These 5 Aaliyah covers are unexpected and the only ones you need
For Frank Ocean, BANKS, Jesse Boykins, Jamie Woon, and Sam Sparro: challenge accepted.
As today (August 25) marks the 17th anniversary of Aaliyah‘s tragic death, fans and artists alike continue to reflect on her influence, how she inspired them in both sound and style long after her time here. And considering how signature her hits were, covering them is no easy task. But these five artists, still feeling her affects, were up to the challenge and, moreover, successfully did so in their own way.
Sam Sparro, “Rock the Boat”
For his cover of “Rock the Boat,” Sparro does away with the original’s breezy lounge sounds and bongo drum. Instead, he pulls a bait-and-switch. Shortly after the slow and synthy atmospheric intro, electronic zips and zaps (the kind that remind you of robot-speak) back a newly-uptempoed chorus. All that before returning back to spacey sounds on the verses. What remains throughout, however, are Sparro’s 90’s R&B vibed-vocals that, sadly, would have paired perfectly with Baby Girl’s. Stay for his impressive runs at the end because, damn.
BANKS, “Are You That Somebody”
This is inarguable, so don’t even try it: nearly 20 years after its release, “Are You That Somebody” is still one of the greatest songs of the ’90s, one of Timbaland‘s most identifiable and impressive productions, and one of Aaliyah’s biggest hits. So, as an artist, attempting to put your own spin on it could be a tall order. Considering so much of the song’s success is due to its dizzying beat of a hate-to-love-it baby’s coo and some mouth-popping beatboxing, BANKS took a chance making her cover solely acoustic. But it works. The guitar’s deep plucks and slap of its body are all the singer needs to show off her jazzy vocalizing and fluttering vibrato.
Jesse Boykins III, “I Care 4 U”
The original “I Care 4 U” was one of Aaliyah’s slowest and most soulful. We really hadn’t heard her sing so bluesy before. Over finger snaps, brassy taps, and small bursts of piano, she lures a lover in both her lowest tone and her fluttering falsetto. And Jesse Boykins III manages to match both of these on his own rendition. But then his layered vocals add this encompassing choral feel you didn’t know you needed to take you way into your feelings.
Jamie Woon, “Try Again”
“Try Again” was Aaliyah’s only song to ever scale the Billboard Hot 100 chart all the way to the No.1 spot, so it’s clear that we took to its Timbaland-produced futuristic beat, comprised mostly of that squiggly static line, with affection. (It’s actually the only thing that soundtracks the song’s lyric-less “hook” breakdown.) But Jamie Woon doesn’t care about that. And that’s okay because that’s artistry. He flips and funkifies this entirely. With a bassline, piano, and some rubbery keyboard chords, he makes it the most unexpected groove.
Frank Ocean, “(At Your Best) You Are Love”
Though, yes, the tracklist to Frank Ocean‘s lo-fi Endless album includes a cover of the Aaliyah-by-way-of-Isley Brothers’ “(At Your Best) You Are Love,” he released its first iteration on Tumblr three years ago on what would’ve been Aaliyah’s 35th birthday. Staying true to the sanctity of the classic, Frank’s take is stripped-down and sweet. And in what somehow manages to not be overwrought or over-emoted, Frank rides nothing more than spacious keys that take a backseat and unabashedly lets his airy falsetto fly. For nearly the whole damn song. And it’s flawless.
Honorable Mention | dvsn, “One In A Million”
This isn’t so much a cover as it is an emotional mash-up of two late favorites: Aaliyah’s “One in A Million” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.” I’m not crying, you’re crying!
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