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For The Record: Inside Alicia Keys' Masterpiece 'Songs in A Minor' At 20

Alicia Keys

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For The Record: Inside Alicia Keys' Masterpiece 'Songs in A Minor' At 20

In the latest episode of For The Record, learn how Alicia Keys crafted a masterpiece in her 2001 genre-blurring debut album, 'Songs in A Minor'

GRAMMYs/Jun 9, 2021 - 01:43 am

Five years after Clive Davis signed Alicia Keys to his fledgling J Records label and made her a household name, Bob Dylan shouted her out in a song. "I was thinking 'bout Alicia Keys," he rasped in "Thunder on the Mountain," from his 2006 album Modern Times, rewriting a line from Memphis Minnie's song, "Ma Rainey." "She was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line/I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be."

She didn't go anywhere, Bob: Since her 2001 debut album, Songs in A Minor, Keys has made a string of critically acclaimed albums and has remained a constant force in music. But Dylan's line—asking about and beseeching her—speaks volumes. The modern-day Bard wrote it after watching the 2002 GRAMMY Awards show, in which he also appeared despite not coming in contact with her. "I said to myself, 'There's nothing about that girl I don't like,'" he later recalled to Rolling Stone.

And if music fans reading this are nodding along with that assessment, Songs in A Minor, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, has a great deal to do with that.

Songs in A Minor, which released June 5, 2001, on Davis' then-new (and now-defunct) label, J Records, is a big part of the reason we all know Keys' name. It had a long and careful gestation, for one thing; she began writing the tunes at the tender age of 14. Rather than being the product of a team of chefs, she was a self-contained, self-actualized artist, intimately involved in everything from the songwriting to the production of tracks like "Girlfriend," "Fallin" and "A Woman's Worth."

The album—an amalgam of R&B, soul, hip-hop, jazz, and half a dozen other genres—paid off in dividends. Songs in A Minor debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. At the 44th GRAMMY Awards in 2002, the album scooped up five GRAMMY wins: Best R&B Album as well as Song Of The Year, Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for Keys' debut single, "Fallin'," with the singer/songwriter taking home the Best New Artist GRAMMY that same year.

However, the success of Songs in A Minor was in no way preordained. Label dysfunction and creative insecurity could have stopped it before it even started.

Songs in A Minor was supposed to release on Columbia Records, who signed her when she was 15. But creative differences stymied that arrangement. "They wanted me, the tomboy from Hell's Kitchen, to become the next teen pop idol," Keys wrote in her 2020 memoir, More Myself: A Journey. After a protracted exit, Keys signed with Davis at Arista Records, and later, J Records. But even with the business side of things tied up, she struggled to form the album in her mind.

The skeleton key, Keys said, turned out to be "Troubles." "That's when the album started comin' together," she told Rolling Stone in 2001. "Finally, I knew how to structure my feelings into something that made sense, something that can translate to people. That was a changing point. My confidence was up, way up."

The partnership between Keys and Davis proved fruitful: These Songs in A Minor braided relationship dysfunction with biracial identity via a unique, genre-catholic sound the world won't soon forget. To partly quote Dylan, wherever you'll be, Keys will be.

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

Alicia Keys

Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour

GRAMMYs/Mar 5, 2020 - 04:07 am

After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.

Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression."  You can pre-order the title here.

The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.

Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.

This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.

John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

John Lennon

Photo: Ron Howard/Redferns

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John Lennon, Sting, Alicia Keys: 7 Songs For Starting Over In 2018

With hits from Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Nina Simone, and more, find the motivation for a brand-new you this New Year

GRAMMYs/Jan 4, 2018 - 11:12 pm

Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh new start, whether you're looking to wash away the sins of the previous year or reinvent a better future that follows your ultimate dreams. Starting over isn't an easy task, but we have one recommendation that will help motivate you: music.

Don't be a fuddy duddy. Kick-start 2018 with this playlist of seven songs all about starting over, including hits from John Lennon, the Byrds, Sting, and Alicia Keys, among others.

1. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Starting with its lyrics, "To everything (turn, turn, turn)/There is a season," this GRAMMY Hall Of Fame classic is a great reminder that everything is always changing anyway, so now is as good a time as any to give something new a chance. The composition was written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, but the lyrics come almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The song didn't hit it big until the Byrds got their turn at it in 1965. Reportedly, it took Roger McGuinn & Co. 78 takes to perfect their folk-rock arrangement.

2. Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

GRAMMY winner Leonard Cohen had a knack for poetry powerful enough to move mountains, and his "Anthem" is one such gem. This 1992 tune about embracing imperfection and marching forward in the face of adversity contains one of Cohen's most-quoted lines: "Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." And we'll leave you with one final line from the master that encapsulates starting over: "The birds they sing, at the break of day/Start again, I heard them say/Don't dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be."

3. Gil Scott-Heron, "I'm New Here"

Taken from his 2010 album of the same name, "I'm New Here" came near the end of Gil Scott-Heron's storied life. The album saw Scott-Heron, according to Drowned In Sound's Robert Ferguson, "pick over the bones of his life, acknowledging the hard times and his own mistakes, but standing proud of all they have led him to become." Embodying this sentiment accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Scott-Heron's bluesy, semi-spoken "I'm New Here" brings out the poignancy of change. Its key lyric, "No matter how far wrong you've gone/You can always turn around," is something to keep in mind year-round, let alone January.

4. Alicia Keys, "Brand New Me"

Alicia Keys went full bore on the empowering messages of her 2012 album, Girl On Fire —  the Best R&B Album winner at the 56th GRAMMY Awards — including the track, "Brand New Me." Co-written with singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé, the soft pop/R&B ballad describes growing as a person and becoming a brand-new version of yourself. "Brand new me is about the journey it takes to get to a place where you are proud to be a new you," Keys wrote on her website at the time of the song's release.

5. John Lennon, "(Just Like) Starting Over"

A quintessential start-anew song, former Beatle John Lennon included "(Just Like) Starting Over" on his GRAMMY-winning 1980 album, Double Fantasy. "(Just Like) Starting Over" was the album's first single because Lennon felt it best represented his return following a five-year hiatus from music. It's also a love song, but the theme of starting over has a universal resonance "It's time to spread our wings and fly/Don't let another day go by my love/It'll be just like starting over." It became Lennon's second chart-topping single in the U.S., reaching No. 1 after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.

6. Nina Simone, "Feeling Good"

"It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life for me/I'm feelin' good." Could you ask for better lyrics for embarking on a new journey? Nina Simone recorded her version of "Feeling Good," which was originally written for the musical "The Roar Of The Greasepaint — The Smell Of The Crowd," on her 1965 album I Put A Spell On You. While artists such as Michael Bublé, John Coltrane, George Michael, and Muse subsequently covered it, no alternative is quite as powerful — or soulful — as Simone's.

7. Sting, "Brand New Day"

Sting's "Brand New Day" has a lesson for inspiring motivation to start the New Year with fresh eyes: "Turn the clock to zero, buddy/Don't wanna be no fuddy-duddy/We started up a brand new day." The bright, catchy pop tune and its namesake 1999 album resonated with fans, landing it at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. The track (and album) earned Sting GRAMMYs — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album — at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards.

What's Your New Year's Music Resolution?

ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Ant Clemons

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ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"

Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home

GRAMMYs/Jun 15, 2021 - 08:13 pm

Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?

Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?

Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible

In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.

Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.

Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.

ReImagined At Home: Keedron Bryant Powerfully Interprets John Legend's Love Song "Ordinary People"

 

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Will Smith Dedicate His 1999 Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY To His Son

Will Smith at the 1999 GRAMMYs

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Will Smith Dedicate His 1999 Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY To His Son

In his acceptance speech, he offers thanks to his family and "the jiggiest wife in the world, Jada Pinkett Smith"

GRAMMYs/Sep 25, 2020 - 11:17 pm

Today, Sept. 25, we celebrate the birthday of the coolest dad—who else? Will Smith! For the latest episode of GRAMMY Rewind, we revisit the Fresh Prince's 1999 GRAMMY win for Best Rap Solo Performance for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."

In the below video, watch rappers Missy Elliott—donning white leather—and Foxy Brown present the GRAMMY to a stoked Smith, who also opted for an all-leather look. In his acceptance speech, he offers thanks to his family and "the jiggiest wife in the world, Jada Pinkett Smith." He dedicates the award to his eldest son, Trey Smith, joking that Trey's teacher said he (then just six years old) could improve his rhyming skills.

Watch Another GRAMMY Rewind: Ludacris Dedicates Best Rap Album Win To His Dad At The 2007 GRAMMYs

The classic '90s track is from his 1997 debut studio album, Big Willie Style, which also features "Miami" and 1998 GRAMMY winner "Men In Black," from the film of the same name. The "Está Rico" rapper has won four GRAMMYs to date, earning his first back in 1989 GRAMMYs for "Parents Just Don't Understand," when he was 20 years old.

GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, J. Lo & Jada Pinkett Smith Open The 2019 GRAMMYs