You probably still remember the exact moment you heard about Aaliyah’s tragic passing. Fan or not, the news stung like a mighty punch in the stomach.
August 25 marks the 21st anniversary of the R&B princess’s death, and with her albums finally gracing streaming platforms, coupled with the music trends pushing for a major R&B revival, new times can’t help but wonder what Aaliyah’s legacy would be today if she hadn’t boarded that Cessna 402 after she finished filming the music video for “Rock the Boat” in the Bahamas.
Since its mystical beginnings in 1994, Age is nothing but a number, and the ensuing sophomore effort in 1996, the product of Timbaland One in a million, Aliyah— affectionately known as Baby Girl – introduced a sound and swag to R&B that no one else of his time matched.
The “4 Page Letter” singer’s futuristic tunes and her edgy style she invented “street but sweet” was enough evidence to conclude that she saw the ability to exist one step ahead of everyone else. Posthumously, the trail she blazed continues to infiltrate music and fashion today.
To discuss the era of 90s music without acknowledging his work seems blasphemous. If it were possible to translate the feeling of silk into an audible experience, the reading would be Aaliyah’s voice.
While it’s no secret that everything Aaliyah has touched in her 22 years of life has turned to gold, it goes unnoticed that she managed to leave some of that aureate somewhere. unexpected: Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Aquatic Center. campus (FIU BBC) in North Miami.
The scenes from the music video “Rock the Boat” where Aaliyah’s eyes are covered in sparkling red jewels as she swims majestically in what appears to be an ocean were filmed at the FIU BBC’s diving well.
Elias Bardawil, former lifeguard and assistant director of campus recreation at the FIU BBC, was lucky enough to be present on set.
“It was shot in the dark at night,” says Bardawil new times. “She wore a beautiful dress that floated where she floated underwater, and it was a very cool and innovative production that I got to see at the time.”
Bardawil recalls being briefly introduced to Aaliyah and director Hype Williams.
“It was myself and the other rescuers who were there at the time. [of the video shoot]“, says Bardawil. “We met them briefly. It was like ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the type of situation “Welcome to the site”.
According to Bardawil, the production team wasted no time. Directors, film crews and lifeguards prepared the aquatic center before dark and filmed the actual scenes in just “a few hours”.
“They came to do the installation earlier in the day and waited until dark to install the underwater lighting,” Bardawil explains. “I can’t remember how many takes, but the scene where she’s floating in the water was the main focus at the time.”
It was no shock to Bardawil that the BBC FIU swimming pool was chosen for the “Rock the Boat” video. This natatorium is a hub for underwater filming and has a whole slate of notable productions, the former lifeguard divulges.
“We are one of the few facilities that has a dive well large enough to film and/or photograph underwater,” Bardawil explains.Bad Boys was, I think, shot down there and Manchurian Candidate.”
Just three days before the fatal accident, filming for “Rock the Boat” began. Day one involved a nine-hour green screen shoot on a sound stage in Miami which preceded the late night underwater stages at the FIU BBC. A few days later, Aaliyah, her glam crew and the production crew traveled to the Bahamas to capture the beach scenes and yacht footage.
Bardawil remembers waking up to learn of Aaliyah’s death just days after meeting her.
“I was shocked,” Bardawil says. “I remember waking up with my television on MTV, and they had read the news of the [plane] crash. When a young superstar in the prime of life experiences such tragedy, and then you have a moment to share with them, you can’t believe how sensitive life is.”
“You knew Aaliyah and her music. She was definitely a trailblazer, fashion mogul and industry star with such promising talent,” Bardawil adds.
“Rock the Boat” was the second single from Aaliyah’s self-titled and final studio album. Although the Static Major-penned track features the singer’s soothing vocals over a summery beat, it’s a bittersweet reminder of her tragic death.
The song was written and recorded two years before its 2001 release and was rejected by Aaliyah’s label, Blackground Records, for being “too sexual” for his brand at the time.
Archived images from BET’s 2001 Authorized access followed Aaliyah while filming the “Rock the Boat” video in Miami and the Bahamas. Watching the singer in her element among friends including Dame Dash, makeup artist Eric Foreman and longtime choreographer Fatima Robinson is both refreshing and eerie, knowing her days were few.