Aaliyah – “More Than a Woman”

Released: 11.13.01

Peak: #25

Aaliyah could practically have been bioengineered for the age of the R&B megahit. She darted so coyly through the herk and jerk of “Are You That Somebody?” and so comfortably accommodated herself within the spaciousness of “Try Again” that she seemed the cornerstone of Timbaland’s designs rather than a mere tenant. But that blockbuster trilogy’s climax, “We Need a Resolution,” was Tim working auteurist modifications on an “Aaliyah hit” blueprint, and the behind-closed-doors lyric sat awkwardly in the spotlit glare of the beat.

Aaliyah had hinted at a broader range on two less prominent singles: the disembodied desire of “I Don’t Wanna” and, especially, the Bonnie-and-Clyde solidarity of her DMX duet “Come Back in One Piece.” But “We Need a Resolution” (an above-average single by any reasonable standards) was not the stimulus her persona needed to blossom. Her earlier hits bobbed with a flirtatiousness that threatened to shut you out entirely unless you proved your merit. Now here she was hauling out that dreaded mid-relationship conversation about compatibility already. How’d we skip over the part where she fucks us?

In several ways, then, time had come for Aaliyah to put up or shut up. And “More Than a Woman,” alongside its graphically instructive companion piece, “Rock the Boat,” is where her timbral tricks, her sexuality, and the ebb-and-flow of the beat become inseparable. (Tim fashioned the track from a loop of the Arab tune “Alouli Ansa,” swiped even more boldfacedly than usual.) She’s not on some superwoman shit with the titular boast–she means more than just the woman you happen to fuck. What’s tantalizing here is the promise that sexual pleasure grows with fidelity over time, and that made her death feel all the more cruel.

On a perhaps not unrelated note–Jesus, was that woman fine.

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