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On Aaliyah's 32nd birthday, a celebration of 'Try Again'

January 16, 2011 | 11:20 am

On this day in 1979, Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born. Known simply as Aaliyah, the so-called "Princess of R&B" would have been 32 years old today. She died along with eight other people in 2001 when the plane she was on crashed in the Bahamas, but not before helping define a sound. Despite her youth, in the years leading up to her tragic death Aaliyah changed the face of R&B, first with R. Kelly, who signed her, and then, more prominently, with producer Timbaland and rapper Missy Elliott, who helped her craft some of the most innovative -- and freaky -- hits of the decade.

It's one of those latter collaborations, "Try Again," that's embedded above. The song, a jerky, catchy, electro-R&B jam, was released in 2000, and went to No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. And why wouldn't it? Check the video above. The song is instantly sticky, with its robo-bluster tone, squirrelly synth lines, off-kilter rhythm and Aaliyah's delicate voice offering the advice, "If at first you don't succeed, pick yourself up and try again." Her voice was never huge, but it had a kind of urgency all its own.

The video features Jet Li -- who starred with Aaliyah in the movie "Romeo Must Die," for which the song was recorded -- and the Princess dancing in a hall of mirrors. Aaliyah moves gracefully and with such natural ease, her arms floating along with the synthesizer lines, her legs stepping to the Roland 303 beat. Timbaland shows up to mumble 16 bars, as was his wont on nearly all of his productions of that time, and combined, the yin and yang of A and Timba creates magic. The song cemented Timbaland's spot as the producer of the moment when it landed at No. 1, and he went on to rule hip hop and R&B over the next half decade.

And, heck, because, well, why not, here's another Aaliyah-associated early classic from her, Timbaland, Missy Elliott and Magoo. It's called "Up Jumps Da Boogie, and is an underappreciated hip hop/R&B gem.

Happy birthday, Aaliyah.

-- Randall Roberts

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