Posts Tagged ‘Aaliyah’

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my favourite song – Aaliyah – 4 Page Letter

August 13, 2009

Okay, I realise that I have been neglecting this feature somewhat, but I’ve had so much else to write about!  Don’t worry, I’ve quietly been queuing up some of my favourite classic songs & I won’t forget to write about them.  I am a big fan of Aaliyah, and in the UK the majority of people only heard of her once she was killed in the plane crash.  It was only then that she hit #1 (with “More Than A Woman”) in this country, but I had latched onto her during the promotion for her One In A Million album (I don’t remember even hearing anything from Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number on the radio back when I was a kid).  Listening to songs such as “If Your Girl Only Knew”, “Hot Like Fire” and “One In A Million” opened my eyes and ears to a sound that was innovative, sexy and groove-led.  The videos were super-stylish, and I often find myself wishing that I could go back to the days when Timbaland and Missy Elliott made real, innovative R&B.

Out of all of the outstanding tracks on One In A Million, “4 Page Letter” has to be my favourite.  Starting with a subdued beat, Aaliyah exhorts the producers to “turn the music up”, and the volume rises to a normal level.  A deep, stuttering bass and shuffling shakers propel the song forward, while Aaliyah’s graceful, effortless vocal floats masterfully over the top.  Here was a vocalist who exuded sophistication from a startlingly young age (she was only 16 during recording much of One In A Million, a fact that still astonishes me) not just in her style and look, but in her voice and the way she sang.  Blessed with a strong, clear tone but never one to oversing, Aaliyah famously regarded herself as an “interpreter” who sought to do every song justice.  Here (as with almost all of her material) she succeeds, conveying the longing of a chaste romance, sending the object of her affections a “4 page letter” to express her feelings despite warnings from her family and friends.

I knew that I wanted to include an Aaliyah song almost from when I decided to write about some of my favourite songs.  Aaliyah has shaped my perception of R&B, just as she shaped the genre itself (with the help of Timbaland & Missy).  I find myself reminiscing back to her class and sophistication, and how the way she carried herself, the way she moved, the way she danced and the way she sang exuded grace and mastery.  Her untimely death in 2001 still resounds today, as the majority of new female singers fall incredibly short of the promise Aaliyah displayed during her all-too-brief career.  If she were still here, would Ciara have gotten her big break?  Would we be able to see how bereft Rihanna is of talent (apart from picking decent singles and wearing hot clothes)?  Would Beyoncé still be considered the best current R&B female singer?  We can but wonder, but there is a bittersweet blessing on the flip-side of Aaliyah’s passing: She left behind a near-perfect legacy that only shines more brightly with time.

Mama always told me to be careful who I love
And Daddy always told me, make sure he’s right
I always had my eyes on this one particular guy
I was too shy so I decided to write

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time

People always sayin that I play myself for you
They say that you dont even notice me
Maybe when I get the nerve to come to you
Promise me that you wont diss me

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time

I’ma write you a love letter tonight
You better keep watch cause the mailman’s coming
I’ma write you a love letter tonight
You better keep watch cause the mailman’s coming

I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time
I’m sending him a 4 page letter
And I enclosed it with a kiss
And when I write him he better get it on time.

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the end of an era.

July 1, 2009

Obviously, with the recent death of Michael Jackson, a lot of people have been using the phrase “I feel like a part of my childhood has died”.  As a fan not of Michael (the only album of his that I bought was Dangerous, and I still play it but don’t feel any pull to purchase any of the others) but of his sister Janet, I didn’t echo the sentiment in that particular case (although obviously his death did sadden me), but the following news does make me reminisce.

VIBE magazine is shutting down next month.  For those who don’t know, this is a magazine from the US that covers R&B, hip hop and occasionally other genres of music.  There are also urban fashion spreads, and the odd political essay covering both American politics and the treatment of racism and sexuality in both the US and countries such as Cuba, Mexico and Jamaica (to name but a few).  In short, the magazine is aimed at “black culture”.  I bought my first issue when I was 13 and have been following it ever since (that’s 10 years! which has just struck me, as I think about it.  A decade is a long time!), buying more often than not, though occasionally leaving it on the stand if the cover story didn’t attract me and there weren’t any articles inside to pull my wallet out my pocket.  Here is a picture of that first cover:

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

TLC VIBE Cover 1999

I remember having just purchased TLC’s album “FanMail” (one of my ultimate favourites to this day!!!) and it had rocked my world.  Looking back, I always had liked R&B music but I was only becoming conscious of it, and therefore purchasing Vibe magazine allowed me to begin exploring the genre and fed my mind.  As I expanded my tastes and learned of new artists (some of whom I listen to on the regular now), I also appreciated the long interviews which were actually informative, as well as the more mature articles. And some of the clothes were ridiculous!  At 13, reading a magazine where profanity was used not purposely to shock, but just because that was how people spoke was an eye-opener to me (hence shocking me all the same, haha!) but also refreshingly honest and mature.  In short, it opened my eyes and became part of my childhood, my adolescence.  Of course, carrying around such a magazine at that age raised the eyebrows of some of my peers at school, who had never heard of most of the artists and had no interest (this was the time when indie was in, and most teenagers in the UK were more into the Offspring and Travis than TLC, Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey and Aaliyah) beyond Eminem, who had just come out and caused quite a stir!  (doesn’t that take you back!?)

I did get comments such as “Alan, you’re not black, why are you reading that?” “Who are they? Never heard of them…” “Is that a porn magazine?” (ok, that was one person who got excited by the bikinis but there was occasional nudity, though it was tasteful and could never be termed pornographic, not in a million years) To people who didn’t understand why I listened to the music that I did because I was “white”, I have two responses: a) I’m half Italian, so technically that makes me mixed race anyway (though to look at me I am very “white”-looking so I don’t usually tend to argue! I can understand the mistake and usually accept it). b) Though music is certainly geared towards certain demographics, there are no laws saying what I can and can’t listen to, what genres I can and can’t buy.  It’s a free country, at least in that respect.  Open your minds!

So this magazine did form a large part of my growing up, expanding my musical tastes well beyond Bristol radio and UK music channels (which have a pretty narrow selection IMO, excluding MTV Base), and opening my eyes to both decent journalism and fashion!  Without VIBE, I would be a different person, without a shadow of a doubt.  Music is so fundamental to me, and VIBE certainly fed my need to grow and to expand and to learn about music that I was becoming interested in.  And I am sad it’s closing, despite the fact that I can’t deny it has recently lost its allure.  The articles were more glossy and less probing, the magazine had become half the size it used to be, comprising both less adverts and less articles.  The editorial staff seemed to change every few months, and the variety of features that used to be present in the magazine when I first bought it had been rejigged and slimmed down so much … In a way I am not surprised at VIBE’s closure, because it’s become a diet version of the magazine it used to be (I don’t believe I’m wearing rose-tinted glasses on that one), but I am saddened nonetheless.  Here is a picture of the final cover courtesy of Toya’s World:

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

Christina Milian & The-Dream VIBE cover

It’s eye-catching, but hardly iconic in the way that Toni Braxton and Foxy Brown’s nude poses, TLC’s cover dressed as firefighters, Jennifer Lopez’s see-through dress and Tupac’s strait-jacket cover were.  Nudity by this point is passé, and though Christina Milian is undeniably a hottie, for a last issue this cover comes across as a slightly bizarre choice.  Nevertheless VIBE will be missed, despite recent racist accusations by peeps such as Robin Thicke who deserved one cover story at the very least, being one of the best new urban artists to come out in recent years despite not being black!  When he was refused the cover story, his light skin was largely assumed to be the reason why and that was a big shock to me as a non-black reader who thought that as a magazine that very much fought for racial equality, this was backwards.  But for the R&B / hip hop journalistic arena to be reduced solely to The Source, that makes me sad because I’m not a black thug (the audience The Source exclusively seems to aim for) and the features are more geared towards a revolving-door cast of rappers (both washed-up and too new to have earned their stripes) rather than respecting true talent and people who can truly sing as well as spit rhymes.  But maybe that’s just me growing older, and all I can hope is that 13 year olds picking up that magazine are as inspired and intrigued as I was 10 years ago buying my first issue of VIBE.