Aretha Franklin‘s greatness was already secured by the time the 1990s rolled around. After becoming the first woman ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Franklin could have rested on her laurels and enjoyed life as a legend. But, she did the theme song to the hit TV-show A Different World and maintained that she wasn’t going to slow down with guest appearances on soundtracks such as Malcolm X and Waiting To Exhale with “It Hurts Like Hell.”
In a 1994 profile in Washington Post, author Richard Harrington said of her autobiography, “It will be a story worth reading, of course, but much of it has long been available simply by listening to her recorded legacy.”
In 1998, fans got the first Aretha album in nearly seven years with A Rose Is Still A Rose. Her collaborators then were a who’s who of hip-hop and R&B elite at the time: Lauryn Hill, Sean “Puffy”/”Diddy” Combs, Jermaine Dupri, and Dallas Austin. Her voice once more put power to emotion as Hill wrote the title track and throughout the album, Franklin’s signature vocal range sounds empowered, passionate in way not heard or felt since her recordings in the 1970s.
At 55, Franklin’s voice felt more like a mother who was fairly in tune with the way the world had operated. If she turned Otis Redding’s “Respect” into a timeless anthem of understanding of a woman, “A Rose Is Still A Rose” became an anthem that a woman, regardless of age or location, was not alone. Thirty years prior, she had fully been embraced as the Queen of Soul. In the video for “A Rose Is Still A Rose,” she is more the Queen of us all, a regal being and spirit unmatched.
The album itself brought out the best in Franklin while pairing her with more contemporary sounds. “Genius Of Love,” the 1981 Tom Tom Club single that was the basis for Mariah Carey’s smash single “Fantasy” appeared once again for the upbeat second single, “Here We Got Again,” thanks to frequent Carey collaborator Jermaine Dupri. Even Diddy (then known as Puff Daddy) contributed to the album but the way the entire thing is layered, from the vocal power that is “Every Li’l Bit Hurts” and “The Woman” as if it is a masterful Aretha moment.
The 1998 album, the 37th of her career, celebrated its 20th anniversary in March. It was her third to last album, preceding 2003’s So Damn Happy and last year’s A Brand New Me.