“Are You That Somebody?” by Aaliyah (1998)

There is so much awesome contained in the 4.5 minutes of “Are You That Somebody?”

*Aaliyah’s voice: Whispery, seductive, girlish, playful. As much as I think her catalog is overrated (or at least her albums taken as complete pieces are IMO), her singing style has turned out to be ridiculously influential. Kelela and Syd, for example, are definitely students of the School of Singing Like Aaliyah. On this song, she nails it.

*The vocal arrangement: Static Major’s voice slips in and out of the song, adding support to Aaliyah’s vocal when emphasis is needed, and a contrast when space needs to be filled. It’s genius. I do wish I liked Playa’s one album more. I listened to it a ton when I worked at a record store and then gave it another couple of listens this year…still, nothing.

*Timbaland’s production: Sparse, bare, and impactful. Hell, even his little rap verse is cute, and Timbo can’t rhyme for shit. I love the usage of space here…the percussion is just a snare and Tim’s beatboxing. There’s an icy descending sort of synth note that pops up in the chorus. Then…the part where the music drops and Aaliyah & Static sing “don’t sleep/you know that would be weak” and then there’s like one beat of complete silence? FUCKING CRAZY.

I got so excited I almost forgot about the cooing baby sound effect. Whether it came from Prince’s”Delirious” or a sound effect library doesn’t matter. What’s awesome is that Tim and company took someone so silly, dropped it in the song for no apparent reason, and made it work.

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