Aaliyah, a pioneer of the Hip-Hop Soul sound that defined urban music in the 1990s and early 2000s, released one of her most chill records 20 years ago today (January 11). Baby Girl’s street-but-sweet single “I Don’t Wanna” has for years been a favorite amongst hip-hop heads — just ask Weezy or Tory Lanez — and yet it still gets overlooked when people reflect back on the late singer’s classic music catalogue. Hell, it’s one of the only songs you can even stream at the moment (legally) since all of her post-R. Kelly albums and singles are currently locked away in a vault by her former label Blackground Records. It’s for this reason that we wanted to reflect back on an artist that we lost way too soon and a record that’s continued to serenade Hip-Hop and R&B fans over the past two decades and counting.
Simply put, everyone has a favorite Aaliyah song. Megan Thee Stallion and 21 Savage share an appreciation for “At Your Best (You Are Love).” DVSN effortlessly put a “Purple Rain” spin on “One In A Million” a few years back. Cuban Doll went as far as jacking her entire swag (and government) for her breakout Aaliyah Keef mixtape in 2017. Even pop tart Miley Cyrus got down to “Rock The Boat” last summer, and we can’t even blame her; Aaliyah has hits for days. With all that saidthough, “I Don’t Wanna” fits into the Queen of Urban Pop’s catalogue in a weird way; it’s probably one of the most slept-on hits of her short-yet-impactful career. Let us break down the facts so you can better understand what we mean.
Aaliyah as Trish in “Romeo Must Die” – Kharen Hill 2000 Warner Bros./Getty Images
Produced & written by the Noontime crew consisting of Donnie Scantz, Kevin Hicks, Johnta Austin and Jazze Pha, “I Don’t Wanna” was originally included on the soundtrack to Next Friday, released on December 7, 1999. At the same time, Aaliyah had just finished filming her debut acting role in the Jet Li-starring action flick Romeo Must Die while also executive producing the film’s soundtrack alongside Timbaland. While the latter LP didn’t drop until March 29, 2000, “I Don’t Wanna” was silently released as an airplay-only single in the United States to help promote both movies in January 2000. With no official music video to amplify the song’s success and no live performances aside from a non-televised rendition on TRL and a Romeo Must Die Kickoff Special, both aired on MTV, the song should’ve flopped if we’re being honest. However, it did far from that and people rocked with it simply for its melodic beat and Aaliyah’s rap-like flow on the first and second verses. No wonder Lil Wayne sampled the entire first verse on his feature for Pleasure P‘s 2009 mixtape song “Rock Bottom” and Tory Lanez borrowed her bars for his Chixtape 4 cut titled, not surprisingly, “Aaliyah.”
The song did fairly well given the absence of the aforementioned tools that artists typically use to help a single rise up the charts. “I Don’t Wanna” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at #35 in March 2000, ending that year as the 96th most popular song of 2000. It faired even better on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks chart, peaking at #4 in April 2000 and finishing off the year as the 25th biggest record in Hip-Hop and R&B of 2000, 15th based off airplay alone. It was also the seventh most successful soundtrack song of that year as well, proving that great music truly speaks for itself without all the extra tidbits. With that said, what the hell was Aaliyah thinking by not giving us a proper music video for this banger?
The most recent resurrection of “I Don’t Wanna” notoriously happened late last year when Kanye West and his cult — errr, we mean choir! — re-recorded it as one of their “holy remakes” (seen above) that had everyone using the world “secular” all of a sudden. Whether or not Yeezy’s intentions were pure or for profit, nobody can knock him for loving one of Aaliyah’s biggest-yet-quietest hits of her career. Carry on, Ye.
Let us leave you with this short and blurry clip of Aaliyah performing “I Don’t Wanna” live at MTV TRL in San Francisco on April 26, 2000. We’ll always miss you, Baby Girl.