Online music mag Pitchfork just dropped its list of “The 250 Best Songs of the 1990s,” and Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” made the top three — clocking in behind Björk’s “Hyperballad” and Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy (Remix).”
Writer Carol Cooper praises the 1998 song for its use of Aaliyah’s signature subtlety, and for its departure from her previous work, writing, “‘Are You That Somebody?’ was the song that consolidated Aaliyah’s image as a refined and unapologetic streetwise princess, supplanting the more traditional R&B sound of her work with R. Kelly in favor of something that nudged toward hip-hop soul.”
According to producer Timbaland, who also performs a guest rap on the track, “Are You That Somebody?” was created in just a few hours during a nighttime session to make the deadline, and was almost scrapped entirely — apparently, Aaliyah was not a fan at first. Timbaland reportedly added the track’s oddball sample of a baby cooing at the last minute.
For many years the track was out of print, available only on the soundtrack to the Eddie Murphy-starring 1998 movie Dr. Doolittle (but enjoying radio play in Detroit through the years). That changed when Blackground Records rebooted last year, bringing Aaliyah’s catalog into the digital streaming age.
Aaliyah also made No. 36 on the list for her 1996 track “One in a Million,” which also featured Timbaland.
Of course, a number of other Michigan-connected artists made the list, including Galaxy 2 Galaxy’s “Jupiter Jazz” at No. 165, Eminem’s “My Name Is...” at No. 148, Jeff Mills’s “The Bells” at No. 130, Madonna’s “Vogue” at No. 115 and “Ray of Light” at No. 55, The Aztec Mystic’s “Knights of the Jaguar” at No. 105, Innerzone Orchestra’s “Bug in the Bass Bin” at No. 83, and Moodymann’s “Shades of Jae” at No. 60.