From Aaliyah to Alicia Keys: Why 2001 Was a Huge Year for Black Women in Music

With Destiny's Child, Missy Elliott, Alicia Keys, Aaliyah, Janet Jackson and more all at the top of their game, 2001 was a major year for Black women in music.

By Billy Nilles Feb 21, 2022 12:00 PMTags
Watch: Remembering Aaliyah: E! News Rewind

In 2001, a grand total of 15 songs spent time at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

For the unfamiliar, the music publication's weekly chart compiles data collected by Nielsen SoundScan relating to the sales performance and radio play, ranking the 100 most successful. The list is industry standard. Reaching the top of it is a big freaking deal. And 20 years ago, only 15 songs did it. 

Of those 15 songs, six of them—or 40 percent—belonged to Black women. To put that into some context, Black women were only responsible for 22 percent of the No. 1 hits in 2020. In 2019, just 12 percent. 

Quite simply, 2001 was a major year for Black women in music.

While their contributions continue to be felt year in and year out, regardless of their performance on the charts, a look at the totality of their impact two decades ago is enough to have the least sentimental among us longing for a trip back in time. After all, this was the year that gave us landmark albums from Destiny's Child, Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott, introduced us to Alicia Keys, forced us to say goodbye to Aaliyah and saw Whitney Houston earn exactly what her estimable talent was worth.

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Iconic Female MCs

For a full look at just how special 2001 was—and just how lucky we were to experience it—check out the list below!

Destiny's Child

Kicking off 2001 with their single "Independent Women Part 1" midway through an 11-week run at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams set the stage quite well for their third studio album, Survivor, which dropped in May. With hits like the aforementioned lead single, the title track, "Bootylicious" (which spent two weeks of its own at No. 1), "Emotion" and more, the LP was quite the sensation, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. 200 and staying there for two consecutive weeks. Certified quadruple Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America with more than 4 million copies sold only eight months after its release, Survivor went down as the seventh-best selling album of 2001.

Before embarking on solo endeavors in the ensuing years, the trio also released a holiday album on Oct. 30, and though 8 Days of Christmas didn't perform quite as strongly as Survivor, it still gifted us with that unforgettable title track.

Janet Jackson

Before releasing her seventh studio album, All for You, on April 16, 2001, Janet gave her adoring fans a taste of the new material with its titular lead single. Released in late May, the flirtatious dance-pop track made radio history as the first single to be added to every pop, rhythmic and urban radio format within its first week of release. "All for You" quickly reached No. 1 on the Hot 100, where it stayed for seven consecutive weeks, becoming the longest reigning hit of the year. The album debuted at No. 1, as well, making Janet the first artist to have five consecutive albums debut atop the chart. With the largest opening week sales of her career, the album also had the second highest opening week for any female artist in the Nielson SoundScan era (which began in 1991). It was certified double Platinum within a month, and went down as the 12th best-selling album of the year worldwide.

Missy Elliott

When Missy dropped Miss E... So Addictive in May 2001, her third studio album earned the trailblazing rapper her career-highest placement on the Billboard 200, debuting at its peak of No. 2. Certified Platinum two months later by the RIAA, the album is best remembered by its pair of unforgettable club hits, "Get Ur Freak On" and "One Minute Man."

As if that wasn't enough, she also co-produced the wildly successful cover of "Lady Marmalade" that ruled the airwaves that year, spending five consecutive weeks at No. 1 in early summer. 

Alicia Keys

2001 also marked the arrival of a promising newcomer who would quickly become a superstar when Alicia dropped her neo-soul/R&B debut album, Songs in A Minor in June. A confluence of elements from jazz, hip-hop, blues, gospel and more all masterfully interwoven with her classical pianist training, the album was an instant sensation, debuting at No. 1 that June. Lead single "Fallin'" spent six non-consecutive weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 during late summer and early fall. Alicia would go on to win five awards at the 2002 Grammys, including Song of the Year and Best New Artist, making her the second woman in history to earn that many in one night.

Aaliyah

It had been five years since Aaliyah's last album when her self-titled third LP arrived in July of 2001. The experimental neo-soul album marked a turning point in the young star's artistic output, proving that she had much more on her mind than the R&B box she'd been shoved into. Debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, the album would eventually hit No. 1, but only after tragedy struck. Aaliyah's life was cut short on Aug. 25 when a plane leaving the Bahamas, where she'd just finished filming the video for "Rock the Boat," crashed, killing her and several crew members. The posthumous climb to the top of the chart marked the first for an artist since John Lennon in 1980. The album is widely regarded as the blueprint for artists like Beyoncé, The Weeknd and countless others.

Mary J. Blige

Prior to the arrival of her fifth studio album, No More Drama, in August, Mary set the stage with lead single "Family Affair." The Dr. Dre-produced track, released that June, proved to be one of the biggest songs of the year. It reached the peak on the Hot 100 in November and stayed there for six consecutive weeks, giving Mary her only No. 1 hit in her career thus far.

Lil' Kim & Mya

While neither released material of her own in 2001, Lil' Kim and Mya were one half of the quartet whose collaboration on a cover of Labelle's "Lady Marmalade" would go on to become a generation-defining moment. Spending five weeks at No. 1 that summer, the song, which also features Pink and Christina Aguilera, became only the third airplay-only track in Billboard chart history to top the chart without being released in a major commercially available single format.

Mariah Carey

There's no denying that 2001 was a rough year for Mariah, what with the Glitter debacle and her subsequent exhaustion-influenced breakdown. But through it all, she still managed to pull off something remarkable: "Loverboy," the lead single off the film's soundtrack, finished the year as its best-selling single in the United States, with 571,000 units sold. Peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, it marked the first time in eight years that the year's top song failed to hit No. 1 on the chart. But, hey, a win's a win.

India.Arie

Alicia Keys wasn't the only high-profile debut in 2001. That March, neo-soul singer India released her first album, Acoustic Soul. The LP was a critical darling, with singles like "Video," "Brown Skin" and "Ready for Love" winning fans even without much love from the pop and rap-focused radio stations. India earned seven nominations at the 2002 Grammys, including Album, Record and Song of the Year, as well as Best New Artist.

Eve

While not as commercially successful as her debut album two years prior, Eve still had a major year in 2001 thanks to the release of Scorpion in March. Debuting at No. 4, the album was certified Platinum by the RIAA within two months. And with hits like "Who's That Girl?" and the Gwen Stefani collab "Let Me Blow Ya Mind," she was all over the radio. The latter would become the first song to ever win the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration when the category was introduced in 2002. (The category has since been renamed Best Melodic Rap Performance.)

Whitney Houston

While she didn't release a single second of new material, Whitney had a major moment in August 2001 when she signed one of the biggest record deals in music history. Renewing her contract with Arista/BMG, the icon guaranteed six studio albums, on which she would earn royalties, in return for a staggering $100 million. Yes, you read that number right.

This story was first published on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021 at 3 a.m. PT.

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