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CD REVIEW

More Than a Woman

Aaliyah’s I Care For U Has Unique Spirit

By Allison C. Lewis
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR

I Care for U

Aaliyah

Universal Records

Aaliyah’s new album, I Care for U, is a combination of her new and old songs. Not a tribute album or a greatest hits album, I Care for U represents Aaliyah’s life and style, the story of a girl growing into a woman. Her sound is a new, darker shade of hip-hop.

Aaliyah has a beautiful attitude that comes through in her music. She’s just who she is: not sweet and not trying too hard. Her own unique sound is stylish, dark, and edgy, and even with the old songs, I Care for U features a fresh sound with a contemporary, futuristic vibe. Chill, tuneful, and light, the music has a funky beat and a range of synthesized keyboard sounds.

The album features the best of Aaliyah’s old songs and five of her newer, unreleased songs. “Don’t Know What to Tell Ya,” “All I Need,” and “Come Over” sound experienced and more mature, like cleaned-up, sophisticated hip-hop. Even these new songs have the same characteristic Aaliyah vibe -- a soft, but prominent hip-popping beat -- the same beat found in her older hits, “Are You That Somebody” and “More Than A Woman.” On top of this beat, the lyrics may be all about sex, but the melody is strange and wonderful.

I Care for U is what happens when people with musical style and rhythmical sense get together. The combined talent includes songs written by Missy Elliott, songs mixed by R. Kelly, and contributions by many brilliant others. The studio has given the music a club-mixed, sometimes overdramatic, sometimes overproduced sound, all synthesized, with no recognizable instruments. A quiet but strong beat provides the skeleton and substance of the songs. And then there’s Aaliyah’s voice -- soulful, simple, melodic. There is one voice on top of the other several singing voices in harmony and then one light, simple lyrical voice that bursts out improvisational interjections. Every voice is Aaliyah.

All the songs fit together and belong on the album, except the last song, the mistake, “Got to Give It Up.” It’s a remix that should never have been remixed. It’s only so-so, and the beat is dull, the dynamics unexplosive, like an orgasm that never happens. There’s no groove. And that’s no way to end an album that’s all about groove, all sexy, hard-edged vibe.

There’s a DVD that comes with the album, featuring videos of Aaliyah that play up the music and at the same time leave room for the imagination. These videos feature dance moves that have been copied and recopied on the dance floor, the moves of naughty cheerleaders. With her flat stomach and toned body, Aaliyah pops her shoulders and hips like she knows she’s being watched. She’s got spirit. Aaliyah is hardcore and glamorous, with dark eyeshadow, fake eyelashes, big red lips, large earrings, tight bodysuits and gold chains.

And sometimes, the videos are a little too high school trendy. Sometimes the moves are choreographed too much like a junior high pom squad. The storylines of the videos are forced, almost pulp fiction -- kung fu in the jungle, bikini-clad bodies on an island, a man dancing in a cage. What’s with the snake wrapped around Aaliyah? And just how big can her hoop earrings get? Then Aaliyah does her signature belly roll.

In the “Got to Give it Up” (Remix) video, Aaliyah dances and sings on stage to a bunch of people grinding in a club. Who cares? But the “Back in One Piece” video with DMX is a fresh break from her usual strictly choreographed videos, featuring Aaliyah and DMX hanging out, singing, and rapping together, and people dancing on the street. It’s simple and cool, like Aaliyah’s music.

I Care for U is all Aaliyah, a fresh and young sound, hip-hop with a darker edge. The songs are mostly about boy versus girl, but there’s nothing simple about the unique music -- a new sound and vibe that has never been heard before and will be hard to copy. And since Aaliyah’s death, there’s something tragic in her beats and lyrics, too: the thought that such a unique sound and undeniable talent is no longer with us.