Aaliyah Week: What The Songbird’s Music Meant To Singers And Producers

Kameelah Williams

From bumping Aaliyah’s debut album ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’ in high school, to kicking it with the singer herself in various studio sessions, Kameelah Williams cherished her full circle moment. 

She developed a friendship with the late artist that garnered Williams and super girl group 702 to make an unforgettable appearance in Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” video. With effortlessly chic ensembles and intimidating motorcycles, Williams treasured her screen time and still gets chills whenever she catches the visual on television.

Below, Williams describes the atmosphere on set, and how Missy Elliott served as a bridge between her and Aaliyah. – Camille Augustin

What’s your first memory of Aaliyah?
Kameelah Williams: I was a fan of hers because Aaliyah had an album out while I was still in high school, I used to play her very first album Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, I had that cassette tape [laughs]. This was before I was even a part of 702, so it was crazy how it was full circle. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I used to listen to you in high school in my hoopty car’ and then to be in her presence in her sessions was really awesome. I remember one time in particular, we were just chatting during one of her sessions, and she said, ‘You know, people always ask me in my interviews why don’t you write? And I say, if I wrote then there would be nothing for the writers to do!’” I thought that was so funny, I said, ‘Girl, you got a point.’ She was really cool, a really sweet spirit.

What was it like listening to her debut album?
She definitely stuck out to me. I felt like I hadn’t really heard anybody like her, the soft silky soprano, that’s when she was working with R. Kelly so it had a Chicago vibe, a Midwest vibe. She had the whole tomboy thing going and I dug it. I was kind of jealous, like, ‘Dang, I wish I would’ve thought of that.’ [Laughs] It was very chill. Even though it was talking about relationships and a guy, it wasn’t cheesy. It didn’t feel corny, she was just cool, like who is this chick with these shades on?

How’d you get to be a part of the “If Your Girl Only Knew” video?
I don’t know if Missy asked us to come or Aaliyah invited us, but we were invited and when we got there we didn’t know what to expect. We were just told that we were going to be on motorcycles and everybody had on all black. We thought this was true Aaliyah, something super cool. The vibe was great. She was really pleasant, always in good spirits and high energy. She gave me a little cameo so I was like, ‘Okay, that’s my home girl.’ She let me do a little scene by myself with this guy fighting in the elevator so that was my little Aaliyah cameo. I always have that memory of her, so anytime that it comes on, I’m like wait where’s my little scene. For two seconds if you blink you might miss me!

When the video was complete, what was it like seeing it in full?
I was excited, it was one thing to be on the back of the motorcycles with the guys. I was scared out of my mind because I don’t like motorcycles, I was so nervous. But then to see myself in the scene with her leading male actor, just like us fighting, it was really cool. I was like, I’m an actress now. It was really sweet of her to let me do that.

You also worked on the song “Take Away” that Missy and Ginuwine dedicated to Aaliayh. What was that process like in the studio?
It started out as a record with just Missy and myself, and then she later added Ginuwine. Aaliyah ended up passing away and then it became a tribute to her. That’s when she shot the video and a remix and put Tweet on it. At the time it was made it was a regular love song, it wasn’t the tribute to her passing. But that’s what it ended up becoming, which was sad, but it’s such a beautiful record. Now every time I hear it, I definitely think about that.

I know you worked with Missy hand-in-hand throughout your career, what was it like first meeting her and how’d you guys build that creative relationship?
When I first met her, I thought she was so silly. She’s such a comedian and always jovial and loving to joke. She’s goofy and she instantly became my big sister, we just clicked. She took me under her wing and made me her baby sister. Throughout the years we kept that relationship, and she’s still today like a big sister of mine. I admire her. From the first studio session I ever had with her to seeing how far she came to blow up and become this freaking icon is like ‘Wow!’ To know I was part of her story is pretty dope.

What do you think is the greatest quality in Missy’s songwriting?
It’s just so effortless. It doesn’t seem like it’s over thought. It’s not too deep but it’s not so bubble gum where you’re like it’s super wack. It’s a happy medium between the two, so it doesn’t feel like it’s somebody that’s trying too hard to be super deep or it’s too gimmicky that we’re never going to hear that again. It’s clever, she’s very clever. Clearly it’s God given because there’s no sound out there like her. She’s just always been one of a kind, that’s for sure.