Dead Presidents: Aaliyah

It’s 9:30 pm over the natural Bahama islands on flight Cessna 402B – N8097W. Our team at The Cartoon Citizen have been trying to get an hour with Aaliyah for some time, but with her elaborate schedule, she could only fit us in on her final flight to Hawaii. When asked about her negative upbringing in Detroit her reply is both admirable and simple,  “Keep working hard and you can get anything that you want.” If ever she’s not being alarmingly witty for her age, you know she’s being real. Signing with Jive records at the age of 12 and being introduced to R. Kelly who subsequently became her mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer of her debut album, Aaliyah was always going to take the world by storm. Her later work with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott helped redefine the R&B of the nineties, further cementing her position as the next big thing in pop stardom after her debut album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’ managing to sell three million copies in the United States. As if that weren’t enough, Aaliyah continued to barrage the world with her talents, showing us that she’s as good an actor as she is a musician.

J Lubala: With a work ethic like yours, what do you do when you feel like you’re wearing yourself out?

Aaliyah: You know, there are times I can’t even figure myself out. If I don’t think about it,  it won’t drive me crazy so I think it’s important to take a break, you know, from the public eye for a while, and give people a chance to miss you. I want longevity. I don’t want to get out there and run myself ragged and spread myself thin.

J Lubala: Fatigue is expected if your working day in day out, making music, shooting videos and committing to ‘Romeo Must Die’ simultaneously. Were you not daunted by all opportunities coming your way, and the subsequent workload they would bring you if taken up all at once?

Aaliyah: Romeo Must Die came at the right time. It was the right vehicle for me. I’m a total performer.  I was trained to sing and dance and laugh, and that’s what I want to do.

J Lubala: So acting was always a part of your repertoire?

Aaliyah: I’m an interpreter. I’m the one who takes your words and brings them to life. If I want to go to the mall now I have to take security, but it’s always cool. The kids are amazing.

J Lubala: How easily did you manage to adapt to the world of film?

Aaliyah: Being in Australia, filming Queen of the Damned, was really cool, because I really got to take a break from the industry and be totally creative. Being around cameras on the set and getting comfortable with that environment can prepare you for something like a film.

J Lubala: So which is it exactly – do you work extremely hard or abandon certain projects for others?

Aaliyah: I don’t want to abandon one work for the other, and I don’t think I need to sacrifice anything to put my all into either one of them. I’m doing my best to juggle.

Baggy camo pants paired with Air-Force 1 sneakers, a male black vest and bomber jacket, Aaliyah embarrassingly tells us she’s actually packed a couple of dresses in her luggage.

Aaliyah: Well, I think that the image is a part of me. I wear the baggy pants , the hats, the whole nine. And you know, I may add a little for the excitement and the intrigue in the videos, but my family has told me that little air of mystery that surrounds me is for real. I stay true to myself and my style, and I am always pushing myself to be aware of that and be original.

J Lubala: Do you have any time for a love life midst all  the attention?

Aaliyah: There are times in my life when I just want to be by myself. It’s really a sad story, and I liked that.

J Lubala: How often is your private life invaded?

Aaliyah: In this business, it is very hard to have anything for yourself, because you become a public figure. That comes with the territory. There are certain things I want to keep to me. I don’t discuss my private life.

J Lubala: Nothing like drugs and alcohol to numb the pressure? Please tell me you’re different.

She turns away to peer outside the window pane of the plane for a brief moment as if to almost collect her thoughts before she replies…

Aaliyah: It’s in how you carry yourself. I’ve always been a very mature person, and I’ve always known what I wanted. And I go after it no matter what.

We’re flipping through her music catalogue and come across a few lyrics that carry a sense of gloom and darkness: “we’ll burn you, we’ll cut you, we’ll kill you”.

When I raise an eyebrow she slyly smirks and explains:

Aaliyah: It’s fun to be creative and innovative and come up with something crazy. So I need people to work with who are not going to be afraid to take it to the left a bit. That’s why I work every day. Ev-er-y day. I want to knock people out.

To end off our interview I decide to ask the late Princess of Pop if she had the chance to give all the young aspiring artists of the world today a gesture of inspiration, what would she say

Aaliyah: If God gave you the talent, you should go for it. But don’t think it’s going to be easy. It’s hard!

So I was wrong about her being simple. She’s both as misunderstood and warm hearted as they come. The plane takes some turbulence and my airplane nerves begin to kick in. Aaliyah smiles and nods with understanding.

We’re missing you.

– Written by Yoshi Monday
– Edited by Jonathan Lubala