When the 15-year-old Aaliyah first appeared on the scene in 1994 with the smash hit "Back & Forth," she was already a confident, cocksure young woman with an incredible sense of melody and a penchant for deceptive sexuality. She seemed to debut fully formed, which is why it seemed like she was around for a lot longer than she actually was when she died tragically eight years ago at the age of 22. Aaliyah managed to be the bridge between two great R&B universes: The silky smoothness of R. Kelly's post-New Jack Swing groove (Kelly wrote and produced much of Aaliyah's debut album Age Ain't Nothing But a Number) and the futuristic stutter-funk of Timbaland (who treated Aaliyah like a muse and gave her some of his best beats, like "Are You That Somebody?"). In an era when R&B seemed destined to wallow in the rut created by stuff like K-Ci and JoJo, Aaliyah was a catalyst for looking to the future.
Though she only spend eight years putting out music, Aaliyah built up a pretty impressive greatest hits collection: The tough "Down With the Clique," the playful "If Your Girl Only Knew," the faux-psychedelic "Rock the Boat," the twitchy "More Than a Woman," the unnerving "4 Page Letter" — the list goes on and on. Since her death, the R&B world has stagnated a bit, with Missy Elliott's career on a downward slope and TLC derailed by the death of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. Even Timbaland doesn't seem like the same producer — just compare recent, too-busy stuff like "Throw It On Me" with the simple robo-burbles and computer tweets of 2000's "Try Again," which earned Aaliyah a Grammy nomination.