TGJ Replay: Aaliyah – ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’

Published: Sunday 16th Nov 2014 by Rashad
aaliyah-age aint nothing but a number-thatgrapejuice

Welcome back to TGJ Replay!

Designed much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ features, ‘Replay’ is That Grape Juice‘s newest retrospective segment – a written quest, if you will, to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday.

Unlike its ‘Rewind’ and ‘Vault’ predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase entire albums (and eras) from a library of pop and Urban pop music hits.

With Lifetime Network gaining a bevy of bad reviews for its controversial, unauthorized biography of one of R&B’s most beloved characters, Aaliyah, we thought it a perfect time to shine some light and ode her debut album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.’ As the album celebrated its 20th birthday this summer, let’s go back back to the ‘Back & Forth’ singer’s humble beginnings…

The world first heard the name of the New York born Aaliyah Dana Haughton when the 10-year-old brought her remarkable talents to the granddaddy of mainstream television talent shows, ‘Star Search.’ A grooming ground for what would later become a bevy of the 2000’s top stars (see: Britney Spears, Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, etc…), the tiny tot – affectionately christened “Baby Girl” by those who knew her – took a stirring version of jazz classic ‘My Funny Valentine’ right into America’s living room. A feat, despite being greeted with a thunderous applause from audience members, was later bid farewell with a devastating loss.

The defeat would only act as fuel for the young singer who, just a short 2 years later, would still find herself “winning” as uncle Barry Hankerson (ex-husband to “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight) would sign her to his own imprint, Blackground Records. Securing distribution through Jive Records, the pressure was on the tween yet again to “prove’ herself – not only her worth as a viable recording artist, but also her ability to float an entire label as its flagship act.

Elsewhere, as R&B singer/producer R. Kelly, whose demand was only increasing as music from his debut solo album, 12 Play’ was burning up charts, Hankerson (who also managed Kelly) would arrange a meeting with hopes of securing the former Public Announcement star as the leading producer on Aaliyah’s inaugural project. The meeting would catalyze what would become the collection of tunes that line the tracklist of ‘Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number.’


With mentor Kelly in tow, 14-year-old Aaliyah would begin crafting a contradiction. “Street, but sweet,” as she reportedly called it, her image and accompanying sound would be bass driven and hip hop-drenched, yet maintain a “soft edge.” While ‘What’s the 411’ singer Mary J. Blige very much encompassed and preowned the concept of fusing soothing R&B with hard-hitting hip hop, MJB’s hardened effigy and adult subject matter would see the “sweetness” much less accessible than it was with her teenage counterpart.

Armed with thirteen R&B bangers dipped in hip-hop soul and new jack swing stylings, ‘Liyah would demonstrate her “street, but sweet” approach via the album’s fist single ‘Back & Forth.’

If everything R. Kelly touched in 1993-1994 turned to gold then ‘Back & Forth’ would literally prove no exception. The bass drop that follows the famous introductory riff of the tune was an instant party-starter and would lead ‘Liyah forth to the top of R&B charts. Skyrocketing to #1 on the tally, the song would also peak at #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Proving to naysayers that her streetwise image – despite being a complete anomaly to the bevy of ballad bearing, shimmering gown wearing, diva chart-toppers of the day – was able to resonate with female fans, the young songstress would dominate summer 1994 radio.

A week before her debut album was set to hit shelves, Aaliyah and co. would follow the success of ‘Back’ with a remake of Isley Brother‘s classic ‘(At Your Best) You Are Love.’

Kicked off with an a capella demonstration of a falsetto refined far beyond its years, ‘At Your Best’ would come as the first real showcase of the singer’s vocal ability. The sheer fact that a 14-year old could not only carry the song on the performance tip, but also convincingly convey its message with an almost haunting delivery would come as indication to music lover’s that the success of ‘Back’ was no fluke at all.

Like its predecessor, ‘Best’ would bolt right into the Hot 100’s top 10 (peaking at #6) and top 5 on the R&B charts (#2 peak). By this point the album had already made its impressive debut on Billboard 200 with 74,000 sold its first week.

Debuting at #24, the success of ‘Best’ would help it reach its peak at #18.

From ‘Star Search’ to one of the genre’s biggest stars, Aaliyah was quickly becoming a household name. But, it was not her talent alone that kept her name in heavy mention.

As her album continued to prove itself a steady seller on the charts, the price of fame would bring with it more attention to the young star’s personal life – namely to her relationship with mentor R. Kelly. As rumors swirled that the extent of the duo’s relationship was more than professional, Haughton would ready the release of ‘Best’s follow-up in the form of the album’s title track ‘Age Ain’t Nothin’ But A Number.’

Very much taken for the statement piece that it was presumably meant to be, some critics took the timing of the release as subtle confirmation that the two were indeed an item. This, of course, would be problematic because Kelly was nearly twice her senior.

As the single would be the project’s poorest performing release (#75 peak on Hot 100), elsewhere rumor of her relationship with Kelly would later be confirmed when journalists uncovered an Illinois marriage license that showed the young songstress lied about her age. We guess it really was nothing but a number.

Interestingly, the commercial failure of ‘Age’ (the single) nor the unmasking of her secret marriage would stick as permanently damaging incidents on the singer’s track record. If anything, it would only keep her name in mention and help bide time for the release of her sophomore album.


For Aaliyah’s fans, ‘Age’ was the album that introduced them to and taught them to love Baby Girl. For the rest of the world, however, the album is grossly unappreciated. While some will attribute the album’s (overall) modest performance as indication why, it still lends itself unfortunate that this project is not widely regarded for opening doors for follow-up (African American) R&B teen queens Brandy and Monica. The two would prove themselves, in the long run, better sellers than their ‘Back & Forth’ predecessor, but arguably so because they opted to take safer routes.

Being a 15 year old girl in 1994 who dared to wear street gear was challenging enough. Then, to follow it by tapping even heavier, hip hop driven beats (courtesy of then unknown Virginian producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott), would show even riskier. And, while her matured twist on the “street, but sweet” concept via her sophomore album ‘One In A Million’ would cement the pavement laid for it by ‘Age,’ we still ode the late Detroit diva for her willingness to go against the grain of what was acceptable R&B at the time…especially from the perspective of a teenage girl.

5 million copies sold later, for its daringness and untouchable maturity, we give ‘Age’ its due praise for the gem and catalyst of a career that it was.

P.S. – It’s not uncommon to hear us bump “I’m So Into You” here at TGJ, but tell us your favorite song from ‘Age’:

Your thoughts?

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  1. maurice November 16, 2014

    the biopic slayed my life!
    Yass Wendy.
    Can’t wait for the Whitney one to be just as good.

  2. king z November 16, 2014

    i for one loved this album. i remember being a kid thinking “back and forth” was amazing. now, at age 25, i appreciate this album more than ever. good read rashad.

    you are right that ppl dont give aaliyah enough credit for putting young blk females back on the map.

  3. aaliyah November 16, 2014

    the only fools praising that movie are people who work for Wendy or work for lifetime.

    it was even more of a tragedy than i expected. disrespectful to her legacy. and dammit if you’re going to tell the story, tell the whole thing. not that cookie-cutter disney version.

    thanks tgj FOR FOCUSING ON HER MUSIC. this album was perfect. to think a 14 year old girl did this (with the help of that creepster, but u can’t deny he was a genius).

  4. IHATEjohnvidal November 16, 2014

    i’m waiting for John Vidal to bring his old ass in here and criticize. I’m sure he was in his late 40s when this album was released.

    i digressed. i love these TGJ REPLAYS. please keep them coming. They stand as proof that music truly sucks these days. hearing stuff from all these older projects just reminds me of the QUALITY we are missing these days.

    i love ’em rashad. i find myself just going back reading some of the older ones to learn how they did on charts and s***

  5. #TeamTinashe Stan (BUY “All Hands On Deck” On iTunes) November 16, 2014

    I’ll be honest. This album wasn’t my favorite album but It still showcased Aaliyah’s silky, smooth vocals but going over R. Kelly’s and the rest of 90’s R&B groovy same old sound that to me made me feel this album wasn’t innovative but conforming with the pack of Mary J’s, SWV and TLC. Don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad album but compared to the REVOLUTIONARY/INNOVATIVE/ICONICCLASSICS such as “One In A Million” that completely shifted the groovy redundant sound during that time to something different due to Timbaland playing NO games with the production of that album and the “Self Titled” album that completely shows the angst and more controversial subjects that AALIYAH would touch on such as songs like “I Can Be” and “What If.” “AANBAN” still is a good album though. I like the singles and “Down With The Clique” which is a Jamaican sampled instrumental song.
    I’m still upset from yesterday………

    • BeyRihLiyah November 16, 2014

      yeah I agree rkelly gave her the same ol tired new jack swing sound that everybody literally was doing

    • Mark111 November 16, 2014

      Funny, minus SWV, all those ladies would bring something different on their 2nd albums. I would say their first lps were the same, Liyah was snooth and sounded crisp, MJB was more Hip Hop and TLC was very New Jack Swing (I love how fun that album is.)

  6. Mark111 November 16, 2014

    I remember seeing the single tape when I was like 6, but didn’t know whi it was. I thought it was Laura from Family Matters, cause there’s an episode where she dress as a boy. I remember the song, but still, didn’t know who song it. I remember Aaliyah from One In a Million video. I didn’t listen to this albun til 2002. From there, I liked it. It was so smooth, but hip. Favorite song is Old School. This set the standard. I remember Brandy very well because they played her videos on Nick and my Mom LOVED Monica a year later. But me and my Aunt liked Aaliyah a lot more because she was just so freaking cool and those beats!

  7. BeyRihLiyah November 16, 2014

    im down and im so into you are my favorite tracks from this album

  8. #TeamTinashe Stan (BUY “All Hands On Deck” On iTunes) November 16, 2014

    OMG I just noticed that in the first pic with Aaliyah with the baggy clothes she has a R. Kelly “12 Play” necklace 😮 WTH.

  9. DanYiel Teflon November 16, 2014

    I actually didn’t favor Aaliyah’s voice she didn’t grab me until her passing & I start to love “How Could The One?” I love that song still love her sound in that song she was very pretty and a talented actress vocally I’ll pass….:)

  10. BeyRihLiyah November 16, 2014

    can you guys do a write up on Aaliyah’s self titled album

  11. #TeamTinashe Stan (BUY “All Hands On Deck” On iTunes) November 16, 2014

    Don’t trip! AALIYAH was my first R&B female artist that I loved and she will always be #1 to me. And just because my profile name is “#TeamTinashe Stan” doesn’t mean I am trying to find the next ‘Aaliyah’ because simply that’ll NEVER EVER happen but I rather embrace newcomers other than hate on’ em.

    Aaliyah’s music video can be played today and young kids will feel she is a NEW artist on the scene.
    Just like this music video!

  12. bibi93 November 16, 2014

    Certified classik

  13. Kemar (@S_C_Jr on Twitter) November 16, 2014

    Street Thing + At Your Best are my favorite songs from this album. Especially Street Thing because it demonstrated her full vocal abilities from her soothing falsetto to her chest register. Such a great song.

  14. Brian310 November 16, 2014

    Favorite songs are Street Thing, I’m Down, and At Your Best….this album doesn’t get the credit it deserves but that’s only because people compare it to her 2 masterpiece albums that followed afterwards but she was the 1st solo teen star to reach multi platinum Success which is interesting

  15. I love to get ‘2 On’ November 17, 2014

    I’m down killed it for me! Liyah never left without a dope beat to step to.

  16. Antonio November 17, 2014

    TGJ y’all are really trying it. First off, Brandy’s debut was released just 3 months after Aaliyah’s and Monica’s debut was recorded in 1993 when she was 13 so what door did she open for them? Maybe Mya and Destiny’s Child, but Brandy and Monica, not at all.

  17. zina November 20, 2014

    Great album. It’s actually my favs of Aaliyah’s I just liked the vibe and her voice was so silky over Kelly’s beats. My favorite song on the album is Young nation.

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