This month point out the 20th anniversary that the death of Aaliyah. The R&B singer, born Aaliyah Dana Haughton and also nicknamed infant Girl but finest known through her first name, died in a airplane crash on august 25, 2001, at 22 years old. Alongside that anniversary come a notable milestone: On august 20, Aaliyah’s music catalog started making its way to streaming because that the very first time.

In her lifetime, Aaliyah was celebrated as among pop’s many forward-looking and also futuristic artists. She quiet is: A 2021 MTV News article declared that listening to she 2001 self-titled album “still sounds favor the future.” Yet till this month, the only Aaliyah album available to present was her 1994 debut, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number — which meant that hearne to any kind of Aaliyah song on streaming meant immediately sending royalties to R. Kelly, the album’s producer and also Aaliyah’s alleged abuser.

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Kelly, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, is at the center of the other large Aaliyah milestone the this month. On august 18, opening statements started at Kelly’s attempt on charges of racketeering and sex trafficking. Aaliyah shows up as jane Doe No. 1 ~ above Kelly’s indictment, and also she is likely Kelly’s very first known victim.

For a really long time, however, it is not just how the world told your story. Instead of a story around abuse, the story that R. Kelly and Aaliyah to be framed as a love story.

Court records display that Aaliyah and also Kelly were married in an illegal consciousness in 1994, when Aaliyah to be 15 and also Kelly 27. The wedding was easily annulled, and Kelly and Aaliyah both denied it ever took place. (Kelly has ongoing to refuse it at his trial.)

Since Aaliyah’s 2001 death, story that have filtered the end from Aaliyah’s friends, family, and boyfriends imply that Kelly abused her badly. Additionally, because news of Kelly’s ongoing abusive relationships and also his so-called “sex cult” damaged in 2017 amid the Me too movement, discussions about what that did to Aaliyah have got a widespread ethical outrage that they lacked simply a couple of years ago.

pan of Aaliyah turn a document store mural of the singer into a shrine after her death. Steve Grayson/WireImage “Theirs no a love story that defied age,” writes journalist Kathy Iandoli in she 2021 biography Baby Girl: much better Known together Aaliyah; “it to be a tragedy the Aaliyah endured and somehow relocated past to come to be an symbol in her own right without him.”

Even in 1994, that should have been clear simply from the sheer period difference and also power differential between Aaliyah and also Kelly — Aaliyah 15 and a child, Kelly 27 and her experienced mentor — that any type of romantic relationship in between them would most most likely hurt her. It additionally should have been clear that the obligation for any type of such relationship rested v the adult in the room: Kelly.

Instead, in the after-effects of the connection — both before Kelly’s 2006 arrest for the possession of son pornography and throughout his skilled rehabilitation in the years that followed, every the method up until the news of his so-called “sex cult” damaged in 2017 — their an enig marriage was treated together an amusingly soapy celebrity scandal. Moreover, R. Kelly’s abuse the Aaliyah has been treated together something shameful around Aaliyah rather than something shameful about Kelly.

Aaliyah worked hard to move on indigenous Kelly after news that their marital relationship went public. She stopped working v him, embracing a brand-new sound with Missy Elliot and also Timbaland. In the seven years between distancing herself from Kelly and her death, Aaliyah sent played under the totality incident with the press every time the was pointed out in public.

But in one odd way, the story that what R. Kelly did to Aaliyah would set her image. Together her star rose, her youth and innocence would certainly become main to the method the civilization understood her sexuality, and her sexuality, in turn, would certainly be central to what the human being loved around her.

So when we talk around Aaliyah today, twenty years after she death, we uncover ourselves faced with the job of untangling Kelly’s abuse indigenous Aaliyah’s picture — and the question of whether it’s even possible for united state to carry out so.

“It was basically choose listening to an R. Kelly album, but with a tiny girl singing”

Aaliyah and R. Kelly met with Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson. Hankerson was Kelly’s manager, and also when Aaliyah was 12 year old, Hankerson carried her right into the studio and also had her song for Kelly.

At 12, Aaliyah had currently been pushing for years come break into the industry. She appeared on Star Search at age 10. She sang with her aunt Gladys knight at one of Knight’s ras Vegas concert at period 11. By period 12, she was, Hankerson thought, ready to begin thinking around an album. Kelly agreed. In 1993, once Aaliyah to be 14 year old, she and Kelly started work on she debut: Age Ain’t Nothing however a Number.

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The album to be a hit. It debuted in ~ No. 24 on Billboard in may 1994, and also it earned Aaliyah nominations in ~ the American Music Awards and also the spirit Train Awards. Most movie critics thought castle knew what made it so good: R. Kelly.

“Aaliyah’s ‘Back & Forth’ is a fixture in the pop height 5 partly due to the fact that of R. Kelly. … that not only produced and also wrote ‘Back & Forth,’ however he additionally does the rapping,” described the LA time in 1994. “Getting airplay for a solitary by a new artist is hard — unless it features R. Kelly doing everything but the command vocals. Pan love just about anything he does, and also ‘Back & Forth’ is the next best thing to a brand-new R. Kelly single.”

Even after ~ Aaliyah had created herself and her voice and also everyone knew what an Aaliyah album sounded like, Age Ain’t Nothing yet a Number still sounded strikingly favor an R. Kelly album rather than one Aaliyah album. “It to be basically choose listening to an R. Kelly album, yet with a little girl singing,” album sequencer Jeff Sledge said Vibe in 2014. “Obviously the subject matter wasn’t sexual, yet the all at once production and also the sound that the record was prefer a Robert album together a tiny girl.”

Kelly appears to have actually been will on presenting Aaliyah to the civilization as a miniature version of himself, and not simply in the way her album sounded. In Iandoli’s Baby Girl, Aaliyah’s stylist Kimya Warfield Rainge recalls that Kelly insisted Aaliyah be dressed prefer him for her videos, in one oversize sweatsuit the would disclose her midriff, with dark sunglasses. He additionally produced a leather vest for her, a miniature version of the vest he wore top top his album covers and tours, v a license plate because that Illinois — Kelly’s residence state — top top the back. Rainge didn’t feel the vest specifically fit Aaliyah’s look, however both Aaliyah and also Kelly insisted she wear it. “He to be the influencer,” Kimya said. “They currently had an image collection for her.”