Published in the Hamilton Spectator on September 22, 1994

 

AALIYAH: ACTING BEYOND HER AGE

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

You'd hardly recognize her as the same girl.

AALIYAH -- the hard-as-nails street urchin behind the dark glasses on her "Back And Forth" video -- is actually very polite, quite shy and soft-spoken in the flesh.

She's in Toronto for a trip to promote her new album Age Ain't Nothing But A Number, which has sold over a million copies in the States and given her two very big hits, "Back And Forth" and her remake of THE ISLEY BROTHERS "At Your Best (You Are Love)".

A protégé of producer and performer R. KELLY -- himself no slouch in the hit department with his own 3-million-selling 12 Play  album, the number #1 hit "Bump And Grind", and six singles currently on the Billboard Hot 100 -- the 15-year-old Aaliyah has been plucked from obscurity and transformed into pop music's latest homegirl.

"They told me that when a new artist comes along, it often takes two or three albums to establish them," said Aaliyah of her manager and her record company. "Thank the Lord, it's only taken three months. That certainly is a short span of time."

It's made her an instant celebrity at the Central High School For the Performing Arts in Detroit, which she attends. And she admits that a few students have already cozied up to her because of her new status.

"Some people have approached me and asked me to hook them up," says Aaliyah with a shrug and a smile.

The more pertinent question might be, how did a 15-year-old singer come to the attention of R. Kelly, currently hitting on all cylinders as a recording artist and producer?

The answer: Aaliyah's manager is her uncle, BARRY HANKERSON, who is also Kelly's manager. That isn't her only famous connection. Hankerson is the former spouse of R&B legend GLADYS KNIGHT.

However, Aaliyah shrugs off any suggestion of nepotism.

"I met Robert (Kelly) before his albums came out," says Aaliyah. "I've known him for three years. If they don't have the voice, the talent or they're not into the music, he won't work with them. Even if it was his own brother. So this wasn't done as a favor to my uncle."

She goes as far to say that Kelly worked her hard in his studio in Chicago, where she stayed to record Age Ain't Nothing But A Number.

"He's a perfectionist," admits Aaliyah. "Some things we went over a million times, until he was happy with a take. But if I was tired, we'd hang out and go to McDonald's or the movies. There were some very long nights -- sometimes from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m."

As for her schooling, a tutor accompanied her to Chicago, and one will also accompany her next month to Europe when she travels on a six week promo trip. She hasn't yet performed live, but with a tour being booked for early next year, Aaliyah is hoping to stay at her current high school.

"Nothing's more important than a good education, so I want to finish high school, and then go to college and major in music history and minor in engineering."

Why music history?

"Music is my life," she replies. "Maybe I'll be able to teach it someday."

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1994 -- Age Ain't Nothing But A Number -- Jive

1996 -- One In A Million -- Atlantic

COLLABORATIONS

1996 -- Various Artists, Space Jam

1999 -- Various Artists, Music From The Heart

1999 -- Various Artists, Next Friday

CONTRIBUTIONS

1999 -- Nas, I Am

FILMS

1998 -- Doctor Doolittle

 

POSTSCRIPT:

It was hush-hush at the time, but Joel Whitburn's Billboard Book Of Top 40 Hits  confirms that Aaliyah Haughton married producer Robert "R." Kelly on August 31, 1994.

 

THANKS: Margaret Spence Krewen, Wade Hemsworth, Glenn Nott

 

©1994, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink.

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