When Aaliyah passed away on Aug. 25, 2001, the music industry instantly felt a void that still hasn’t been filled. Many singers have come and gone, but none can compare to her vocal abilities. Fifteen years later, her music continues to resonate with devoted fans and singers and rappers alike.
The late songbird delivered a sexy blend of hip-hop and R&B. Her music was perfect to rock while cruising in a ride yet tender enough to be played in the bedroom. Many of today’s artists are still chasing after that sound, hoping to recreate the soulful magic Aaliyah conjured so effortlessly when she was here.
Several R&B crooners like Drake (who has a slightly weird obsession with her), The-Dream and Lloyd, to name a few, have covered the late singer’s tunes. Overall, Aaliyah left a musical legacy that will continuously engulf our minds, ears and hearts.
On the 15-year anniversary of her death, we scoured the internet to find some unique Aaliyah cover songs performed by artists in the rap, gospel and R&B world. So without further ado, we present the Five Best Aaliyah Cover Songs. Rest in peace, Baby Girl.
“I Don’t Wanna Be”
Justine Skye was only 5 years old when Aaliyah died in 2001, yet the 20-year-old singer cites the late songbird as a major influence. “My mom…used to play a lot of 90’s old school R&B music, and I guess Aaliyah is who I picked up on,” she told Singersroom. “I just been a fan of hers ever since I was a little girl. She’s made such an impact on R&B.”
On her 2013 EP Everyday Living, Skye added a bonus track, which finds her performing Aaliyah’s 1999 tune, “I Don’t Wanna Be.” Over slinky, trap music-inspired production, Skye sings about reconciling with an ex-lover after a bitter breakup. “We can’t keep it tight, can’t get it right / I just wanna go back, take it way back, all the way back / Can we start again? / Do it over, can we straighten it out? / Can we work it out?” she yearns.
“One in a Million”
While Aaliyah’s music might be considered too secular for the church, gospel singer-songwriter Travis Malloy changes that theory with his spiritual version of Aaliyah’s most popular song, “One in a Million.” Unlike Aaliyah’s 1996 seductive ballad, Malloy sings the praises of the Lord and thanks him for his daily blessings. “I love you Jesus / I worship and adore you,” he sings, adding, “Your love is one in a million / It goes on and on / You give a really good feeling.” Props to Malloy for flipping Aaliyah’s song and delivering something that both the R&B and gospel communities can groove to.
“If Your Mother Only Knew”
We have heard plenty of Aaliyah covers, but never a beatbox version until now. Beatboxer Rahzel, a former member of the Roots, flipped the late singer’s classic 1996 song “If Your Girl Only Knew” into “If Your Mother Only Knew.” Using his mouth to create the soundbed, Rahzel creates a spirited boom-bap version of Aaliyah’s hit. We think Timbaland would be especially impressed by this feat since he’s an avid beatboxer himself. Check out Rahzel’s Aaliyah tribute below.
“At Your Best”
One of Aaliyah’s most well-known songs, “At Your Best (You Are Love)” is actually a cover of the Isley Brothers’ 1976 ballad of the same name. The song appeared on Aaliyah’s debut 1994 album, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, which was certified gold by the RIAA.
Grammy-winning crooner Frank Ocean released his cover version of the song on what would have been Aaliyah’s 36th birthday on Jan. 16, 2015. Over a sparse electric piano, Ocean’s piercing falsetto permeates the entire track. His vocal strength when he delivers “you’re a positive motivating force within my life” just might make your heart flutter. The singer’s beautiful rendition should give you the motivation to spread peace and love in the world.
Timbaland, who has produced many of Aaliyah’s hits, recently hinted that he will release new music from the late singer. Much like Aaliyah, Timbo has taken singer-rapper Tink under his wing and is grooming her to be a big star. The Chicago native recently paid homage to Aaliyah with her hip-hop-tinged “Million,” a flip of “One in a Million.” On the song, Tink yearns for her lover, which she describes as addictive as a drug. “‘Cause your love give me goosebumps / You’re the right one when I need some, I…call…you / Real love never gives up on a Tuesday / If it does rain, you come through / Your love is like a big hug on a bad day / Just what I need in my life / You’re one in a million,” she sings. In the Benny Boom-directed visual for the song, Tink respectfully channels Aaliyah both in her performance and choreography. Tink may not be the heir apparent to Aaliyah but she’s very close to it.