Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday Review: Aaliyah's "One In a Million" (1996)

Aaliyah - One In a Million (1996, USA)
Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: One In a Million, 4 Page Letter, If Your Girl Only Knew, Never Givin' Up

For the longest time, I always thought that One in a Million was Aaliyah's debut album, but there was another album before it. Unfortunately, I've never actually heard her first album, which probably makes me a bad Aaliyah fan or something. Nonetheless, I wanted to review an album that most Aaliyah fans recognized as well as my first introduction to her music that expanded her music video discography on TV. I remember first borrowing this album or listening to it from my cousin, who is a big Aaliyah fan. It definitely cemented my love and admiration for this young talented lady.

"Beats 4 Da Streets (Intro)" is a simple introduction featuring, at the time, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. It's a short track with a slight hip-hop beat and some deep, airy vocals from Aaliyah. It gives just enough of a sample of what this album would deliver to its listeners.

"Hot Like Fire" continues a similar beat from the introduction with Missy as the hype woman in the song. The beat is pretty laid back with a bit of bass in the background to hit those back row speakers of your car. Aaliyah's vocals remain a bit deep, but light to float out at the end of lines and during the bridge. The music video features a remix version provided by one of the most popular producers at that time Timbaland. It still maintains that laid back tone, but bumps the beat up to make it more of a club track. It features some simple choreography with a block party atmosphere on a music set.

As mentioned in my first entry of Miko's Music Connection, "One in a Million" was my introduction to Aaliyah's world and probably for a lot of people who watched BET. It's a slightly slower song than "Hot Like Fire" and presents more of a sensual tone. The song reaches out to a lover that Aaliyah is smitten with. The lyrics are very simple to understand and really touches on many points in a relationship. The music video features R&B singer Ginufine Ginuwine as Aaliyah's love interest. There's some great intimate choreography as well that mixes it up between beauty shots of her on a car and interacting with Ginuwine. "Girl Like You" is the essence of 90s R&B and hip-hop. The song starts off with guest rapper from Naughty by Nature, Treach. It's not a track I listened to that often, not because it's bad or anything, but I guess Treach's style of rapping sounded like he was yelling from across the hallway or something. At first, the song seems a bit unbalanced with Treach's voice almost taking over the song and Aaliyah's soft vocals. But it is an enjoyable track.

"If Your Girl Only Knew" brought back the sound that I think fits Aaliyah's vocal talent best. It goes back to a simple R&B sound. The vocals feature a few layers of either back-up singers or echos. I remember jamming out to this song and felt that strong attitude in Aaliyah's voice throughout this song. I could see her telling this guy off to his face, maybe a little side eye, and a cocky smile while she walked away. I don't think I've ever seen the music video until now, but it seems like one of the most risque music videos I've seen by a good way. It's sexual, but not too sexual. Aaliyah's style mixes tomboy and sex appeal. She and the other actresses deliver attitude and dominance over these cheating men in simple scenarios such as a private room and an elevator. Of course, it features some artist cameos like "Hot Like Fire" such as R&B trio 702 and rapper Lil' Kim. "Choosey Lover (Old School/New School)" is part cover, part remix. I remember listening to this track with my dad in the car and he had a flashback of the original by The Isley Brothers. I was happy he approved of this meeting of old school and new school when we listened to this track. Aaliyah's voice is absolutely flawless and the first half keeps that mood of "quiet storm soul". By the end of the cover portion, a strong hip-hop bass beat fuses in while Aaliyah's vocals smoothly transition to the change in beats.

"Got to Give It Up" is another cover track originally sung by the legendary Marvin Gaye. According to Wikipedia, it samples Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and features rapper Slick Rick. It's an upbeat track that Aaliayh does well. With her light voice, it doesn't quite pack the same punch as the original, but gives a personal flair to the cover that still conveys the same essence of Marvin Gaye's original. Slick Rick's contribution isn't as overpowering as Treach's and simply elevates the mood of the track toward the end.

"4 Page Letter" is by far one of my favorite Aaliyah songs and my favorite track on this album. Not only did this song really cement my admiration for her, but it's just a very good track. It reverts back to being a love song like "One in a Million" and takes it up several notches in quality. The beat is less overpowering and really lets Aaliyah's voice shine, whether she's doing runs or delivering a verse. Every layer of this song is perfection; it really makes you want to turn it up like the beginning requested. Also, the bridge really solidifies this as a great love song. It displays a bit of shyness, but determination in tone. Lastly, I think this is one of her best music videos on this album as well. I'm not going to say too much about it and just let the video speak for itself. "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" is another track I didn't listen to that much...well, not many of the songs after "4 Page Letter" I listened to when I was younger...and kinda now. None of these songs are bad in the least, just less played. This track brings back the upbeat hip-hop elements incorporated in Aaliyah's sound. It's a fun little track that exudes tons of confidence in content and delivery. It really makes me feel that everything will be alright. "Giving You More" scales back some of that hip-hop sound, but doesn't completely disappear. It simply balances out with Aaliyah's R&B roots, although the beat almost takes over her beautiful delivery in the bass section. "I Gotaha' Back" stays consistent in the balance of sound, but gives her vocals a little more opportunity to break through and reach the listener's ears. "Never Givin' Up" is a track that features Tavarius Polk with some very strong vocals and took me until high school to truly appreciate. I'm very picky with ballads, but R&B has a higher chance of me enjoying, although a lot of them around this time period sounded similar. Nonetheless, it's a really, really solid track that I could see on rainy day scenarios in movies when a character's lover goes away or a wedding song. Definitely check this song out for a real throwback sound. Listening to it now, I still think that Boyz II Men were part of this song and occasionally Tavarius' voice sounds a bit nasally in places, but it's still a beautiful song. "Heartbroken" shares a similar sound to "Hot Like Fire", but toned down and mixed a little more interestingly. It's a song with some vulnerabilities in the vocals, but a subtle strength beneath it. "Never Comin' Back" continues the narrative of heartbreak, but encourages moving on and not dwelling on the past. Things were good, but there are better things coming in the future as well without you. It kinda has a bit of a R&B lounge sound with Timbaland's flair on minimalistic sound. "Ladies In Da House" features Timbaland and Missy and an upbeat R&B sound with a hint of hip-hop. Whether you see it as an independent track or a continuation of the narrative from the last 2-3 tracks, it works as a confidence track for all the ladies. I can see this song being featured in the club, back in the day, and all the ladies enjoying themselves on the floor without any men involved. "Just me and the girls~"

"The One I Gave My Heart To" is a power ballad that ends all the full length tracks on the album. With the cohesion of heartbreak above, I probably would've moved this track up and let "Ladies In Da House" close off the album. Nonetheless, this song features some really strong and powerful vocals by Aaliyah as well as some genuine vulnerability. According to Wikipedia, Aaliyah ad-libbed the last verse of the song, which is quite impressive. The music video features her alone with no cameos or special guests to accompany or comfort her. It really fits the tone of the song and shows Aaliyah in the classic "singing in the rain" shot that a lot of pop and R&B male artists used. "Came to Give Love (Outro)" closes out the album with some feature vocals by producer Timbaland. It's a simple hip-hop/R&B beat that I actually like a lot more than the intro. It probably would've been a cool full track too.

One In a Million was definitely a step up from "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number" (the song, not the album). Aaliyah's voice is a gentle power that eases new listeners in and comforts those familiar to 90s R&B. Timbaland and Missy's beats deliver a great balance of hip-hop and R&B and lets that balance shift in all the right tracks. While there are a couple tracks where the beats overpower Aaliyah's soft vocals, majority of them let her voice float effortlessly through the listener's ears and sometimes resonant with vulnerability and genuine passion. One In a Million is a solid sophomore album that displays growth in Aaliyah's vocal talents and versatility as well as what great producers can do with a great talent.

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