After years of composition and recording, rejection and redemption, Alicia Keys was finally free to lay bare his soul with his debut album, “Songs In A Minor”.
Released on June 5, 2001 under Clive Davis’ J Records label, the critically acclaimed introduction set the artistic bar of the new millennium high and took the 20-year-old New Yorker from young prodigy to cutting edge act. of the neo-soul.
But it’s not just the accolades that affirm the impact of the album. The project set the tone both for Keys’ musical future and for the contemporary R&B realm.
“I’m so grateful for this album,” Keys told USA TODAY in a statement. “When I see pictures of this girl from ‘Songs In A Minor’, I recognize her. I know her, and I know she’s in me, right now. She’s grown more mature, had more experiences, she’s definitely become a lot more confident, she has even more creativity to offer. She dreams bigger. “
Classic influence with hip-hop confidence
Influenced by the styles of Marvin Gaye and Roberta Flack, the 11-song LP (which, ironically enough, features only one song in the A minor chord: “Jane Doe”) largely addresses the intricacies of relationships, and combines the classic style of Keys. -A well-formed upbringing and art ahead of its time with a contemporary flair and a confident hip-hop flavor.
Beethoven encounters heavy bass at the opening of the album “Piano & I”, while the gruff voice of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol ‘Dirty Bastard saturates “Girlfriend”, the R&B-soaked avowal of jealousy of the album. Keys also pays tribute to Prince for a cover of his track “How Come U Don’t Call Me” and delicately but dynamically uses James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s World” for his Grammy-winning first piano single ” Fall.”
“She obviously had clear intentions for herself as an artist,” says music journalist Eric Ducker, who was among the first to interview him in 2001 as the editor of The Fader. “I felt like she was ready to play the game to an extent, but only so that she could ultimately be the person in charge of the art she wanted to bring into the world.”
Keys is “undeniably different”
Keys started writing songs for the album at age 14. She has been involved in the arrangement and production with Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, Jermaine Dupri, Brian McKnight, Kandi Burruss and others.
“Songs In A Minor” Was “Undeniably Different” From What Keys’ peers Released in 2001, Says Music and Culture Journalist Camille Augustin. She points to Usher’s “8701”, India.Arie’s “Acoustic Soul” and Aaliyah’s latest self-titled studio album.
“There was a distinct sound that permeated R&B that seemed to constantly evolve from Timbaland, Darkchild, Bryan-Michael Cox, Dre & Vidal, Stargate and Tricky Stewart,” she says. “Then you have Alicia Keys, (who came in) with a sonic vision that complimented her writing style.”
Unlike many debuts designed to fulfill a label’s ideals for a new act, Keys’ inaugural project is its own top-down sound, proving how essential authenticity is to its professional agenda.
During the development of “Songs In A Minor”, Keys faced tensions with the Columbia Records label over artistic direction. She was able to negotiate her contract and signed to Arista Records, then run by the legendary Clive Davis. Keys said Davis encouraged her to be her own type of superstar. Keys followed Davis after his departure from Arista and founded J Records, eventually releasing “Songs In A Minor” under his label. Keys’ creative autonomy translated into a surprisingly self-confident effort that showcased his musical maturity.
“What resonates in ‘Song In A Minor’ is what resonates in all great art: it dares to reveal the truth, raw and unadorned,” said Michelle Burford, writer and contributor to Memoirs 2020 from Keys “More Myself: A Journey”.
“It highlights our common humanity, the weaknesses that we so often keep hidden for fear of being judged.”
Not only does the album mix themes of love and heartbreak, empowerment and fragility, it interweaves elements of classical, soul, hip-hop and jazz music. “All the things that have uplifted me,” Keys says.
“It represents the journey of a young girl who can come from Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem, difficult circumstances, and can write, produce, arrange and create her world.
Nothing prevents us from expressing the truth of what we know, our individuality and our honesty. For me, this is one of the lasting legacies of ‘Songs In A Minor’ … that you can be your own individual and say what you want to say, how you want to say it, the way you want to say it. create. It’s special, especially when it comes from a real, honest place. ”
Keys paved the way for artists like HER
In a review of “Songs In A Minor” for its 10th anniversary reissue, Rolling stone compared Keys to Stevie Wonder for being “self-sufficient (but still pop-friendly)”.
Now, with seven studio albums in his discography, Keys’ influence as a songwriter who helped shape the dominant contemporary R&B sound is undeniable.
“Not only (is) the study of great pianists a passion for her, but also the study of great composers like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Prince,” notes Augustine. “What they have in common is their mastery of the instruments. Being able to write sentences while writing notes on a piano or guitar is a gift that few artists can hold.
Keys’ approach to artistic individuality may have laid the groundwork for R & B’s brightest young talents, like English singer-songwriters Lianne La Havas and Ella Mai. (La Havas said Keys success was “the closest thing” she wanted for her own career, while Mai learned to play the piano – and braid her hair – admiring Keys.) two go against the grain with the aim of creating works focused on thematic concepts, relatable lyricism and inventive production pairings.
But perhaps the most direct and obvious example of Keys’ influence lies in Grammy and Academy Award winning musician Gabi Wilson who performs under the moniker HER Like her idol, HER is a child prodigy who delves into the importance of putting her art before her image, and her influences have spanned generations and genres.
“I like everything – I love Alicia Keys, “Wilson, 10, told the Today Show in 2007.
“She rings and looks like Alicia Keys in the dryer,” host Hoda Kotb said before Wilson sang a rendition of “No One”.
“I’m not backing down”
Twenty years later, “Songs In A Minor” remains a bold statement of Keys’ limitless creativity. His compositions showcase his knowledge of his craft, while offering a vulnerability to which listeners continually gravitate.
Its winning fusion of sounds spanning several generations results in a timelessness that does not seem outdated. As she matured, Keys’ thematic conceptualization became more concrete and her openness to collaborate intensified. However, at the heart of his music, you’ll always hear a sound rooted in his distinct artistic vision.
Keys is now 40 years old and is a famous wife, mother and philanthropist. The 15 Grammy Award winner continues to pride herself on being a longtime music student who stays true to herself and her ideals, while keeping her trusty instrument close at hand.
“I am comfortable and confident that I am exactly who I am,” says Keys. “Before, naturally as we’ve all done, we explore and try to find who we are, when in many ways I feel like I’ve always been close to who I’m meant to be, even from the start. Now. I know 100% for a fact who I am and why I am special. And I’m not backing down. ”