The deification of Aaliyah in recent years is uncomfortable for a number of reasons. As you may well have heard, the frontman of indie-rock band Yeasayer recently invoked the late singer’s name in his rejection of R. Kelly’s work, implying that Kelly represented a crass style of R&B music that Aaliyah somehow transcended. Ignoring the fact that the two musicians worked together and were rumored at one point to be married, the statement describes a larger trend in the singer’s popularity.
Now lifted from the timeline of urban music, Aaliyah seems to now occupy the place of artists like Johnny Cash or Public Enemy, rockist-approved legends that, rather than opening a genre to new listeners, can actually allow snobbish fans to dismiss large swaths of the music world with what they see as their own eclectic tastes. Little do they know that Aaliyah only competes with Beyoncé to be the most influential female R&B vocalist of the last decade, spawning multiple worthwhile branches of exploration.
One of those branches is Ciara, whose 2004 debut Goodies is still her most affective release. To say that the album embodies the equation of Aaliyah + Atlanta would be insulting and reductive, but Aaliyah’s vocal structures are definitely the strong foundation upon which Ciara builds this album of subtle tracks. Yes, Lil Jon called her the “queen of Crunk&B” and this may be why the album’s two most dance-oriented tracks, “Goodies” and “Oh”, are its most iconic, but both owe their success to an overall attitude unique to Ciara herself.
“Goodies” has a mountainous synth line reminiscent of Usher and Jon’s “Yeah!”, but it excels because of a deep, under-your-skin intensity that only Ciara can offer. Aaliyah herself was often much too high-strung to lay this far back. “Oh”, the album’s crown jewel, achieves a god-level swing so low and simple, Timbaland himself would never be able to underthink enough to make it. And the rest of the album is an unsung take of practiced R&B with plenty of personal touches. “Other Chicks”, in particular, owes high levels of sensual haze to a superbly restrained performance by its star. Is a vinyl copy of this album a necessity? Absolutely not. But its deliberate sound was just made for the format’s round and powerful kick. Regardless of its form, this album is not only a powerful lesson in the importance of Aaliyah in millennial music, but a strong case for Ciara as an artist. I for one, am still waiting for a comeback.