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Aaliyah: Came to give love

 Find fun in everything you do.”
Aaliyah, MTV Diary 2001

Love to Aaliyah's family and friends, and those who passed on with her:  Hairstylist Eric Forman, makeup artist Christopher Maldonado, bodyguard Scott Gallin, Virgin Records executive Douglas Kratz, hairstylist Anthony Dodd, Blackground staff Gina Smith, Keith Wallace  and pilot Luis Morales III
Love to Aaliyah’s family and friends, and those who passed on with her: Hairstylist Eric Forman, makeup artist Christopher Maldonado, bodyguard Scott Gallin, Virgin Records executive Douglas Kratz, hairstylist Anthony Dodd, Blackground staff Gina Smith, Keith Wallace and pilot Luis Morales III

Aaliyah,

the talented songstress with the fluttery falsetto was born in Brooklyn, New York  and throughout her career; reporters, fans and her contemporaries  would comment on her down-to-earth nature and sweetness.

Aaliyah Star Search
Aaliyah (11) competed on Star Search singing “My Funny Valentine,” lost, and cried. Photo: Reuters

She broke-out onto the mainstream music scene in 1994 aged just 15 with the edgy single “Back & Forth”, from her debut LP Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Aaliyah’s voice slinking along over tough hip hop beats on the album created a young and fresh sound.

Her version of the Isley Brothers’ song “At Your Best (You Are Love)”, is preceded with a stirring A Capella intro. Her crystal cut delivery makes her performance all the more innocent and vulnerable. It’s a defining moment – much like when little Michael Jackson donned a purple hat and belted out the first words of “Who’s Loving You” on the Ed Sullivan show – you stop and listen because it’s so captivating.

“She made that hip hop look sexy for women wearing men’s clothes. It created a whole new look. It was sexy but classic.” Andy Hilfiger for Tommy Jeans, in 1996

Andy Hilfiger cast Aaliyah to sport men’s boxers under baggy jeans with a tight tube top in a 1996 Tommy Jeans ad campaign also featuring Mark Ronson and Kidada Jones. Photo: Hilfiger
Andy Hilfiger cast Aaliyah to sport men’s boxers under baggy jeans in a 1996 Tommy Jeans ad campaign also featuring Mark Ronson and Kidada Jones. Photo: Hilfiger
Aaliyah and friend/producer Missy Elliott would speak in interviews on how they challenged each other on who would wear a dress first. Aaliyah lost the bet. Photo: Showtime Says
Aaliyah and friend/producer Missy Elliott would speak in interviews on how they challenged each other on who would wear a dress first. Aaliyah lost the bet. Photo: Showtime Says

Stepping into the limelight as an elegant hip-hop tomboy – she was known for her baggy leather pants and sunglasses – she naturally blossomed into a graceful siren by the time her self-titled third album was released in 2001 .   Her producer and friend Missy Elliott told a sweet story to Vibe Magazine:

“We had a bet as to who was going to wear a dress first, cause neither one of us used to wear dresses. One day, I saw he r in a dress, and I was like, ‘wait a minute, this girl owes me some money’.”

One in a Million was released in 1996 and Aaliyah turned from newcomer to trendsetter, discovering a cutting-edge sound by working with Missy Elliott and Timbaland on a majority of the tracks. The lead single, “If Your Girl Only Knew”, has an unusual grinding-twang pulse beat and Aaliyah’s harmonies seem to control the chords.

Aaliyah arranged the vocals on “Got To Give it Up”. Slick Rick references Aaliyah’s cover of the Isleys in his rap on the Marvin Gaye re-working: One in a Million was ranked number 90 on Rolling Stone's 100 greatest albums of the 90s list.
Aaliyah arranged the vocals on the Marvin Gaye re-working of “Got To Give it Up” featuring Slick Rick. The album ranked at number 90 on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest albums of the 90s list. Photo: Google Screen Capture

Paul Hunter also credits Aaliyah for consciously  kickstarting his career when she picked him to direct “Got to Give It Up” and the massive “One in a Million” videos. “One in a Million” would define a new sound in soul music. The album solidified Aaliyah’s personal sense of style and self and set her apart for being a visionary.

“There’s a thing that you see when somebody walks out on the stage, I call it the fire. They got that inner fire, which has nothing to do with the schooling, nothing to do with the teacher, nothing to do with the parents. There is a desire in that person to please the audience. You see enough of it to recognize it. And that’s what I saw with Aaliyah.”
Ed McMahonStar Search host

After six hits on the album, she spent the next years training in acting. Although she was missed on the music scene, she did appear on soundtracks during her hiatus. In 1997 she released “Journey To The Past” for Anastasia, which gained her an Academy Award nomination and in 1998,  she released “Are You That Somebody”,  for Dr DooLittle.

Timbaland called Aaliyah his muse; he has said that she encouraged him to go leftfield in his production. After her passing, he released an album, which featured his last recording which featured Aaliyah and Static.  On "I Am Music", Aaliyah's voice is delectable, her ad-libs are unmistakeable and the lyrics she sings are poignant. It's a heartfelt reminder of Aaliyah's impact on music and on people's lives.
Timbaland called Aaliyah his muse; he has said that she encouraged him to go leftfield in his production. After her passing, he released an album, which featured his last recording which featured Aaliyah and Static. On “I Am Music”, Aaliyah’s voice is delectable, her ad-libs are unmistakeable and the lyrics she sings are poignant. It’s a heartfelt reminder of Aaliyah’s impact on music and on people’s lives.

The synth-funk track, which had Timbaland beatboxing and the sample of a baby laughing (from Perrey and Kingsley’s “Countdown at 6”) earned Aaliyah a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance and was a world wide smash.

“I am truly blessed to wake up every morning and do something that I love. There’s nothing better than that. You’ve gotta love what you do, to wanna do it everyday.  Sometimes I’m taken aback and I’m just like…I  can’t believe it. I can definitely say  I’m a truly happy young person. There’s so much more I wanna do in my career and I’m gonna work hard to do and to achieve.” Aaliyah, MTV Diary 2001

The back cover for Aaliyah's final album shows off her dove tattoo which was a tribute to her late grandmother
The back cover for Aaliyah’s final album shows off her dove tattoo which was a tribute to her late grandmother

In 2000 her first starring role  saw Aaliyah mix hip hop and kung fu with Jet Li in Romeo Must Die. It was a box office success in 2000, and Aaliyah had four superb tracks on the excellent original soundtrack which sold over a million copies. The role once again was edgy, injecting interracial relationship battles into the  Romeo and Juliet story.

Aaliyah also landed the huge role of playing the 6,000-year-old Egyptian vampire Akasha in Queen of the Damned. Her acting coach, Joanne Baron, would tell how hard Aaliyah worked to gain it:

“Director Michael Rymer had asked her to do a piece from a play called Salomé. She came in on her knees like a cat, growling, ‘I’m the woman that you left,’ and she did this with such brilliant physicality and vocality. She crawled round on the floor for two hours, moving about the room in unbelievable fluidity, acting this thing to perfection.  She put her heart, her time, her love and her life into it. She just ripped it out.”

Based in Australia for the role, Aaliyah would film during the day and work on her album in the evenings. She completed her scenes and released her eponymous album Aaliyah in 2001, she was 22.

Aaliyah: We Need a Resolution. Directed by Paul Hunter
Aaliyah: We Need a Resolution. Directed by Paul Hunter

In interviews she revealed she self-titled the album because lyrically, it was her most personal album to date. She worked again with the late singer/rapper Static, from the group Playa, who wrote “Are You that Somebody” because she credited him as writing lyrics which she related to.

The lead single “We Need A Resolution”, about an argument, is very dark and futuristic sounding. The video is its equal; Aaliyah bellydances with a snake, swings in a vortex and dances over a disgruntled beat with such charisma it makes your eyes dance. The song’s Middle-Eastern feeling gave insight into the fusion of influences that would contribute to the album.

Aaliyah: More Than A Woman
Aaliyah: More Than A Woman

Aaliyah boldly explores the highs and lows of love on the album with poise and interesting technique over songs which fuse hiphop and soul with electronica, dub and metal, to name a few genres. Her vocal performances range from falsetto, staccato and at times soprano and her emotions shift from sexy and satisfied to complete fury. Like Diana Ross she conveys a story in each song and she tells it with conviction and passion – whether she’s singing about her career, being the other woman or the joys of sex.

Ernest Hardy of Rolling Stone Magazine compared the album’s musical experimentation to OutKast’s Stankonia and Sade’s Lovers Rock.

Christopher John Farley of Time Magazine, who met Aaliyah a few times, heralded her a gentle, humble person. He was impressed how her young voice had matured on the album. He said: “Her gentle voice now seems like something elemental, a kindly wind blowing through the branches of a big tree”.

“Rock The Boat”, directed by Hype Williams, was Aaliyah’s final video-shoot; it was filmed back to back with “More Than a Woman”, directed by Dave Meyers.

By accounts of those on the video shoot for “Rock The Boat” it was a happy time for Aaliyah. She had expressed that she had beaten her fear of being underwater, filming a gorgeous scene wearing a long gown which is seen in the music clip. She thanked everyone on the shoot when it wrapped up and spoke to a young fan for 15 minutes on the way to the airport.

Rock The Boat: Aaliyah under water. Photo: Fanpop
Rock The Boat: Aaliyah beating her fear of being under water. Photo: Fanpop
Aaliyah’s “Came To Give Love (Outro)” on One In A Million is a beautiful reminder anyday that Aaliyah’s life was a fulfilled one. Listen to it here:

“Everything is worth it, the hard work, the times your tired, the times when you’re a bit sad. In the end it’s all worth it, because it really makes me happy, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I’ve got good friends, I’ve got beautiful family, and  I’ve got a career. I am truly blessed and I thank God for his blessings every single chance I get.”Aaliyah, MTV Diary 2001

 

Love to Aaliyah’s family and friends, and those who passed on with her:  Hairstylist Eric Forman, makeup artist Christopher Maldonado, bodyguard Scott Gallin, Virgin Records executive Douglas Kratz, hairstylist Anthony Dodd, Blackground staff Gina Smith, Keith Wallace  and pilot Luis Morales III

Music review: @3RDEYEGIRL and Prince bring Funk n’ Roll to Manchester

It’s been many hours and nearly one full day…

since Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL left the audience from their second night in Manchester dripping in an adrenaline of black sweat and a glow of funk and roll. 

Funk n' Roll - Prince jamming on stage with 3RDEYEGIRL. Photo taken from Manchester Evening News
Funk n’ Roll – Prince jamming on stage with 3RDEYEGIRL. Photo taken from Manchester Evening News

This was the second night in a row the band played Manchester Academy.

3RDEYEGIRL, made up of Donna (guitar), Hannah (drums) and Ida (bass) came out at 8PM to an already hype crowd – there’s a certain energy when you know Prince Rogers Nelson is behind a curtain.

Then the rock began to rumble, and that instantly recognisable voice began singing as 3RDEYEGIRL got into the groove. Every neck craned to see Prince’s entrance as he walked cooly centre-stage. The night was young.

Prince could feel the love. The crowd was definitely giving it back to him singing every song with him; cheering as he relayed that love on to the fantastic band. Everyone cheered as 3RDEYEGIRL tore the roof off, this was the ultimate jam session. My eyes were back and forth trying to absorb the ethereal atmosphere of watching Prince sit and play as the band rocked high to the heavens to classics and new songs alike ranging from She’s Always in my Hair to Something In the Water. I’ll never forget him incorporating “Man – CHESTER” into his many songs consistently thanking the fans.

The heat in the crowd continued to rise. Although quite far back, this was an intimate venue and when Prince looked into the audience I felt his gaze reach my eye and touch my soul. When he told the crowd to sway side-to-side I was compelled to follow his beat. At points he coyly pointed at fans and told them to put their technology down and clap.

It was clear that Prince is built on a foundation of rhythm. It oozes out of him so naturally.

When the band said their first goodnight and left the stage before 10PM, they’d been playing around an hour and a half. I’d heard the legendary stories of Prince playing hours over UK curfews so I knew he’d come back for an encore. What I didn’t expect is for him to come back for 6-8 encores – I lost count.

There were points of the show I couldn’t see the band or Prince, but hearing him sit and perform The Beautiful Ones was an experience to cherish even if the image I see of him  is just his face, far away on stage, an image  encapsulated in between a sea of swaying arms. I could see his shadow above my head as I looked to the ceiling.

It was an incredible set list. As he came out for one of the many encores he warned us that with the amount of hits he has, we could be here all night. The crowd were up for that! 

It is a night imprinted in my soul, the energy rocked me to the core and the love and respect Prince showed the fans is evident in them all, old and new.

Prince fans have shown their true purple colours via the Prince Army on twitter. I have watched them all rally together and support each other to get to venues, swap tickets and beat the ticket touts over social media.  

He rewarded this dedication and came out to every encore request. He brought up on stage those who had queued for hours in the Manchester cold, rain and hail.

Seeing his hard-core fans jamming on stage with their hero  is such a highlight – and Prince fans can dance – especially the guy with a beard, who Prince joked looked like Mumford and Sons.

Over 3 hours of pure energy, a term Prince kept repeating – this was Funk n Roll. 3RDEYEGIRL and Prince, they rocked us, they funked us, they brought the house down.

 

Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL: Five reasons why the Hit & Run Tour is so awesome

Prince

5) Ticket touts, have been left out in the cold by Prince’s marketing strategy

Slick Prince, slick

This has been a mini-triumph for real music fans.  Seatwave have had to refund over-inflated tickets they bought in bulk for the Manchester shows (Friday 21 February Saturday 22 February). As a result of this, Manchester Academy were able to offer a limited number of tickets  on the door.

4) Avoiding the middlemen

That’s a no from Prince

Years before Beyoncé declared “I don’t trust these record labels I’m tourin'” from her surprise visual album;  Prince  was releasing free and independent music. He is renowned for cutting out the middleman and the Hit and Run tour is just another part of his style.  

The anxiousness at getting into such small venues is rewarded for fans: When only 150 people showed up for a last-minute announced second gig on the Friday in Manchester – they were treated to his encore rather than a second show – four encores  by the way. The mis-communication left the encore arrivals feeling out of pocket  but they were guaranteed free entry into Saturday night’s gig.

3) No smartphones

Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL
Prince prefers analogue

This one can cause a mixed reaction. Prince has always fought for the copyright of his work and while everybody wants a keepsake of their concert experience – some people forget to live in the moment and can end up watching a full show through their smartphone lens.

2) Lianne La Havas

Her name is Lianne La Havas

Obviously, over the last 30 years, people who have grown up loving Prince’s music have gone on to become musicians themselves. The icon has always recognised this and reached out despite being an enigma. British performers he has invited to perform with him include Beverley Knight, Mica Paris and Amy Winehouse. Prince discusses “real music” in an upcoming edition of MOJO magazine and he questions why people like La Havas are not having hits.

Prince’s only UK interview

He also held his press conference for the tour with 3RDEYEGIRL in La Havas’ living room.

1) Funk N Roll

Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL

Prince’s latest group 3RDEYEGIRL are made up of guitarist Donna Grantis, drummer Hannah Ford and bassist Ida Nielsen and boy do they rock! This is real music played by talented musicians who can keep up with Prince. The PRETZELBODYLOGIC era is a larger-than-life experience of rock and funk where the band and Prince all perform their chops off!

Music is available to buy from 3RDEYEGIRL’s website.

Applause

Review: @ebenet and @itsBMcKnight melt Manchester into a puddle

Eric Benét and Brian McKnight Melt Manchester into a Puddle

For once it wasn’t the rain.

The Ritz stage: Ready for Eric Benét and Brian McKnight
The Ritz stage: Ready for Eric Benét and Brian McKnight

In between the smoochy couples, girlfriend groups and trios of boys  ready for a night of romance – I walked in with my sister, ready to admire the view of Eric Benét up close, get lost in his velvety voice -and go home.

I realised pretty quickly that Brian McKnight was the  man everyone else was waiting for. I didn’t know what to expect from him as I’ve only seen a couple of his videos; “Back at One” was the only song of his I could have named at the beginning of the night.

The itinerary was set, to my delight, as I have recently endured a Mos Def gig – excuse me – Yasiin Bey gig, who seemed to be dragged on stage after 10PM,  then told off the upset crowd and walked off  after less than 50 minutes on stage.

DJs Steve-O and Miller were a good warm-up act. Sometimes their song choices blended well into each other, at other times Steve would MC and stop the song to build up another classic. Think “No Scrubs”, “One More Chance”, “You Don’t Have to Call”, “(Doo Wop) That Thing”, “F*ing You Tonight”, “Jumpin’ Jumpin”.

I was a bit horrified that Steve  built up “You Remind Me” as an old song for the over 35s to remember clubbing to back in the day in their Gap hoodies and Ellesse trainers – only for my sister to remind me – it is an old song now (2001).

Eric Benét  entrance

At 8.30 PM Eric Benét just casually walked on stage,  I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t the fact he came on time,  as Janet Jackson also stuck to an itinerary on her Number 1s tour, but it was because he came on without hype.

There was no build up; it was a mellow entrance , he got a nice welcoming reception but I expected more buzz. This didn’t take anything away obviously, it’s just an intro and  the excitement came from his delivery and his alluring presence.  He looked and sounded so good centre-stage in his shades, Tokyo jacket, flashing a sliver of stomach every now and then as he danced.

I wasn’t even prepared for the mellow vibe of the crowd. Nobody pushed into me and I was third row centre. In fact I could have been second row centre. There was space for another person in the gap between me and the girl in front, yet there was no shoving. This was definitely a concert for grown-ups – the DJ hadn’t been wrong – his set represented it, the artists reflected it and the crowd for sure were it.

Benét had a tight band, a female vocalist and a male vocalist on keyboard.  He performed “Spend My Life” – his number one duet with Tamia with  his backing singer and it was a sweet performance, reminiscent of Michael Jackson and Siedah Garret performing “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”.

Eric Benét and band perform "Spend My Life"
Eric Benét and band

Not only was Eric Benét in top form vocally, he looked so happy to be there. It was an intimate show as he looked the audience  members in the eye and spoke with the crowd. He gladly performed for the iPhones and video cameras, which meant he spent time a lot of time centre-stage for the lady in front of me who filmed the entire set. I look forward to seeing her videos on Youtube.

I was glad he didn’t leave the stage without singing “Why You Follow Me” and “Georgy Peorgy” as “A Day in the Life” (1999) was the album that introduced me to him. These songs plus “Chocolate Legs” seemed to get the biggest audience reactions too.

Brian McKnight serenades the crowd
Brian McKnight serenades the crowd

He left me and my sister in such a good mood, he was worth our trip. Concerts can be high-risk when you’re over 30 – life-long bubbles are at risk of being burst.

We could tell there was excitement for Brian McKnight so we waited. The time came, the build-up began, the spotlights flickered, girls screams suddenly reached fever-pitch, chants from boys boomed “Brian Brian” – I saw men with their video cameras ready. It was me who wasn’t ready for what I was about to witness – eruption – Brian McKnight was here to satisfy the crowd’s needs – punctual too at 9.45 PM, just like the itinerary said he would be. I was pleased already, he made me forget my over-30 feet were hurting.

The energy was infectious, he came out and I moved left and right when Brian said to. There was hardcore love for the man, the crowd knew every word. The last button of his shirt was undone, revealing a bit of toned belly and a Louis Vuitton belt. When the crowd weren’t singing along they were screaming, especially when McKnight rocked his hips or brushed his shirt with his hand.

Brian invited the crowd to sing along, reach out and touch the person next to them. I looked for my sister – who was stood behind me and I shook her hand – a woman behind me on my left delicately held my shoulders and I smiled at her – the power of music to bring people together!

Brian thought he would whip the crowd into a frenzy inviting a girl on stage, little did he know he picked “God’s child” she said her name was as he held the mic to her on the stage. As he serenaded her she told him “Don’t touch my hair”, she dropped her pack of cigarettes and picked them up, she patted his back for singing so well, then she seemed to nuzzle his chest for a minute and move a bit lower and lower down his chest. Brian looked at the audience for help.

It was all good fun, the crowd loved her, she was great to watch on stage with him.  He kissed her goodbye then and it was a memorable moment.

Brian played with a couple of different guitars through the night. “Crazy Love” and “Still” are really great Brian McKnight crowd pleasers although “Back at One” was the one the men were requesting and McKnight knew this. He left it for his outro.  He was great to the audience, dedicating songs requested from Manchester twitter users and performing till 11.10 PM and coming back for an encore.

I did not know what to expect from both of these top male vocalists. Eric Benét  was just how I envisioned, beautiful to watch and listen to.

Brian McKnight was a true professional and funny man. What a great performer, his vocals were perfection and again, like Eric Benét, it seemed not only a joy to perform but effortless for him. It was really enjoyable to see two artists who do what they do so well and look as pleased to see the audience as we were to see them.

Catch Brian McKnight and Eric Benét on tour
Catch Brian McKnight and Eric Benét on tour