20 years on from Aaliyah’s avoidable death
(Credit: Mika-photography)

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20 years on from Aaliyah's avoidable death

Aaliyah’s life was tragically cut short on August 25th, 2021, when she was 22-years-old in a devastating plane crash that robbed the world of a talent who was only just getting started. Her story is a harrowing one from start to finish, demonstrating the dangerous side of the music industry and how it tends to manipulate the most vulnerable.

While her death was, on the surface, a freak accident, it wasn’t wholly one. It was the result of a carefree attitude adopted by her management team where they assumed immortality. In truth, Aaliyah and the eight other casualties onboard should never have been on the plane in the first place. Something that they all knew before stepping onboard on that August evening.

After filming the video for ‘Rock The Boat’ in the Abaco Islands, Aaliyah and her team decided to fly back to the States early rather than staying the night as planned. When they discovered the aircraft available wasn’t large enough for all nine of them, they should have taken this as a warning sign, but alas, taking a second to breathe wasn’t in their lexicon.

Such was the hurried way of life that she’d become accustomed to in a bid for superstardom; Aaliyah and her team stopped treating her like a human but instead like Champagne sipping cattle. The plane crashed and caught fire just 200m from the runway, with everybody on the flight losing their life.

Tragically, her death embodies the management of her career, where she was constantly void of the necessary care. Sequentially, her life would be the ultimate cost she’d pay for other people’s negligence.

Aaliyah’s uncle Barry Hankerson worked as an entertainment lawyer and brokered a distribution deal for his niece through Jive Records when she was just 12. She then started work with the notorious R. Kelly, who is currently on trial for helming a paedophile ring. He produced her debut album, Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, when Aaliyah was only 14.

Rumours began circulating that the two of them had started a relationship, despite Aaliyah still being a child, and then it emerged that they secretly married when she was 15. Although on the certificate, her age was listed as 18, and when her parents discovered this six months later, they annulled the illegal marriage. Her ‘relationship’ with Kelly scarred her, and Aaliyah was shockingly publically shamed despite being groomed. 

At her death, Aaliyah was engaged to Roc-A-Fella co-founder Damon Dash, who later revealed she couldn’t speak about Kelly even in private. Dash noted how Aaliyah only went as far as calling him a “bad man” and never opened up about their time together. Additionally, Dash also said that he couldn’t watch the Surviving R. Kelly documentary as the other girls’ trauma reminded him of Aaliyah’s pain.

The mental ordeal derived from that torturous period harmed her relationship with Dash, and even though Kelly was no longer in her life, the wounds he left her with still wreaked havoc in her mind.

Aaliyah threw herself into her work and even began to have a prosperous career in Hollywood. Before her death, she even landed a role in the sequels of The Matrix as Zee, and the future looked unstoppably bright.

There was no off-button, and Aaliyah didn’t know how to possibly stop. Her aggressive approach to work was perhaps a coping mechanism and a distraction to keep her mind racing away from thinking about the past.

One thing that remains clear is that nobody around in her close team held her best long-term interests at heart. They were worried about money, and fame, with everything else, deemed secondary. 

Her tale is something that the music industry should have learned from; however, the death of artists like Lil Peep and Juice WRLD show that more care still needs to be on hand for these young stars. If change doesn’t occur, there’ll be plenty more horror stories that don’t need to end that way.