R.I.P. Amy Winehouse, 1983-2011
Beloved English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse died in her London home on Saturday at the age of 27. Police have not yet determined the cause of death, but several outlets have reported that there were no signs of foul play.
Winehouse enjoyed a brutally short legacy akin to that of several other rock idols who died at the same age: Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. The books are rich with saddening tabloid reports of her substance abuse and problematic marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil, which to many people appeared to have overshadowed her musical achievements. This is an injustice: her enormously popular breakthrough hit, "Rehab," won Grammy awards for Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal, and was written all by her lonesome. (Only Alicia Keys and John Mayer matched her Song of the Year win solo without additional songwriters in the 2000s, and they did not win Record of the Year as well.)
Winehouse's unique grasp of culture and language made her trademarks instantly iconic upon her second album's release. This included her look -- a retro beehive hairdo, contemporary punk tattoos, and trademark Cleopatra eye makeup in homage to the Ronettes -- and her musical taste: Sarah Vaughan-style jazz on her debut album Frank, and an overwhelming '60s soul influence on the smash follow-up Back to Black, which spawned "Rehab," "Tears Dry on Their Own," and the excellent "You Know I'm No Good."
The latter tune was taken up excellently by Ghostface Killah on one remix, while Jay-Z appeared on one for "Rehab." These weren't the usual slapped-together pairings of rappers and a fish-out-of-water artist. Winehouse's deep and abiding love of hip-hop spanned from a rap duo called Sweet 'n' Sour she formed at age 10 to the song "Me and Mr. Jones," which takes place at a Nas concert. The Jewish Brit instantly became known for her effortless marriage of rap references, conversational vulgarity ("Fuck Me Pumps" was one song on Frank), and another generation's crisp horn backing (namely, the Dap-Kings band).
Sadly, she became just as well-known for a series of self-destructive personal indiscretions: drug busts of every stripe, self-harm and eating disorders, assault charges within her unstable marriage, alcoholism, and manic depression. In 2006, her family maintained that Winehouse had spiraled into such severe addiction only following the death of her grandmother. Not long after, her own father had begun commenting on her condition in news reports, believing it was "the only way to get through to her."
Back to Black was Britain's best-selling album in 2007, and "Rehab" went on to win the Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for single of the year. Winehouse was supposedly at work on a new album at the time of her death.