Aaliyah was truly one in a million.
The late singer’s acclaimed sophomore album, One in a Million, turns 20 on Saturday. Sadly, the milestone coincides with another tragic event: Thursday marks the 15th anniversary of Aaliyah’s untimely death.
The superstar-in-the-making was only 17 years old when she released her Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number follow-up, leaving behind a controversial relationship with R. Kelly in favor of a new team of fresh-faced collaborators: introducing a then little-known Timbaland and Missy Elliott to the world. The album marked a major mainstream breakthrough for both artists, who would go on to become titans in the music industry.
Today, the album’s title track — written and produced by Missy and Timbaland — remains the biggest hit of Aaliyah’s career, notching an impressive eight weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop chart, and staying on the chart for a total of 26 weeks.
Aaliyah would go on to release a critically acclaimed self-titled album in 2001, just a few short months before her death, bringing her discography up to three full-lengths in her lifetime. While all three LP’s saw posthumous sales bumps for the singer, One in a Million was the only album to achieve multi-platinum status prior to her death.
One in a Million saw a steady increase in sales through 1996 and 1997. The album reached two-time multi-platinum status (selling more than two million certified units) on June 16, 1997, less than one year after its release, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
By comparison, her debut, Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number, was released on May 24, 1994, and was certified platinum (selling one million units) in September of that year. Age reached two-times multi-platinum in October 2001, two months after her death. Her final album quickly followed suit, selling a half-million copies about a month after its release, and reaching one million just five days after her death. Aaliyah was officially certified two-times multi-platinum in February 2002.
Numbers aside, the sexy and smooth sound of One in a Million is still celebrated today. In 2011, Rolling Stone named it as one of the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties, alongside offerings from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Nirvana, Fiona Apple, the Rolling Stones, and more.
“It’s a great feeling to have people accept the album and love the album,” Aaliyah told ET at the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards, where she was nominated for Best R&B/Soul Album, Female. “You know how they say sophomore jinx, and to have people really love the One in a Million album really means a lot to me. I thank the Lord every day and I thank my fans for their support.”
Aaliyah died tragically in a plane crash on Aug. 25, 2001. She was just 22 years old. Today, her peers in the music industry continue to honor the late singer in many ways, from sampling her music in new songs to sharing heartfelt remembrances each year.
Last week, Frank Ocean covered her version of “At Your Best (You Are Love)” — originally by the Isley Brothers — on his visual album, Endless. Earlier this year, T.I. sampled Aaliyah’s unmistakable “Rock the Boat” vocals on his new single, “Dope.”
Chris Brown gave Aaliyah a posthumous feature on his “Don’t Think They Know” in 2013, one year after Drake remixed and released her song, “Enough Said.”
In fact, Drake and longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib had big plans to release a full album of Aaliyah recordings, but scrapped the project after facing backlash from her fans and family.
“[Aaliyah]’s mother saying, ‘I don’t want this out’ was enough for me,” 40 told Vibe in 2014. “I walked away very quickly.”
Meanwhile, Timbaland – who maintained a close personal and professional relationship with the singer over the years — made good on his own promiseto release new Aaliyah music on Christmas Day 2015. “Aaliyah… This is for you, baby,” he wrote on Twitter, unveiling a new song, “Shakin,” as part of his King Stays King mixtape.
“Man, she was an angel,” America’s Got Talent host Nick Cannon told ET’s Denny Directo earlier this week. “I had the opportunity to meet her and hang out with her a few times. We had a lot of fun. [She’s] just one of the most beautiful spirits and most compelling vibrations that this planet has ever seen.”