Aaliyah worked with record producers Timbaland and Missy Elliott for her second album, One in a Million, which sold 3 million copies in the United States and over eight million copies worldwide. In 2000, Aaliyah appeared in her first film, Romeo Must Die. She contributed to the film's soundtrack, which spawned the single "Try Again". The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 solely on airplay, making Aaliyah the first artist in Billboard history to achieve this goal. "Try Again" earned Aaliyah a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist. After completing Romeo Must Die, Aaliyah filmed her role in Queen of the Damned. She released her third and final album, Aaliyah, in July 2001.
On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in a plane crash in the Bahamas after filming the music video for the single "Rock the Boat". The pilot, Luis Morales III, was unlicensed at the time of the accident and toxicology tests revealed that he had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his system. Aaliyah's family later filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Blackhawk International Airways, which was settled out of court. Aaliyah's music has continued to achieve commercial success with several posthumous releases. Aaliyah has sold an estimated 24 to 32 million albums worldwide. She has been credited for helping redefine contemporary R&B, pop and hip hop, earning her the nicknames "Princess of R&B" and "Queen of Urban Pop". She is listed by Billboard as the tenth most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years and 27th most successful R&B artist in history.
Aaliyah Dana Haughton was born on January 16, 1979, in Brooklyn, New York, and was the younger child of Diane and Michael "Miguel" Haughton (1951–2012). She was African American, and had Native American (Oneida) heritage from a grandmother. Her name has been described as a female version of the Arabic "Ali"; however, the original Arabic and Jewish name "Aliya (Hebrew: אליה)" derived from the Hebrew word "aliyah (Hebrew: עלייה)", and meant "highest, most exalted one, the best." Regardless of origin, the singer was highly fond of her Semitic name, expressing support by calling it "beautiful" and asserting that she was "very proud of it," and she thus spent her entire life striving to live up to her name every day. At a young age, Aaliyah was enrolled in voice lessons by her mother. She started performing at weddings, church choir and charity events. When she was five years old, her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she was raised along with her older brother, Rashad. She attended a Catholic school, Gesu Elementary, where in first grade, she received a part in the stage play Annie. From then on, she was determined to become an entertainer. In Detroit, her father began working in the warehouse business, one of his brother-in-law Barry Hankerson's widening interests. Her mother stayed home and raised Aaliyah and her brother.
Throughout her life, she had a good relationship with her brother, which traced back to their childhood as Rashad reflected that growing up with Aaliyah was "amazing". He recalled her running around their home singing and that never being annoying due to her having a "beautiful voice". She and her brother became close with their cousin Jomo Hankerson, since growing up, they lived "about five blocks apart". Jomo walked Aaliyah and Rashad to their home from school when their mother was not able to pick them up and recalled the Haughton household being filled with music. Aaliyah's family was very close due to the struggles of her grandparents and when the Haughtons moved to Detroit, the Hankersons were ready to take them in if necessary. These same bonds led to ties in the music industry, under the Blackground Records label.
Aaliyah's mother was a vocalist, and her uncle, Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight. As a child, Aaliyah traveled with Knight and worked with an agent in New York to audition for commercials and television programs, including Family Matters; she went on to appear on Star Search at the age of ten. Aaliyah chose to begin auditioning while her mother made the decision to have her surname dropped. She auditioned for several record labels and at age 11 appeared in concerts alongside Knight. She had several pet animals in during her childhood, which included ducks, snakes and iguanas. Her cousin Jomo had a pet alligator, which Aaliyah felt was too much, remarking, "that was something I wasn't going to stroke."