While many artists struggle to make the transition from the sound booth to the silver screen, the 22-year-old Aaliyah’s crossover talent has thrived in movies and music as only a true superstar’s could. After impressing audiences with her screen debut as a modern-day Juliet in the hip hop/kung-fu, Shakespeare-inspired action flick Romeo Must Die, the R&B princess has quickly amassed blockbuster credits. Next year she’ll grace the marquee with a title role in the supernatural thriller Queen of the Damned, based on Anne Rice’s third novel in the Vampire Chronicles, and she’ll star as a recurring character in the sci-fi sequels Matrix Reloaded and Matrix 3 (coming to theaters in 2002 and 2003).

Never forgetting her first love, the singer/actress (who many have dubbed generation X’s new Janet Jackson) drops her self-titled junior project, Aaliyah, on July 17. It promises to deliver all the kinetic beats and feathery vocals her devotees have grown to crave. And Aaliyah’s formula — sensual dance moves, angelic vocals, swan-like frame and acting ability — adds up to longevity in this fickle industry. For those of you who’ve been sleeping on Aaliyah’s skills, here are some must-know facts about the sultry diva.

One in a million…
Born Aaliyah Haughton, her name means “the highest, most exalted” in Swahili and she’s been living up to her moniker since her pre-teen years. As a Brooklyn-born, Detroit-bred 8-year-old, she sang at elementary school productions and weddings around Michigan. But don’t get it twisted: Aaliyah’s not just another R&B chick — the girl’s got broad culture. When she auditioned for the Detroit Performing Arts High School in 1994, she wowed the judges with a classic rendition of the aria “Ave Maria” in Italian. She excelled despite her burgeoning music career and graduated in 1997 with a 4.0 GPA.

If at first you don’t succeed…try again
Aaliyah went from performing for her schoolyard peers to performing for millions of television viewers on Star Search in 1990. Although she lost, Aaliyah went on to hone her vocals by singing in Las Vegas with Gladys Knight, who was at the time the wife of her uncle manager, Barry Hankerson. Three years later, she dropped her 1994 debut Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number, proving to be a talent to be reckoned with at the tender age of 14.

All in the family
When it comes to handling her business, Aaliyah runs a close-knit operation. Her mom, Diane Haughton is her manager; her older brother Rashad is her mentor and creative consultant; and uncle Barry Hankerson, is the CEO of her label, Blackground Records. In addition, her cousin Jomo Hankerson is the executive producer of her albums.

And the award goes to…

Aaliyah’s not too shabby in the award department. She received a 1998 Grammy nomination for her bounce-heavy single “Are You That Somebody,” while her follow-up hit “Try Again” garnered her two 2000 MTV Music Awards for “Best Female Video” and “Best Video in a Film.” The song also became Billboard Hot 100’s first airplay-only single to reach its top slot. And her acting skills didn’t go unnoticed when she received two 2001 MTV Movie Awards nominations for “Best Female Performance” and “Breakthrough Performance Female” for her role in Romeo Must Die.

They just clique
Aaliyah and her musical cohorts — Missy Elliot, Timbaland, Magoo and Ginuwine — give new meaning to the theory “six degrees of separation” with their production team, Da Bassment. Aaliyah’s distinct voice is most often accompanied by Timbaland and Magoo’s signature drum ‘n bass-tinged beats (the dynamic duo produced seven tracks for the 1996 One In a Million). The singer has appeared on projects by Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot, Ginuwine and Timbaland.

Shady lady?
Aaliyah has made sunglasses one of her trademarks since the beginning. Although in recent years, she’s graced many of ‘zines without shades, the singer has a weakness for unique-looking frames and adds one to her growing collection every time she travels. “My favorites are Jean Paul Gaultier,” she said in a 1999 Rolling Stone interview. “They’re gold with a very light-brown lens — they’re fly.”

Unforeseen Hiatus
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over five years since Aaliyah’s last project, One in a Million. Musically, she’s stayed in the spotlight with record-breaking hits “Are You That Somebody” (her most successful single to date from the 1998 Dr. Doolittle soundtrack), “I Don’t Wanna” and “Try Again” (both from last year’s Romeo Must Die soundtrack). Like some very particular artists, Aaliyah is very concerned about over exposure and makes it her business to take breaks.

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