We've come a long way. I always saw you as the cool ass shit chick who I would hopefully run into at some NYC event that I was assigned to cover. I would approach you with caution as I mentally initiate 'Back and Forth' to calm my nerves.

As I get closer -- you are in deep conversation with someone I should recognize but don't. I hover around and pretend to be freshening my notepad with the questions -- I plan to pose to you.

Despite the loud music and crowd chatter -- I can hear you clearly. You are overwhelmed with how well your film career has taken off and your next album -- which you are currently working on is going to be your most personal body of work to date.

Now, I am no longer pretending -- I am writing with renewed urgency. I am so deep in it that I don't notice you step up to me. I look up and you flash me a curious smile. Suddenly, everything around me melts away and I am smitten. I can't fathom how gorgeous you are and the energy from your eyes opens me up to the boldest interview I have ever initiated.

We keep in touch.

You like me. You really like me! The feeling is mutual.

Your project takes you away but you promise to be back. I wait with anticipation. Our next meeting is going to be dope. I have sampled some of the tracks and I am stoked! This is your most demonstrative work and I can't wait to share my assessment as well as your reaction.

Then you died and so did the dream that you made come true.

It's all in my head.

All the above except for your abrupt departure should've transpired and if it had been a real-life encounter -- I bet it would've mimicked everything I visualize when I still imagine what our bonding session would resemble.

I never met you which is a shame because you have been an awesome friend and I want to thank you. From the days of 'Back and Forth' through the affecting ballad -- 'At Your Best' into the reassuringly astute 'More Than A Woman '-- your consistent adherence to implementing the tempo of love and fluid sensuality propelled my mission as a young girl in the nineties.

I wanted to be you, and that's why I kept you close.

Our bodies were similar -- and back then I also sported the straight jet-black locks. I enjoyed listening to you express the themes of our strength as Black girls navigating the gorgeous landscape of discovery that only serves to captivate the men who dare to be in our lives.

I know that your entanglement with the man who served as a major influence earlier on has become tabloid fodder. I also know what that's like but on a much smaller scale. I wanted to ask you how you managed to retain your inbuilt dignity and pride as your world expanded to include facets of possibilities that you rightly deserved. I wanted to comprehend how you could be so perfect in body and tone and not get carried away with the star power that was ready to catapult you to heights unknown.

I already know all the answers.

You died sixteen years ago in a plane crash. The night it happened my younger brother woke me up in a panic. He was in love with you. I used to tease him about it but this time -- I loved him for it. The distress in his eyes was unnerving and annoying. Of course, you didn't perish in such a tragic and violent way. That could never happen to someone like you.

I was wrong. You were not above life's most cruel joke.

As the years go by -- you have actually become an even better friend. Whenever I need to prove my case in a way that peruses the slots of nostalgia -- I just turn to you.

And you are always there.

I no longer imagine how your heart pummeled your chest when the plane started to nosedive without warning. I no longer gasp with grief when I contemplate how you must have known that you were never going to see the ones you love.

Enough time has passed and I am grateful for the companionship and loyalty that continuously adds more depth to a relationship that will never be one-sided. I am older and wiser and I don't shy away from the subject of death as if it were a taboo or an unnecessary hindrance.

We are made to die, but it's how we live that determines the relevance of our passing.

Drake loves you, which is massive because he is the shit right now. You are still revered for your indisputable contribution to the catalog of classic hits that will live on but not in our memory -- rather in the present.

Because you Shut it Down! Girl, you did it!

We will always need you. We will forever rock to the beat of 'Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number', 'One in a Million', and 'If Your Girl Only Knew' -- just to mention a few.

I've relied on your ongoing legacy in ways that can't be adequately expressed and during my assimilation back to the summer of 2001 when I was convinced by you to Try Again -- I recognize how valuable it is to reminisce and celebrate the discovery of a talent that never stops giving because we will never stop demanding the very best you have to give.

You're still living. You're still the meeting that I never had except in my dreams.

You will always be -- Hot Like Fire!, One in a Million, More Than a Woman, and no matter how we go Back and Forth -- we will always Try Again for you -- Baby Girl.

Always.


Ezinne Ukoha is a multimedia journalist. You can find more of her work by heading here.