Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number – Aaliyah (1994)


“Age ain’t nothing but a number” is the debut album from Brooklyn born singer Aaliyah Dana Houghton.

Aaliyah was just 14 years old when this album was released which is significant give the mature vocals and adult lyrics which were all written by R&B Singer/Songwriter R.Kelly.

The fact that R.Kelly was romantically involved with Aaliyah mixed with the album’s title does make listening a little unsettling. Yes, the album should be taken on it’s individual merit but in this age of information is difficult not to be aware of the background.

The personality that comes across on the album cannot realistically be that of young Aaliyah but does that make it a bad album? Aaliyah therefore take on a character and in that sense I can get with the feeling that is attempting to be portrayed.

It’s a very mature and rounded album with R.Kelly showing his production skills much like on his own album “12 play”.

After the intro we get the first full track “Throw Your Hands Up”. It’s a great opener as its really a introduction to the style and vibe that Aaliyah is planning to give us.

“The time has finally come to save my beats with the funky hip hop swing”

The production and beat with that heavy bass continues into the next track “Back and Forth” which is probably my favourite song of Aaliyah’s career. It has such a wonderful vibe and she sounds delightful. It’s got such a smooth sound she sounds confident, mature and the melody is just gorgeous.

The lyrics about going out for the weekend seem ill conceived given that Aaliyah is 15 years old.

Which leads us into the title track “Age ain’t nothing but a number”. In a way it’s quite unbelievable that this was ever thought a good idea to go and sing especially with what was going on between her and R.Kelly.

But despite the back story Aaliyah does pull this off well. There is no hint of some emotional loved up teenager on here. This is one hell of a sexy song which sees Aaliyah throw a justification blanket over the fires of passion she is feeling.

“Down With The Clique” seems too much of an R.Kelly track to really get me believing that this girl is knowing what she is talking about. It is as if R.Kelly is simply doing the entire song in the guise of Aaliyah. Don’t get me wrong here – I like R.Kelly and a number of his albums are regular on rotation but turning little Aaliyah into this mini gangsta talking about ‘wrecking shop” seems a little irresponsible, no?

“At Your Best (you are love)” is a cover of the track by the Isley Brothers. This is a wonderful showcase of the voice Aaliyah possesses. This is a soulful, yet quite adorable version of an already beautiful song. The control Aaliyah has in her voice never sees her use unnecessary vocal gymnastics which many young female singers seem to do. The lyrics are sung in a convincing way without coming across as anxious or desperate.

The main problem with the inclusion of this track is not whether it sounds good or not but does it fit on the album? It doesn’t. In the middle of all these hip hop beats and street sounding lyrics it seems an odd inclusion.

“No One Knows to love me quite how you do” is a strangely long title for any song. Again you can’t help but think of all the things going on surrounding the relationship between her and Kelly as he is singing ‘Liyah you’re the only one for me’.

If this album had been released today (or any time in the last 15 years) can you really tell me that this track (or album for that matter) would have been allowed? A 15 year old singing about needing satisfying and the man doing so is her producer just doesn’t sit right with me.

“When it comes down to the things I like
Boy, you know just how to satisfy me”

“I’m so into you” is similar to the previous track. It’s a little more upbeat and certainly got this head moving funky feel which so many of these tracks have displayed. Again it’s R.Kelly talking about seduction, love and sex and it’s Aaliyah delivering it in a level headed manner.

“Street Thing” is slow jam in the Babyface mold. It’s a pretty standard R&B love jam and probably the most unremarkable on the album thus far.

“Young Nation” suffers from unconvincing Aaliyah delivery. Attempting to convince us that she believes that she is the leader of any sort of movement – even a young one doesn’t come across as genuine. Aaliyah sounds sweet and innocent. I don’t believe this 15 year old is the Young Nation who blasts out Isley Brothers songs as she says in the lyrics.

“Old School” is largely built around the lyrics:

“R Kelly play me something from the old school”

This is as Aaliyah sings the verses to the melody of the Isley Brothers track “Between The Sheets”. The song is about Aaliyah being the voice of the new school when at the same time paying homage to the old school song.

“I’m Down” is a really nice track and if you are able to forget about who the song is about, who it is written by and who is singing it then you should enjoy this slice of quintessential 90’s R&B.

The whole set has a similar feel through all songs apart from “At Your Best”. It’s a snapshot of where 90’s R&B was at with the writer and producer being the king of that era.

I feel that my knowledge of the relationship between Kelly and Aaliyah has tarnished my opinion of the album. But how could it not? I am no prude, I can take my songs about any manner of subject but there is something about the songs that Kelly has written for Aaliyah to sing which essentially are dedicated to himself.

 I’d happily have this album on rotation just as long as I don’t think too hard about what was actually going on because in a way whilst I do enjoy the vibe, the vocals and the production I feel in some way I am facilitating this bizarre illicit relationship.



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