10 years ago to this day the music industry lost one of it’s most impactful, glowing voices when singer Aaliyah tragically died when her plane crashed in the Bahamas following a video shoot. Four months prior to her untimely death the singer sat down with MTV for what would eventually be her final interview speaking on her new career in Hollywood and working on her next solo album.
Just like there will always be actors who really want to direct, there will be pop stars who want to act. But for every Will Smith, there’s a dozen Spice Girls who give the cross-over a bad name. Thankfully, enigmatic R&B singer Aaliyah isn’t going the “Spice World” route. Not only has she rung up chart hits, but she’s also building a resume as a bankable actress who brings a sense of adventure and intrigue to her roles.
Now, if only the 22-year-old would work a bit faster in the studio. Fans had to wait five years between the release of 1996’s One in a Million and her just-released, self-titled, third album. In the interim, Aaliyah did some soundtrack songs (“Anastasia,” “Dr. Dolittle”) and had a well-received big screen debut in the urban drama “Romeo Must Die.” Judging by “We Need a Resolution,” the sexy first single from her new album, the wait was worth it. Aaliyah told Elon Johnson and Curtis Waller what it felt like to turn into a vampire for her next role, why she loves snakes and why information on her part in the upcoming sequels to the “Matrix” is strictly on a need-to-know basis. And you don’t need to know … yet.
MTV: Your video for “We Need a Resolution” and the album both feature a snake theme. What’s that all about?
Aaliyah: I first dealt with snakes when I was in Australia and I did the photo shoot for the album. We used five pythons in the shoot. At first, I was a little nervous, but once I started to handle them, I totally fell in love and felt an affinity toward them. They’re very mysterious creatures. They live in solitude, [and] there are times in my life [when] I just want to be by myself. There are times I can’t even figure myself out. I feel they are very complex creatures, [but] at the same time, they’re sexy, too. That’s why they represent Aaliyah pretty well. They’re dangerous, but quite beautiful. I thought that it would be an animal that could represent me on this album, so I wanted to take it from the photo shoot to the video and probably throughout the whole project. [RealVideo]
MTV: It doesn’t really seem like it’s been five years since your last album, because your presence has been constant.
Aaliyah: That was something that I wanted to do. I wanted to take a break after One in a Million to just relax, think about how I wanted to approach the next album. Then, when I was ready to start back up, “Romeo” happened, and so I had to take another break and do that film and then do the soundtrack, then promote it. The break turned into a longer break than I anticipated.
MTV: What were you doing outside of the movie that prolonged releasing another album?
Aaliyah: The movies actually prolonged the album. I started working on this third album before I did “Romeo Must Die.” When that project came up, I took a break from [the album] to do [the movie]. I took a conscious break before starting to record, because I wanted to rejuvenate and get my creative juices flowing. But then the other projects came up. That’s what pushed the album back even further. When I did [the movie] “Queen of the Damned,” I decided to record the album at the same time so that I could release [it] this year. [RealVideo]
MTV: Do you feel you’ve made any sacrifices in your music career to work on your movie career?
Aaliyah: No. I don’t feel I made any sacrifices at all. In the interim … I still did my music. I was on a number of soundtracks, and we did videos to a few of those songs. Right now, I’m doing my best to juggle both. I don’t want to abandon one for the other, and I don’t think I need to sacrifice anything in order to put my all into either one of them.
MTV: Do you feel any pressure this time around that wasn’t there for your last album?
Aaliyah: I don’t think about my previous success. I’m happy that the work I’ve done in the past has been very successful. All I can do is leave it in God’s hands and hope that my fans feel where I’m coming from. I took the time out to give my all. Being in Australia [filming “Queen of the Damned”] was really cool, because I really got to take a break from what was going on in the industry and be totally creative.
MTV: You worked with Timbaland on the first single, but you also worked with a lot of other new producers. Who did you work with this time, and why did you pick these particular people?
Aaliyah: These new producers are in our camp. They’re with the Blackground [label] family. Their names are Bud’da, J. Dub, and E. Seats. [They’re] amazing producers. They add a wonderful new flavor to the project, along with Timbaland, who has three cuts on the album. … The sound that you heard before from Aaliyah is evident, but it’s just a little bit different. It’s a little bit more mature.
MTV: You said one of your favorite songs on the album is “I Can Be.” What does it mean to you?
Aaliyah: I like that song, because it speaks about being the other woman. There are relationships out there where a guy already has a girlfriend and he’s got one on the side, too. What’s cool about it [is that] music is for everyone to interpret in [their] own way. You may hear a song and feel one way about it, and I feel another. My interpretation of that song is, even though I’m singing [about being] the other woman in your life, I’ll be on the side, I don’t mind. It’s so dark. There’s a part of [the character] that is so depressing, it makes you feel she doesn’t really mean what she’s saying. She likes this guy, but she really doesn’t want to be the other girl on the side. It’s really a sad story, and I liked that. These songs on this album talk about relationships in every aspect.
MTV: Have any of these songs been sitting around since the last album?
Aaliyah: My favorite song is “I Care 4 U.” That song is five years old. I listened to it right when I finished One in a Million and … I wish I could’ve put it on that album. But we put it to the side [and] waited. It’s a timeless, classic song. It still sounds amazing to this day. Missy [Elliott] wrote that [one].
MTV: Does “We Need a Resolution” speak to a specific person or situation?
Aaliyah: Not personally, no. This song just speaks about relationships and things that happen in life. This particular song doesn’t touch on anything that happened to me in my life, it just speaks about a relationship that has gone a little sour and the lady’s asking for a resolution. [She’s saying], “We need to talk, we need to solve this.”
MTV: Was shooting “Queen of the Damned” more challenging then “Romeo Must Die”?
Aaliyah: It’s hard to compare them, because they’re so different. I play a fantastical creature in “Queen of the Damned.” I play a vampire, and not just any vampire. I’m playing the queen of all vampires! She’s the mother, she’s 4,000 centuries old. She’s a bit evil but very regal, so there was a lot I had to do to really find [the character], Akasha. I took months of preparation for that. She had to have an accent, and [I] had to do wire work because she flew, so there was a lot that went into bringing Akasha to life. [RealVideo]
MTV: You just finished shooting “Queen of the Damned,” and you’re going to San Francisco before you go back to Australia for the “Matrix” sequels. How’s that going?
Aaliyah: I don’t have to go back to Australia until next year to finish shooting [the “Matrix” sequels]. It actually works out great, because I have the time needed to support the album and tour. … It’s kind of hard juggling both of them, because it’s double the workload. But the way I look at is I just let it work itself out, let it flow. If I don’t think about it, it won’t drive me crazy.
MTV: Have you been doing any special preparation for the “Matrix” sequels, given all the action scenes that are going to be in it?
Aaliyah: I know I’m involved in some action scenes, so they’ll definitely train me for that. I’ll be working with my acting coach before I go out there, to prepare for my character.
MTV: Can you tell me a little bit about your “Matrix” character, Zee?
Aaliyah: I can’t say much about Zee, unfortunately. “The Matrix” is top secret. They’re making sure we know that there isn’t much that can be said right now. [Smiles]
Rest in peace, Aaliyah. You will forever be remembered.