Alicia Keys Biography
How do you follow an album that has earned countless awards, sold ten million copies worldwide and given you recognition as one of the most important new arrivals on the global recording scene?
Well, if you are the kind of musician who – like Alicia Keys – looks at her work as an expression of her own life experiences, you create. And, while mindful of the impact your first album has had, you keep creating music that reflects who you are and what you’re about.
A rare artist among her own generation, a singer, songwriter and extraordinary pianist who combines classical training with an old school sensibility and a direct relationship with today’s mix of hip-hop and R&B, Alicia relates to music much in the way legends like Stevie Wonder and Prince have always done, seeing their work as a continuous, ongoing journey rather than a collection of songs for a new album, always recording more material than could possibly fill one record. Not that Alicia herself would presume to be included in the category of such musical masters but certainly if her first award-winning multi-platinum album (2001’s “Songs In A Minor”) and her latest epic, THE DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS are any indicators, she has clearly taken the first few steps in a career that already demonstrates endless promise.
On the eve of her much-anticipated sophomore album’s December 2003 release, Alicia reflected on the fast-paced events of the past three years: “It hasn’t been that hard dealing with all that’s happened because I’m really a pretty simple lady and most important, I keep the people who’ve been around me for years around me now. That keeps me very focused. I’m blessed with a family and a good circle of positive people who help me keep perspective. If I believed the hype, I would never have been to make an album!”
Reflecting on her latest project, Alicia notes: “My music doesn’t have a beginning or end. It’s continuous. I didn’t stop writing after the first album came out and everything I wrote since came from the experiences in my life, of being on the road, traveling, dealing with different situations. Once I got to the studio, I began to let those things out of me. By the time I did start thinking about how I wanted the new album to be, I had so many songs. You see, I don’t put myself in any kind of box; I speak freely with my music. I knew that the second album would naturally be different from the first one because of all the growing I did during the past three years…”
For native New Yorker Alicia – who studied the classical music of Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin, the jazz stylings of Oscar Peterson, Fats Waller and Marian McPartland and the essential black music of Nina Simone, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder while listening to Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan among others as contemporary inspirations – the choice of the right recording environment for working on her all-important second J Records/MBK Ent. album was critical. “I normally record out of my house but I was moving so I had to find a studio which would be like a home away from home. I decided I’d try this one place that had been recommended to me. It was a spot in Noho, downtown Manhattan and I figured if I did one song there and the vibe was good, I’d do the album there. The song was “Nobody Not Really” and it was perfect. It was private, quiet – no platinum records on the wall, kinda Zen like. And that’s where I did most of the album over a period of about eight months…”
Alicia already had some entire songs ready to record, some with just a hook, some with melodies, some with lyrics: “The material was in many different stages. Essentially, the first track I cut was “Nobody Not Really” and there’s an interesting story behind it. I’d had a long day and I was pretty tired. I was at the airport and there was this little boy collecting money for selling candy. He was with a friend. I have him two $5.00 bills, one for him and one for his friend, without really thinking about it too much and he went on his way. Then I stopped to think about it: I noticed he didn’t share the money with his friend, he just put it in his pocket and I never even asked him what the money was for. I was disappointed in myself for not doing that. He came back around with his cart and I asked some questions, found out he was in music program in school. And I realized that little things can make such a big difference and I started thinking how we don’t take the time to understand, to question…”
Like other tunes on THE DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS, “Nobody Not Really” – with echoes of ‘70s Marvin Gaye - was recorded ‘live’ in the studio with Alicia at the keyboards, much in the way soul giants like Simone, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack recorded back in the day. With the same basic rhythm section, Alicia cut the song “Samsonite Man” after “Nobody Not Really.” Like with most of the songs on the album, she worked with Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, her partner in KrucialKeys Enterprise also drawing from the many talented songwriters and other artists who fall under the KrucialKeys umbrella such as longtime friends Taneisha Smith (with whom she co-wrote “Nobody Not Really” and “Karma”) and Erika Rose, her collaborator on “Samsonite Man,” which she says “was a song I already had in my pocket. I didn’t know how I wanted to express a particular situation when you find yourself getting close to someone emotionally and just as you do, they pack up and leave.” The song ends with Alicia’s declaration that if the central character in “Samsonite Man” comes back around, she’ll be the one to send him packing!
With its play on words, the self-composed “Dragon Days,” a tune with a slightly sinister edge, was written “on the tour bus! I was halfway through the tour and living out of my suitcases. It’s exciting but you can lose your balance a little bit. I was missing my special someone and I was practicing at the piano as I usually do for a few hours before my show. I stumbled on these ‘gangsta’-type chords and the melody came into my head so I put it right into my cell phone so I wouldn’t forget it. I started messing with it on the bus and at about 3:00am, I had the song. It was about how the days were draggin’ and I was feeling like a ‘damsel in distress’….you know, mixing the idea of ‘dragging’ and ‘dragon’…”
Another tour-inspired cut was “Feeling U, Feeling Me,” a brilliant musical interlude that showcases Alicia’s keyboard artistry: “I fell sleep listening to Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” I was on the tour bus by myself, had this blue light on, it was real vibe-y. I turned on my keyboard and then I pulled up this guitar sound I’d created and started playing these chords and melody line with the guitar. I guess that Santana tune was somewhere in my consciousness. Must have been about 4:00 am and my friend starts knocking on the door of the bus, like, ‘what the **** is that?’ And now it’s on the album!”
One of the many standouts on Alicia’s latest album is the track “Diary” which features ‘80s hit makers Tony! Toni! Toné!, inspired by “a very deep private conversation I had with someone on the road where we were talking about things you just never discuss with anyone. It was like he was my diary and I was his for that moment. I wrote the basis for the song in about ten minutes. Then I thought how much I would love the guys from Tony! Toni! Toné! to play on the track. I already had a pretty cool relationship with Dwayne Wiggins and we got some of the original guys in the studio, Dwayne, Jubu Smith, Elijah Baker, Carl Wheeler, Tim Christian and we had it done in two hours. We had a ball and once we put the song aside, we jammed for six hours straight!”
With famed bassist Willie Weeks, Alicia’s renowned musical director Ray Chew conducting a thirteen-piece string section and backup vocalists such as Cindy Mizelle and Katreese Barnes on the session, “Wake Up” is a timely song that can be viewed from the perspective of current world events or as a commentary on a one-on-one personal relationship: “The war in Iraq had been going on and sometimes it takes a while to digest what’s happening. Like in a personal relationship, you realize that rather than people’s hearts turning to stone, it would have been easier to love each other…”
Demonstrating her innovative approach to music and the diversity of her own musical training, Alicia’s “Karma” (produced by partner Kerry ‘Krucial’ Brothers) “combines classical elements and these crazy beats! Lyrically, it’s about when you give your all to someone, almost leaving nothing for yourself. You let it go and then, the other person suddenly starts feeling like you used to feel! But it’s too late and what goes around…well, you know the rest!”
Already a major pop and R&B hit with an equally amazing video, “You Don’t Know My Name” is the first single from THE DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS. With its pronounced old school flavor, the track – co-produced by Kanye West and Alicia and co-written with Harold Lilly – reflects Alicia’s love for the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and includes a sample from a recording by The Main Ingredient. “The song is based on real life experiences,” Alicia reveals. “I wasn’t working at a diner but I was at a party and there was this guy across the room. We made eye contact and I got his number just before I left. I was telling my home girls that he was a little cutie and they were like, ‘let’s hope he’s not a strobe light honey,’ a guy that looks completely different once you see them outside the party in the light of day! Well, I did call him although I couldn’t read his name on the napkin where he wrote his number! Thankfully, he picked up the phone when I called and we had a great conversation.” Alicia says, “You Don’t Know My Name” really has that “old school meets new school feel” and decided that it would be the first single “because it is different and I knew it would stand out. Kinda like the way “Fallin’” did with the first album,” she says referring to her chart-topping 2001 single.
Keeping with the sweet soul music she listened to during her formative years and committed to continuing the tradition through her own recordings, Alicia’s take on “If I Were Your Woman,” a 1970 hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips revived by Stephanie Mills in 1988 brings together “three worlds – mine, Dwayne Wiggins and (acclaimed rap star) Easy Mo Bee. I’ve always loved the lyrical twist of the song. We took a sample from Isaac Hayes’ version of “Walk On By” and we messed around with it…and what you hear is what we came up with!”
Working with up-and-coming producer Kamasi, Alicia created “Slow Down,” a smooth groove tune written with KrucialKeys collaborators L. Green and Erika Rose that addresses “a topic that’s important for all of us, especially young women. When you meet someone you connect with, there’s so much you want to explore and find out about them. The song is about not rushing but taking time...and these days, there’s not a lot of slowing down...”
As the album evolved, Alicia found herself dealing with different lyrical themes: the particularly soulful “If I Ain’t Got You” (which features acclaimed musicians Hugh McCracken on guitar and Steve Jordan on drums) is all about “how material things don’t feed the soul. The song was sitting there for a while and then with September 11, the passing of A䄀liyah, different events in the world and in my life, the song took on a new meaning…”
“So Simple” was produced with the Philly-based team of Andre Harris and Vidal Davis and co-written with Harold Lilly. “We had a good time recording that song,” Alicia reveals. “We manipulated my voice electronically so I got to be my own sample! The lyric speaks for itself, a reminder of a time in a relationship when things were much simpler…” Then, referencing the different influences that have helped shape her musical development, “Heartburn” is a “hard’n’funky! You know, that whole James Brown/Lyn Collins vibe. . I like to connect with a lot of musicians on different levels: I collaborated with Timbaland on that track and it was big fun.”
In complete contrast, “Harlem’s Nocture,” the instrumental interlude that opens THE DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS is a reminder of the classical training she received with piano teacher, Margaret Pine, and at New York’s Professional Performing Arts School and for Alicia, “it’s my own interpretation of classical music and the track was my first step in doing that on record. We actually did the final mix on the day we were mastering the album.” Symbolizing the international impact she’s had as an artist, the track was recorded in Paris, France and mixed in New York.
Alicia says that making the choice as to when her sophomore album was complete wasn’t necessarily easy: “I write all the way to the last second! It was hard to find the ‘cut off’ place but you just know when you’re done. I realized I had expressed this particular period of growth in my life when we finished recording the song “When You Really Love Someone.” The song is about real unconditional love and that can be with anyone – your brother, sister, mother, father, man, woman or best friend. There are times when something can happen in life and it’s crucial that you be there for someone. I got the inspiration while we were in London so we went into the studio and cut it right there…”
THE DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS’ international CD includes the bonus cut, “Streets Of New York,” featuring Nas and Rakim. “I was working on “Warrior Song” for Nas’ album “God’s Son.” I was messing around with a jazzy lick that came from the track “N.Y. State Of Mind” on Nas’ first album. I played it for Nas and he started bugging when he heard it and it brought him back to what he was thinking when he first wrote that song. Then, I thought if we could get Rakim for the track, it would be perfect. “Streets Of New York” is really about my experiences of growing up in the city, the experiences that have made me the woman I am today. It’s about the things I’ve seen, the things I’d like to change…”
Alicia admits that “it was tough deciding what to leave off the album because in all, I must have recorded thirty-two songs! But what I appreciate about my team – my manager Jeff Robinson, my partner Kerry Brothers and Peter Edge at J Records - is that they all told me, ‘you have to make the final decision.’ Then, Clive Davis (Chairman and CEO of the RCA Music Group) totally allows me to be who I am creatively, giving me different perspectives but seeing the artist in me.”
Now, with THE DIARY OF ALICIA KEYS complete, an eager international music-buying public gets to see once more this amazing, multi-talented artist fully expressing herself with a dazzling array of new compositions. “When the final album was done, I was ecstatic,” Alicia states. “I really felt the energy of the songs and hearing them as one piece of work, I was able to say ‘yes, this is who I am right now.’ I’m very proud, very happy and so excited about offering the album to the world.”
Alicia Keys Bio from Discogs
In 2000, Alicia Keys was the one out of the three first artists signed to Clive Davis' now-defunct label, J Records (along with Mario Barrett and Olivia); later released her debut album with the label that following year, having had previous record deals first with Columbia and then, Arista Records.
Keys' debut album, Songs in A Minor, was a commercial success, selling over 12 million copies worldwide and peaking at #1 on the Billboard 200. She became the best-selling new artist and best-selling R&B artist of 2001. The album earned Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for "Fallin'". Her second studio album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, was released in 2003 and was also another success worldwide, selling eight million copies. The album garnered her the second album to peak at the top spot, pushing off Jay-Z's Black album, an additional four Grammy Awards in 2005. Later that year, she released her first live album, MTV Unplugged: Alicia Keys, which debuted at number one in the United States. She became the first female to have an MTV Unplugged album to debut at number one and the highest since Nirvana in 1994.
Keys made guest appearances on several television series in the following years, beginning with Charmed. She made her film debut in Smokin' Aces (with fellow co-star Common) and went on to appear in The Nanny Diaries in 2007. Her third studio album, As I Am, was released in the same year and sold six million copies worldwide, earning Keys an additional three Grammy Awards. The following year, she appeared in The Secret Life of Bees, which earned her a nomination at the NAACP Image Awards. She released her fourth album, The Element of Freedom, in December 2009, which became Keys' first chart-topping album in the United Kingdom, however, it was a commercial disappointment, debuting at #2 on both the Billboard 200 and Top R&B Albums chart behind Susan Boyle's I Dreamed a Dream and Mary J. Blige's Stronger with Each Tear, respectively. Throughout her career, Keys has won numerous awards and has sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Billboard magazine named her the top R&B artist of the 2000–2009 decade, establishing herself as one of the best-selling artists of her time.
During 2010, it was rumored that Keys was dating hip-hop musician Swizz Beatz, in which she later stated it was true. They wedded in March 2011 and had 3 children later on. On October 27, 2011, Alicia Keys received an e-mail from Sony Music Entertainment (J's parent label), informing that all four labels: J Records, Arista Records, Jive Records and LaFace Records, will all be shut down and merged altogether to re-form RCA Records. It means that all o .... Click here to read the full bio on DISCOGS.