Lilian Min
August 27, 2016 10:07 am
Blackground / Jive / BMG Records

The 15th anniversary of singer Aaliyah’s death just passed, but her influence in the music world and pop culture at large continues on. Though Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and others have recently paid tribute to the late icon’s legacy, two of the people behind her debut album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number talked with Vibe about how Aaliyah became a superstar in the first place. And well, the conversation is a frank look at how a star is born — and why her mythology remains so strong over a decade after her death.

Jeff Sledge, who worked at Jive Records, revealed that the singer was already gunning for her big break when she had just entered her double digits:

What exactly did that development entail? It surely had something to do with her unique image:

And when the album actually came out, her impact on fashion was just as strong as her impact on the music world:

Though it’s fascinating to read about Aaliyah’s ascent and the nitty gritty of Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number‘s production, what sours the read is the continued praise of R.Kelly, who helped produce the album and gave it its “mmm” title. (Especially in light of his sexual misconduct allegations, specifically regarding underage girls.) It’s sad to see so much emphasis placed on him and his genius; Sledge essentially writes off Kelly’s violence as a “scandal,” and it begins to make sense why the man is still an active artist in the industry today.

But, his presence, his “guidance,” doesn’t detract from Aaliyah’s own agency and work. It was, of course, her youth and liveliness that helped make her a star, and that energy is something she alone brought to the table. You can hear it still when you put that record on.

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