While she would later get the bite of the acting bug, Aaliyah made her first marks in the film industry with her contributions in 1998 to the soundtracks of the animated film Anastasia and the Eddie Murphy comedy Dr. Doolittle. The latter, in fact, was the unlikely origin of one of Aaliyah's most popular and important singles, "Are You That Somebody." To say the single was groundbreaking would be a gross understatement, not so much on the part of the singer but that of its producer, Timbaland, who with that track both shattered pop conventions and laid the groundwork for one of the most successful producing careers in modern pop history. To today's ear the production does not come off too far outside the box, but this is only because minimalist production has been adopted and adapted widely by Timbaland and high profile followers like the Neptunes in the years since in hip hop, R&B, and mainstream pop music alike. As the New Yorker put it, "the beat refuses to fully engage, using more dead space than you would have thought possible in a hit," and in 1998, when the Max Martin style of dense, saturated production had began running the show (or at least doing it the loudest), this was even more of a departure. And that's not to mention the mouth clicks, finger snaps, and the baby giggle. A baby giggle. I would kill to have been in the label exec's office when they first got a load of this one.
And yet, the track, released as an airplay-only single at a time when Billboard had not yet allowed airplay-only singles to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 (although that policy was changed midway through "Are You That Somebody?"'s chart run), was a huge hit, reaching number four on the main airplay chart and number one on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay. The record is included on "Best Of" lists by the likes of Blender (#387 on The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born), Spin magazine, and even the Village Voice, and is easily my personal favorite of Aaliyah's strong if sadly too brief discography.
"Are You That Somebody?"
(Atlantic Records, 1998)