Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
May 24, 1994
Blackground Records/ Jive Records/ SME
1. Intro // 2. Throw Your Hands Up (feat. Second Chapter) // 3. Back and Forth (feat. R. Kelly) // 4. Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number // 5. Down With the Clique (feat. R. Kelly) // 6. At Your Best (You Are Love) // 7. No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (feat. Second Chapter & R. Kelly) // 8. I’m So Into You (feat. Second Chapter) // 9. Street Thing // 10. Young Nation // 11. Old School (feat. R. Kelly) // 12. I’m Down // 13. Thing I Like // 14. Back and Forth [Mr. Lee & R. Kelly’s Remix] (feat. R. Kelly)
I wonder if R. Kelly regretted that album title any time during his career, like around february 2002 for instance.
Aaliyah Kelly (née Haughton) was singing for most of her life when she was signed to Blackground Records, her uncle Barry Hankerson’s Jive-distributed boutique label, by her uncle (who besides running an urban music label also managed succesful R&B singers Toni Braxton and R. Kelly at the time.) It is through her uncle that Robert got to mentor her and write and produce most of her debut album when she started recording in september 1993.
Age was a commercial success, maintaining a charts presence, spawning several hit singles, and selling five million copies worldwide by 2001 (according to wikipedia). And all was good until rumors spread that Robert and Aaliyah were maintaining a more-than-professional, more-than-friendly relationship while she was fifteen and he was twenty-seven (which is reason for scandal in America apparently.)
This would be irrelevant to the quality of this album’s music, if its content didn’t shamelessly hint at these rumors being true. Besides that title, which was supposed to be a statement of Aaliyah’s maturity for her age, R. Kelly maintains a presence on a couple of the songs in ad-lib capacity that feels as though he was breathing in her neck for the duration of the recordings. (Also allegedly a marriage certificate exists with Robert and our hostess of tonight’s names on it, and Aalyah’s contemporary age supposedly being eighteen. Getting married with a fake I.D. huh? Yeah, ain’t no way anybody is going to find out about that shit. Smart thinking Kells.)
In the interest of fairness though these suspect, conspicuous circumstances surrounding this album’s creation are going to be ignored for the remainder of the review.
Compared to R. Kelly’s latest release at the time 12 Play Age is a far more consistent, far less juvenile album. There are some ridiculous R. Kelly-isms to be found (“Now if you not down with my clique,
you can just doo-doo on a stick” – Down With the Clicque) but not a so much of them the album suffers as a whole.
On the faster cuts such as Throw Your Hands Up and No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do (long-ass song-title..) Robert supplies the same bump ‘n’ groove production that he sported on 12 Play‘s midtempo jams, but since it’s Aaliyah’s silky singing on them, rather than Robert’s blah rapped odes to your crotch, they don’t sound as wasted here. There is some wack rapping on here, courtesy of female rapper Second Chapter, who appears to have fallen off the face of the earth after recording her contributions to this album, but again it’s a lot less prominent than on 12 Play. These uptempo grooves have the girl riding these ‘beats for the jeeps’ comfortably and expertly.
On the slow jams he doesn’t seem to have learnt any new production tricks either breaking out the same nocturnal summer-breeze sound that made Your Body’s Calling such a smash hit the year before, but Aaliyah isn’t remotely a female version of Robert either vocally or persona wise, so everything is a lot less explicitly sexual than on the average R. Kelly record, while she still has her way with his production sound, on Old School and Young Nation for instance.
Aaliyah’s singing is excellent throughout. Seductive and restrained, not trying to hit every note on the ladder like poor man’s Mariah Carey or [enter your favourite the Voice candidate here], but just singing the damn songs already, putting her in the post-Sade cathegory od R&B singers rather than post-Whitney and making Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number a pleasure to the ear.
The best song on here is At Your Best (You Are Love), a song originally recorded by the Isley Brothers, affectionately and faithfully performed by Aaliyah who obviously respected the legendary group a lot (she also gives them a nod on Old School by mimicking the vocal melody of their classic song Between the Sheets and namechecks them on Young Nation, and since she covered an Isley Brothers song on her 100% R. Kelly-free sophomore we can safely assume it wasn’t just Robert trying to add some old school flava to this album, but something Aaliyah was genuinely comitted to doing).
As pleasant as Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number is, it is a rather vanilla, by-the-book post New Jack Swing urban soul record, in the vein of Mary J. Blige’s What’s the 411? doing very little to push the genre forward. And while there’s nothing wrong in particular with that, especially when it is this well executed, one would be right in believing that her best days were ahead of her and would come about only if she were paired with a more adventurous producer (Timbaland).
Still this is a satisfactory album that anyone who appreciates vintage R&B sounds should check out.
Throw Your Hands Up
Back and Forth
Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number
At Your Best (You Are Love)
No One Knows To Love Me Quite Like You Do
Buy this album.