. It came from her confidence and how she carried herself. She could literally melt you or get your engine running with just a smile and a wink.

She carried the same style and poise into her dancing, but you could tell that when she had to throw a routine down that this was a woman who was just as comfortable busting a move in a pair of trainers.

She had started making the successful transition into acting and like her music, was picking roles where she could deliver and wasn’t showing herself up.

She conducted herself in a classy way, but you can also tell from interviews and behind the scenes footage she was also enjoying life.

The real shame about her passing is that I believe she was at a point when everything was coming together and she was stepping into her own lane. Every album was showing a progression and, along with the acting and her maturing, she was becoming… well let’s just say, if she was still here Destiny’s Child may not have been so quick to disband for a while. I don’t think there would have been a gap in the market for certain artists to step into. But that’s just my opinion.

It’s a real shame from a personal opinion that she’s gone, as the possibility of working with her often kept me going. I’ve been blessed with working and becoming friends with many people I look up to and admire so it wasn’t an impossible idea in my eyes.

The bigger shame is that we’ll never see what she would’ve have become – and a true class act has now been missing from the game for nine years.

RIP Aaliyah.. You are so missed xx

–Black Einstein

Black Einstein aka Colin Emmanuel is a producer and musician from NW London. His forthcoming EP, Whatever Happened To Major Tom?, is due for release in November. In honour of Baby Girl, Black Einstein reinterpreted “It’s Whatever” with UK vocalist Baby Sol – which features on SoulCulture’s tribute EP, Aaliyah Revisited.

<a href="">It&#8217;s Whatever &#8211; Black Einstein ft. Baby Sol by SoulCulture</a>

Featuring Marsha Ambrosius, Jesse Boykins III, AFTA-1 and more, download our Aaliyah tribute EP from

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