Age Ain't Nothing but a Number

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Age Ain't Nothing but a Number
Aaliyah-age-aint-94.jpg
Studio album by Aaliyah
Released May 24, 1994 (1994-05-24)
Recorded January 1993; May 1993-February 1994[1][2]
Studio Chicago Recording Company in Chicago
Genre
Length 48:54
Label
Producer
Aaliyah chronology
Age Ain't Nothing but a Number
(1994)
One in a Million
(1996)
Singles from Age Ain't Nothing But a Number
  1. "Back & Forth"
    Released: May 10, 1994
  2. "At Your Best (You Are Love)"
    Released: August 22, 1994
  3. "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number"
    Released: December 6, 1994
  4. "Down with the Clique"
    Released: May 2, 1995
  5. "The Thing I Like"
    Released: August 3, 1995

Age Ain't Nothing but a Number is the debut studio album by American R&B recording artist Aaliyah, released under Jive and Blackground Records on May 24, 1994, in the United States. After being signed by her uncle Barry Hankerson, Aaliyah was introduced to recording artist and producer R. Kelly. He became her mentor, as well as the lead songwriter and producer of the album. The duo recorded the album at the Chicago Recording Company in Chicago, Illinois. The album featured two hit singles, including the top ten-charting "Back & Forth" and "At Your Best (You Are Love)"; both singles were certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). One additional single followed in the US: "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number". Two more singles were released internationally after "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number": "Down with the Clique" and "The Thing I Like".

Age Ain't Nothing But a Number received generally favorable reviews from critics. Many noted Aaliyah's vocal ability and praised the lyrical content. Aaliyah was credited for redefining R&B by blending her voice with Kelly's new jack swing. The album peaked at number 18 on the Billboard 200 and sold over three million copies in the United States.[5] The album was certified Gold in Canada by Music Canada and Gold in the United Kingdom by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). To date the album has sold over six million copies worldwide.[6]

Background[edit]

Aaliyah's uncle Barry Hankerson, was an entertainment lawyer who had been married to Gladys Knight.[7] 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.[8] When she was only ten years old she went on to appear on Star Search where she performed my funny valentine.[9] Aaliyah chose to begin auditioning while her mother made the decision to have her surname dropped.[10][11] She auditioned for several record labels and at age 11 appeared in concerts alongside Gladys Knight.[7][12] Aaliyah performed alongside Gladys Knight for 5 nights in Las Vegas, during the concerts she would perform a number in the middle of Knight's set and she would also help close the show by singing a duet with Knight.[13] When speaking about her experience from performing with Knight Aaliyah said "it was a great learning experience".[13] She also mentioned "I Learned a lot about being on stage and how audiences react differently to various songs".[13]

When Aaliyah was twelve, Hankerson would take her to Vanguard studios to work on demos with producer and Vanguard owner Michael J. Powell.[14] In an interview Powell stated ,“At the time, Barry was trying to get Aaliyah a deal with MCA, and he came to me to make her demos.” During her time working with Powell Aaliyah recorded multiple covers such as "The Greatest Love of All", "Over the Rainbow", and "My Funny Valentine", which she had sung on Star Search.[14] Eventually Barry Hankerson started shopping Aaliyah around to various labels such as Jive records. According to former Jive A&R Jeff Sledge the former owner of JIVE records didn't want to sign Aaliyah at first because he felt that a 12 year old was too young to be signed to the label. Sledge stated in an interview "The guy who owned Jive at the time, Clive Calder, he’s also an A&R person by trade. He was basically head of the A&R department. Barry kept shopping her to him and he saw something, but he said, ‘She’s not ready, she’s still young, she needs to be developed more.’ Barry would go back and develop her more".[15] After developing Aaliyah more as an artist Hankerson finally signed a distribution deal with Jive Records, and he signed her to his Blackground Records label at the age of 12.[15][16][17]

Recording[edit]

R. Kelly (pictured), became Aaliyah's mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer for Age Ain't Nothing but a Number

After Aaliyah was signed, Hankerson then introduced her to recording artist and producer R. Kelly.[18] He became Aaliyah's mentor, as well as lead songwriter and producer for the album.[19][20] Kelly was the only writer and producer credited on the album because the record label didn't want multiple people to share publishing rights. According to Jeff Sledge "Clive was a publishing guru, so he and Barry weren’t trying to cut a lot of people in on the album to share the publishing. They said we’re going to do this with one guy and the publishing will be easy to deal with because it’s one person".[15] Aaliyah and Kelly began recording the album in 1993 when she was 14 and according to Aaliyah it took eight to nine months to record the album.[17] [2] R. Kelly and Aaliyah worked on the record in Chicago during the summer while she was off from school for summer vaction, she would fly to Chicago from Detroit, and they would work on the album.[15] While recording the album the two of them spent a lot of time hanging out together by going to arcades and bowling. This would help with the writing process because Kelly would "write the songs that fit her and what kids her age and her friends were talking about".[15] When discussing the writing process for the album Aaliyah said "We vibed off of one another, and that’s how the songs was built, He would vibe with me on what the lyrics should be. He’d tell me what to sing, and I’d sing it. That’s how the whole album was done"[21] The duo recorded the first song, "Old School", at the Chicago Recording Company in Chicago, Illinois and it took at least two days to record.[1][22][23] Aaliyah loved recording old school because that song "had an Isley Brothers flair” to it.[1] When discussing the recording process for old school Aaliyah said, "At first, I had to get comfortable, but I had been around Robert, so it was cool. Both Robert and I are perfectionists, and if you listen to the music, there is a lot of passion in it.”[1] While recording the album, Kelly coached her as they worked several hours in the studio. She often sang the songs multiple times in order to achieve "excellence".[24] When discussing the hectic hours recording the album Aaliyah said, "We put in a lot of hours; as far as the music, we’d be in there all night making sure it was perfect. There were times when I was tired, but I knew I had to push on if I wanted to come off.”[21] He claimed that Aaliyah was "one of the best young artists" he had worked with.[23] During the recording process for the album the record label was out of the loop in regards to the type of songs that was being recorded. Excutives from the label didn't hear the album until it was finished and they were impressed with the finished product. Sledge said "When we finally heard the album we were blown away because the album was dope. It was basically like listening to an R. Kelly album, but with a little girl singing".[15] The original release date for the album was June 14, but due to the instant success of the lead single's accompanying video on MTV it prompted the label to release the album earlier on May 24.[25]

Musical and lyrics[edit]

On the album Aaliyah sang her songs in a falsetto, she felt that the songs "came at you kind of tough, a bit edgy, hip-hop, but the vocals can be very soothing".[26] According to Aaliyah "lyrically I want things to be different."[26] The album opens with the intro track which is an acappella public service announcement, the song urges its listeners to listen to the album carefully."Listen to instructions carefully / While bumping this album in your jeeps / Aaliyah’s got a '90s swing / So be careful with the volume, please".[27] The next track "Throw Your Hands Up" is an anthemic up-tempo[4] G-Funk[27] inspired song and it has been described as Aaliyah's "statement of purpose". On the song she tells us that she's "straight from the streets" with a "touch of jazz" in her.[27] The third track which served as the albums lead single "Back & Forth" has been described as an Urban Dance[28] cross over song with Pop[29] and R&B influences. On the song Aaliyah sings with a "subtle, laid-back vocal" while she talks about partying on the weekend with her friends.[27] According to billboard "It doesn't matter that Aaliyah is 15. It’s the freakin' weekend, baby, so she's picking up her ladies—presumably in her jeep—and hitting the local party spot".[27] The forth track "Age Ain't Nothing But A Number" is the title track for the album and it's about "a young girl pining for the love of an older man, and her telling society that it doesn’t matter the age difference between the two of them".[30] The song contains an interpolation from the song What You Won't Do for Love performed by Bobby Caldwell with the lines "I got a thing for you, and I won’t let go.”[30] The fifth track "Down with the Clique" is a Hip hop inspired song and on the song Aaliyah displays a "silky cooing" with her vocals.[27] The sixth track "At At Your Best (You Are Love)" is a cover and it was originally recorded by The Isley Brothers.[27] The song was described as a "sweet"[4] "vintage soul ballad" and it gave aaliyah a chance to ditch the tough-girl posturing according to billboard.[27] The Seventh track "No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do" is a song about Aaliyah being satisfied and how she is "made to feel like a goddess".[27] The song features a guest rap appearance from Tia Hawkins who brings a "comic relief" with her raps telling us Kells is "spitting tracks as if it were tobacco."[27] While the eighth track "I'm So into You" features another guest rap from Tia Hawkins. The ninth track "Street Thing" has been described as a "pretty standard slow jam" and it's about having devotion for another person.[27] During the bridge of the song Aaliyah sings about climbing the "highest mountain," and swimming the "deepest sea" to prove her devotion.[27] The tenth track "Young Nation" is about Aaliyah "aligning herself with an entire movement".[27] The eleventh track "Old School" is about merging an old school style with a new school style, the opening begins with "Here's the old school / With the new school,".[27] The final track "I'm Down" has been described as a mid-tempo rap-soul ballad and it's about "one person giving themselves fully to another".[27]

Marketing and promotion[edit]

Aaliyah's record label didn't interfere with her imaging so she was granted free reign when it came to her imaging and style.[15] Former Jive A&R Jeff Sledge mentioned in an interview that it was set up so that Aaliyah wouldn't have to change her image or style.[15] While speaking to Billboard about the marketing plans for the album Barry Weiss Senior Vice President Of Jive records stated "The international thrust on the project will begin 6-8 weeks utilizing BMG international". When asked about both Aaliyah's image and the promotional plans for the album weiss said that "there will be little in the way of marketing changes between the domestic and world promotion of the set". He then spoke about Aaliyah saying, "She is what she is the album has tremendous pop appeal to go along with her urban edge, so there's not a whole lot different that we'll be doing abroad".[31] A month before the release of the debut single, "Back & Forth", Aaliyah attended the Urban Network's "Power Jam" conference, where she was introduced and "received warmly".[23] "Back & Forth" peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 while topping the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for three weeks.[32] The song was certified Gold by the RIAA.[33] The second single, "At Your Best (You Are Love)", peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 and was also certified Gold by the RIAA.[32][33] In promotion for the album, Aaliyah embarked on a world tour that lasted from 1994 to 1995, she toured through the US, Europe, Japan and South Africa[34][35][36] Aside from touring Aaliyah performed at the Budweiser Superfest at the USAir Arena in September 1994.[37] She also performed Age Ain't Nothing But A Number the song in January 1995 on the Nickelodeon sketch comedy show All That.[38]

Singles[edit]

"Back & Forth" was released as the albums lead single on May 10, 1994 , it reached its peak at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 two months after it was released on July 2, 1994.[39] The single reached its peak at number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs on May 21, 1994, this would become one of the three number ones that Aaliyah would achieve on this chart.[40] Eventually the single was certified Gold by the RIAA on June 9, 1994 for sales of 700,000 copies sold. [41][42] Internationally Back & Forth became a top 40 hit in the UK and the Netherlands peaking at number Sixteen and Thirty-Eight respectively.[43][44] In New Zealand the song charted within the top 50 peaking at number Forty-Eight.[45] The albums second single "At Your Best (You Are Love)" was released on August 22, 1994 and it became Aaliyah's second top ten hit on the Billboard hot 100 peaking at number six.[46] On the r&b/hip hop charts the song also reached the top ten peaking at number two.[47] This song also received a gold certification by the RIAA on October 25, 1994.[41] In Japan the single peaked within the top twenty at number twelve on the Tokio Hot 100 chart.[48] In other international markets At Your Best reached the top forty Peaking at number Twenty-Seven, Thirty-Eight and Forty in the UK, New Zealand and The Netherlands respectively.[43][49][50] "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" was the third single released and it was the least successful single from the album; It also was the last single to be released in the US. It reached its peak at number seventy-five on the Hot 100 chart on February 25, 1995.[51] In the UK the single fared better on the charts peaking within the top 40 on the official charts at thirty two and the top 20 and top 10 on the Official Dance and R&B charts at number nineteen and six.[52][53][54] The albums fifth and sixth singles "Down with the Clique" and "The Thing I Like" were released in the UK only. Down with the clique peaked within the top 40 on the official charts at number thirty-two and within the top 40 and top 10 on the official Dance and R&B charts at number twenty-five and five.[52][55][56] The Thing i Like also peaked in the top 40 on the official charts at number thirty-three and within the top 20 and 10 on the Dance and R&B Charts at fifteen and four respectively.[52][57][58]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic4/5 stars[9]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music3/5 stars[59]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[60]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide2.5/5 stars[61]
Slant Magazine3/5 stars[62]
The Washington Post(Favorable)[37]

Age Ain't Nothing But a Number received generally favorable reviews from music critics, some writers noted that Aaliyah's "silky vocals" and "sultry voice" blended with Kelly's new jack swing helped define R&B in the 1990s.[60][62] Her sound was also compared to that of female quartet En Vogue.[60][63] Christopher John Farley of Time magazine described the album as a "beautifully restrained work", noting that Aaliyah's "girlish, breathy vocals rode calmly on R.Kelly's rough beats".[64] Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic felt that the album had its "share of filler," but described the singles as "slyly seductive."[9] He also claimed that the songs on the album were "frequently better" than that of Kelly's first studio album, 12 Play.[9] Paul Verna from Billboard praised both R.Kelly's Production on the album and Aaliyah's voice saying "The golden production touch of mentor R. Kelly is strongly felt here, and he has a field day with Aaliyah's warm silky voice, which has a depth and range that belie her youth."[4] Tonya Pendleton from The Washington Post felt that Aaliyah's voice "has the maturity of someone much older", also she thought Aaliyah stood out because of her "uniquely mellifluous tone". According to Pendleton "What makes her stand out is her uniquely mellifluous tone and the eloquent way she expresses the heartfelt passion of first love". Overall she felt that Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number "is that rarest of recordings — a collection well suited for its teenage target group, but one that even older listeners can relate to".[37]

Accolades[edit]

After the release of "Age Ain't Nothing but a Number" Aaliyah received multiple award nominations for her debut album, in 1995 she was nominated for Favorite Soul/R&B New Artist at the 22nd American Music Awards.[65] Also in 1995 she received two nominations for Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist and Best R&B/Soul Album, Female at the 8th annual Soul Train Music Awards.[66] She also received a nomination for Best R&B/Soul New Artist at the 1995 Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards[67]

Commercial performance[edit]

Age Ain't Nothing but a Number debuted at number 24 on the Billboard 200 chart on June 11, 1994 and it sold 74,000 copies in its first week.[68][69] The album ultimately peaked at number 18 on the chart.[70] On the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart the album reached its peak at number 3 on July 2, 1994 [71] In Canada the album debuted at number 29 on the Canadian RPM Albums Chart on July 18, 1994.[72] It reached its peak at number 20 on August 8, 1994[73] and the album spent 25 weeks on the Canadian albums chart.[74] The album sold 50,000 copies and was certified gold by Music Canada on December 12, 1994.[75] In the UK the album peaked at number 23 and 6 respectively on both the UK Albums Chart and UK R&B Chart.[76][77] Eventually the album was certified Gold in the UK by the BPI for 100,000 copies sold.[78] Elsewhere in Europe the album peaked at number 44 on the Dutch Albums Chart;[79] and number 90 on the European Top 100 Albums chart. The album also received a gold certification in Japan for a 100,000 copies sold, overall the album has sold three million copies in the United States and six million copies worldwide.[33][5][6]

Track listing[edit]

All songs were written and produced by R. Kelly, except for "At Your Best (You Are Love)", written by Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Ronald Isley and Chris Jasper.

Standard edition
No.TitleLength
1."Intro"1:30
2."Throw Your Hands Up"3:34
3."Back & Forth"3:51
4."Age Ain't Nothing but a Number"4:13
5."Down with the Clique"3:24
6."At Your Best (You Are Love)"4:51
7."No One Knows How to Love Me Quite Like You Do"4:07
8."I'm So into You"3:25
9."Street Thing"4:58
10."Young Nation"4:40
11."Old School"3:17
12."I'm Down"3:16
Bonus tracks[80]
No.TitleLength
13."The Thing I Like"3:28
14."Back & Forth" (Mr. Lee & R. Kelly's Remix)3:45

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[81]

  • Aaliyah - vocals
  • Timmy Allen - Bass
  • Lafayette Carthon - Keyboards
  • Tom Coyne - Mastering
  • Stephanie Edwards - Vocals (Background)
  • Barry Hankerson - Executive Producer
  • Gladys Haughton - Tributee
  • Tia Hawkins - Rap,Vocals
  • Keith Henderson - Guitar
  • Stephanie Huff - Vocals (Background)
  • Ernie Isley - Composer
  • Marvin Isley - Composer
  • O'Kelly Isley - Composer
  • Ronald Isley - Composer
  • Chris Jasper - Composer
  • Joanne Kelly - Tributee
  • R. Kelly - Composer, Guest Artist, Instrumentation, Mixing, Producer, Rap, Vocals (Background)
  • Nate Manela - Tributee
  • Doug McBride - Mixing Assistant
  • Mr. Lee - Mixing
  • Peter Mokran - Engineer, Mixing, Programming
  • Joshua Shapera - Mixing Assistant
  • Stefon Taylor - Mixing Assistant
  • Maria Valencia - Design

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[91] Gold 50,000^
Japan (RIAJ)[92] Gold 120,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[93] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[94] 2× Platinum 3,000,000[5]
Worldwide 6,000,000+[6]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

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