Aaliyah seemed always to be one step ahead of the curve sonically when it came to her music career. July 2001 brought her self-titled album, which helped take her modern sound beyond street-level R&B into the universal soul realm.
Musically, “I Can Be,” a deep cut from Aaliyah’s eponymous, is the parent song to 1998’s “Are You That Somebody?” from the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. On the latter, Timbaland-fronted track, she wonders whether a potential sneak link can keep her wild side to himself in hopes that it is pleasurable for them both.
With the Tank-penned track, a collage of rock, and UK garage, Aaliyah answers her own lustful question, insisting that she can carry out the role of a kept woman. When asked about whose idea it was to write from this perspective, Tank said it was all Aaliyah.
“Aaliyah called me and said, ‘I need that edge, Tank, I’m a woman and people need to understand that. So, I want to shake ’em up a little bit with some of the things I say and kind of some of the things that I’m doing in my music,'” the R&B general recalled to Rated R&B in a 2020 interview regarding his songwriting and production career.
Tank obliged her request and said, “I wrote from the perspective of people being surprised to hear that Aaliyah is the other woman. Like what? Aaliyah is supposed to be your main woman. Not only is she the other woman, but she’s saying, ‘It’s okay that I’m the other woman. I’m cool with that.’
He continued, “This is way before SZA talks about ‘The Weekend.’ This is Aaliyah saying that ‘I can take care of whatever she isn’t taking care of.'”
Tank remembers forwarding the song to Aaliyah after it was written and referenced and getting her feedback. “When she called me and told me that she loved it, I was like, ‘Oh, shit. That’s dope.'”
Aside from his writing credit for Aaliyah, Tank chatted with us for our inaugural Board + Pen editorial about working on songs by Toni Braxton, Kelly Rowland, Pleasure P, Jennifer Hudson, and more.
Revisit Aaliyah’s “I Can Be” below.