Many who knew Aaliyah regard her as an angelic human with a magnetic mystique. Those who discovered her after her passing don't easily define her. She's become more of a fluid perception than an actual person with a legacy that was heavily protected and defended over the past twenty years.
In a new unofficial biography (Baby Girl: Better Known As Aaliyah) about the late Princess of R&B, journalist and author of God Save the Queens: The Essential History of Women in Hip-Hop, Kathy Iandoli, who has dedicated her career to celebrating Black women in music, set out to provide "the full story into Aaliyah's life, cultural impact" and clear Aaliyah's name in regards to who she was rather than perceived to be. She explained to Audacy exclusively.
"I don't understand what it is about Aaliyah, specifically, that makes everyone want to try and find this horrible plot twist," she began. "There's a reason why Aaliyah is still relevant twenty years after her death and it's because of who she was in that 7-year span as a recording artist, but then also in the 22 years as a human, so if you don't allow those things to come together, you're denying the most magical part of Aaliyah." In the intro chapter of Baby Girl, Iandoli detailed how the singer felt "abstract yet tangible." However, within Aaliyah's time as a superstar, scandal ensued and she had to rebuild herself. In doing so, she single handedly changed the face of R&B.
"One In A Million is a championship project because this is redemption. This is the person who thought she didn't have a second chance and then found community of other artists who equally believed in that mission and created work that stands the tests of time," Iandoli lovingly expressed.
When discussing the book itself, Iandoli expressed the struggles associated with telling a story as layered as Aaliyah's. "The difficult part about Aaliyah, in terms of the story, is we had this built-in idea of how the story went, based on rumors and I had been working in the music industry [...] and you would have one conversation that was decided as fact and that was the story went [...] so I was trying to figure out the best way to paint a picture of Aaliyah's career and sprinkle in parts of her personality and who she was as a human being. The intention was never to create a deep dive into who she was a person person [...] In an effort to put the whole story together on her career and put to rest some of the rumors, that was really the goal of the book."
She reflected on her extensive research process and pulling as much information as she could from direct Aaliyah interviews and such to piece together the late singer's storied albeit abrupt life. "I wasn't going to do a book on everyone else's opinion on Aaliyah. That would make no sense," she explained.
Despite Aaliyah's family/estate not authorizing the book, Iandoli hopes that they would not make "generalizations" about it, based on news and trending topics. At one point, headlines implied that Iandoli stated Aaliyah was drugged and carried onto the plane that ultimately crashed and ended her life. Iandoli spoke candidly with Rolling Stone about those misinterpretations.
"Without someone reading the book, it's very easy for someone to look at the book and say 'some Aaliyah fan you are.' Then people are reading the book and they're like 'wow you really adore her.' This is a book that honors her," she expressed. "When you approach a book like this, you have to have a healthy balance of fact over feelings," she continued.
Despite the backlash and attacks on her character, Iandoli is proud of the work she's done and is also thrilled about her co-writing Lil Kim's highly-anticipated memoir. "It's just a long time coming that [Lil] Kim gets to tell her story from her mouth and I think that's all we ever wanted," she explained.
Baby Girl: Better Known As Aaliyah is currently available for purchase and Lil Kim, The Queen Bee was initially slated for a November release, but will be available for purchase in March 2022.