Thursday, August 25, 2011

Aaliyah - 10 Years Later

August 25, 2001. I was at home with my sister and we were watching some show on TV and cracking up. I got a phone call from my friend John that I didn't believe. After checking the radio and the news (pre 24/7 media age), I yelled at him for lying and called him disrespectful for trying to joke about a death like that. I was so angry and then we watched the news flash on Channel 13.

Pop/R&B singer Aaliyah dead in a plane crash.

That was the first time I cried over a famous death. I knew of famous deaths before. I littered my 10th grade notebook with RIP to Coach Tom Landry, Wilt Chamberlain and the shocking deaths of Malik Sealy, Walter Payton and Payne Stewart.  But Aaliyah was something different. She was young, vibrant and carried herself with a maturity beyond her years.

I wrote about her briefly two years ago but thinking about her now. Aaliyah was a 22 year old woman. Not a girl, but a woman. She had an airy voice but she sang with poise and wasn't overtly sexual. Back then, teen R&B stars like her, Usher, Brandy and Monica didn't sound like kids. They sounded like young adults and their music - although poppy - wasn't bubblegum. They had adults who molded their sound to appeal to my generation and older folks. I miss that now.

Back then, I didn't like Brandy as much because she was a nasal singer even though she became a huge star on TV/movies. Monica was probably the strongest, young female singer out of the group as evidenced by how she had a longer, relevant career. Aaliyah fit in the middle - she didn't have the most powerful voice but it was smooth, confidnt and sensual. I'm not gonna say she was the greatest singer but she could kill you softly.

One in A Million, one of the R&B's most influential albums, sounded like a 20-something but she was only 16/17. She sang with so much maturity (and had a hungry Timbaland and Missy on the boards) that it's no surprise the folks who made "Anastasia" asked her to sing the theme song and she took it all the way to the Oscars.

For my generation, her death was a "Where Were You" moment. I remember Tupac and Biggie's death but at the time it didn't register as much to me as it does now. Their deaths were shocking but with the aura of violence around them, you hoped it wouldn't go too far. Aaliyah's death was a tragic shock because nobody saw it coming.

It also was a start of a weird time for me. I was getting ready to be a high school senior and not even 2 weeks after dealing with Aaliyah, 9/11 hit. A few months later, Left Eye from TLC died tragically. It didn't ruin that year at all but looking back, it was crazy to have 3 big moments happen like that.

I watched the making of "Rock the Boat" and seeing her get on that plane, I kept hoping she'd get off. It's why I can't hear that song or watch that video without feeling sad and only recently I realized what the lyrics were about. Seeing it again, you just watch her ooze with sensuality and peace. She could be playful and one of the boys but yet remind you that she was a woman who didn't have to gyrate extra hard or talk extra dirty to make you like her.

She's also a great What If? Back in 2001, her self-titled album was a solid seller at the time of her death. She was set to star in the Matrix sequels after a great role in Romeo Must Die so she would've transitioned into Hollywood. She might've been on Missy's Under Construction album in 2002 and would've risen higher alongside her. Would she and Dame Dash have made for a great power couple and would she and Jay-Z have made some music for Blueprint 2?

There's no telling where she would've gone during my college years (2002-06). Imagine her maybe collaborating with Justin Timberlake as Timbaland expanded his profile (heck, would he still have been so bored with hip-hop/R&B if she was here?). I had heard rumors she was working on a song with Beck (which I still have never heard) and she was rumored to do something with Trent Reznor.

But all of that is speculation. Instead we live in an era where today's high school students probably have no clue who Aaliyah is. It's sobering to me as I tutor students born in 1998-2001 who not only don't know her but they don't know the impact of 9/11. It's realizing that I've become like the older generations talking about JFK or James Dean or the Challenger. They know but they don't know like we do.

The further I get from her passing, the more I realize how special she was and how we were robbed of seeing her full potential. Having lived through my 20's now, I could only imagine what she could've done and realized about herself.

Here's my favorite Aaliyah songs to close on.

1. Hot Like Fire
2. Rock The Boat
3. Journey to the Past
4. I Miss You
5. Back and Forth (Despite the terrible truth about her and R. Kelly, this was good music)
6. One in a Million
7. Choosey Lover (An amazing cover with a twist at the end)
8. Age Ain't Nothin But a Number
9. Try Again (her only #1 hit)
10. Are You That Somebody - written by the late Static Major, who some of yall know from Lollipop

Since it's inevitable, I'll school folks on something. In 2001, Beyonce was on the verge of becoming a breakout star. She was getting credit as the chief songwriter/driving force behind Destiny's Child and DC had more No. 1 hits than Aaliyah did. She had a bigger voice and a bolder presence than Aaliyah (as well as a songwriter). She was Hollywood bound with Goldmember in 2002.

There's no shame in saying that Beyonce would've been a star had Aaliyah lived. But Aaliyah's star would've kept growing as well. Besides what I said, she may have developed into a songwriter as she got older since she didn't write her material. And Aaliyah would've performed songs that kept appealing to women (as opposed to Beyonce writing for girls and settling for cliches).

But there's also no sense to compare the two or elevate one over the other. It's worthless. Just thought I'd share some truth because they were two different artists with different styles. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gumbo on the Road - The Finale (A-Town STOMP!)

We finally made it to Atlanta. Thanks to our great time yesterday, we were able to make it through the South in one night. Making our way through towns like Tyler, TX, Chunky, MS and Leeds, AL in between major cities like Dallas, Shreveport, Pearl, Vicksburg, Jackson and Tuscaloosa.

I don't have a lot of pics since I missed most of the scenic sights driving so I'll just share what I have with some thoughts afterwards.
The road scenery in Canton, TX. For the most part, the roads were much greener today than driving through the deserts, especially driving through the forests of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

You know the dreaded feeling of compromising your beliefs to get by?  Today did that with eating McDonald's . My pride got clogged like my arteries but it was better than starving. 

The Shreveport Water Tower. Closest border crossing picture I got all trip since I was driving for most of them.

The Independence Bowl in Shreveport. 
Stepping outside in Brandon, Mississippi, we were greeted by a nice dose of sauna-like humidity. Believe it or not, it was actually a relief from the dry heat we felt in Texas. Nothing compares to the best sight of perhaps the whole trip.

Crossing the Louisiana-Mississippi border means getting to see the Mississippi River. We saw the Rio Grande Tuesday but this is a whole, different monster. It was wide and beautiful. Just crossing it made me feel  privileged to have seen it and imagine all the stories it could tell. Then crossing into Dixieland, we paused briefly for some quiet reflection. Mississippi's got a lot of dark history with my ancestors as does Alabama.

There was plenty of darkness going from Jackson to Tuscaloosa. Almost like you could feel the ghosts of the past mixed with a willingness to not change into the future. I felt that in Vicksburg knowing that's the city where the tide of the Civil War turned along with Gettysburg.

But same time, I was happy to find the sports connections. I passed an exit for Philadelphia, the town where 3 civil rights activists were murdered and the home of the legendary Marcus Dupree. I saw Tuscaloosa where Roll Tide is the official greeting and got gas in Leeds, birthplace of Charles Barkley. Tyler gave us the great Earl Campbell.

As I drove the last leg into Georgia listening to BIG K.R.I.T, Elzhi and Camp Lo's latest mixtapes, I realized exactly what my uncle and I have done. We finished my 1st cross country trip and I got to soak in some great wisdom/advice from him along the way. I'll save more of that from my full trip recap but as I try to sleep with these thunderstorms in the distance, I'm doing it with a smile. Praise God for this great experience and I know I'll have time to reflect on it for weeks to come.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gumbo on the Road - Day 2 (Texas Two Steppin)

Summing Up Day 2 quickly - 900 miles driven. Moved through Tucson to New Mexico to El Paso to Odessa to now Fort Worth. We should be reaching ATL by tomorrow night and I'm betting tomorrow will be an interesting drive rolling through most of the Southern states. Here's some of the shots I took on the road

(The Arizona desert was beautiful. Just to see the different ways it looked all the way around)

(Extra cool rock formation in AZ)

(One of several shirts in our New Mexico gas stop. Sign me up for this PETA!)

(They don't play in New Mexico. Light one up, they'll string you up. Add this to our Underground Railroad theme)

(Loved this really cool bird sculpture in the desert. Just hanging out there at random)

(The Rio Grande, folks. Not as wide as I expected but the closest I got to a good shot  since I drove through New Mexico and Texas' borders)

(Texas viddles - Steak Fingers, fries and texas toast. Chicken Fried Steak Fingers  is something we need to bring back to Cali for sure.)

(Last rest stop for the night in Colorado City after my last shift.  A lil nervewracking at 1st but I let Jesus take the wheel and help me get comfortable driving at night. Word to Carrie Underwood.)

(Finally, we touched down in Fort Worth and you know I had to get this. Can't not come to TX and not get  you some Whataburger. Oh, how I miss thee!!!!)
That's it for now. Tomorrow, we finish up Texas then ride through the South. I wonder how many folks will bug out down there seeing the ghost of Harriet Tubman on our truck.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gumbo on the Road - Day 1 (Cali to Tuscon)

Well folks, I'm heading to Atlanta to see my sister and I'm on my longest road trip ever. I'm currently in Tucson, Arizona about to crash for the evening so here's some quick takes from Day One. 

This is on the side of our truck. Total irony of us going to the South with a shout to the Underground Railroad on here. That's why I've nicknamed it the Overground Railroad (or Reverse Underground Railroad as my friend LeAnn put it).

The Cali roads are all desert and its pretty boring but still amazing to see. And no, I took this from the passenger seat, not the driver's seat.

Where we stopped in Buckeye, AZ. Almost as shocking as the $3.29 gas price in the area? The BK had Fox News  on the channel (for the uninformed, that's total sarcasm if you know Arizona and its politics)

More of the Cali high desert. 

This was cool. Rain clouds in Palm Springs. That rain came down so hard but it felt so good coming out the window. Almost like a bunch of kisses that you couldn't help smiling over

Wind energy is at a premium out here in Palm Springs. And yep, you can see me taking that shot through the mirror.

Downtown Phoenix sunset. Tried to get closer but it was absolutely beautiful. 
I also got the see evidence of the San Andreas Fault in Indio. I pity the folks who drive out to Coachella though cause that's one long drive that makes Riverside seem easy. I'll post that tomorrow cause I'm pooped. It's crazy hot and the devil's breath is hard to adjust to but for the most part, the drive was smooth. Getting used to driving a big truck instead of my Volvo is rough.

Day 2 tomorrow. The long-awaited drive through Texas! Can you feel the excitement! Can you feel the sarcasm! Seriously though, we're supposed to roll through Odessa and if you watch Friday Night Lights, you'll know how cool that is. We should be ending up somewhere outside of Dallas so that'll be nice.

Til then, your humble correspondent says goodnight from Tucson, AZ. Where 5 Guys, Whataburger and In-N-Out live in harmony. (And since I'm here, special shouts to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who made her town and country proud today with her return to Washington to vote on the debt ceiling plan.)