For The Nostalgia: Alicia Keys’ Songs In A Minor at 15

Alicia

The road to stardom was not immediate, nor was it easy for Alicia Keys. Born Alicia Augelio Cook on January 25, 1981, the New York-born and bred piano prodigy was always destined for greatness. After signing her first recording contract with Columbia Records in 1995 at the age of 14, Keys spent the better part of two years perfecting her craft. After little progress was made during her tenure at Columbia, Keys signed a production deal with Jermaine Dupri’s So So Def Recordings in 1997, drafting her first professional recording under his tutelage that same year. After another bout of inactivity at Columbia, Keys contacted music industry impresario Clive Davis, who scooped her up and inked her to a contract first with Arista, and then with his own J Records imprint. It was then full steam ahead, as Alicia prepped her debut album for release. Aptly titled Songs In A Minor, the record was released on June 5, 2001. Join Andrew and Jordan as they extract a few favorites and break them down:

“Piano And I”

Keys sets the tone magnificently with this intro/interlude, beginning with the consummate pianist playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. After a few bars of this classical piece, the beat suddenly drops, and then… hip hop drums take over the track, thus kicking the album (and her career) off on the right note. One of the things that can be especially appreciated about Alicia is that she is an extremely proficient and well versed musician, that won’t be boxed in to one sound, which she makes especially clear with this opening track.- Andrew

“Girlfriend”

What a bop, what an underrated gem. This song, was the final single from the album that was released overseas. Lyrically, we find Alicia playing on the age old debate as to whether or not men and women can just be friends, with Alicia cleverly referring to her boyfriend’s female friend as his girlfriend, (in the friendly sense of the word). Like many other tracks on the album, the slick piano melody meshes well with a mid tempo hip hop beat, this time produced by Jermaine Dupri, featuring his signature So So Def sound. For the lyrical content, and JD tinged vocals, it’s by far one of the best tracks on the record. – Andrew & Jordan

“How Come You Don’t Call Me”

I remember an article calling Alicia Keys “The New Queen of Soul” and being enraged. They were definitely speaking of “Fallin’”, which has a clear Aretha influence, but if there was any song that proved that title to be justified, it was this. She demonstrates great vocal control on the first verse, and then the second verse. Oh, my, god. The second “stilllllll” is Aretha to a t. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the “tell me baby baby baby why, why you wanna go and break my heart?” I get my life every single time I hear those phrasings. She killed it. – Andrew

What is as equally as important as her clear derivatives from Aretha Franklin, is the fact that the song was written and recorded originally by another one of Keys’ heroes, the late great Prince. The original track, which was first featured on his 1993 compilation The Hits/B-Sides, features slightly different melodies, and relies mostly on bluesy piano playing on the part of Prince, whereas Alicia’s version is more rooted in hip hop. Doing a song that was originally created by His Royal Badness is quite a tall order to fill, especially for a new artist like Keys was at the time. However, her interpretation of this one showed that she not only had the chops needed pull it off well, but had the ability to make the song into her own. – Jordan

“Fallin’”

I think it’s safe to say that we all remember when this dropped. It is truly the epitome of a classic. From the simplicity of the piano, to the angst of the drums (especially the high hat), and her iconic a cappella “I keep on fallin’…” opening, it was this song that catapulted Alicia into super-stardom. The song finds Keys in the midst of a confusing romance with her lover, to which she finds herself constantly second guessing herself, and wondering out loud if their love will survive the constant changes it undergoes. I love how lyrically Alicia uses the word fallen to refer to both the high points and low points of the relationship, with the highs seeing her fall in love with her boyfriend, and the lows finding her falling out of love. Conversely, such lyrical prowess showcases a woman who possessed thought processes that were far beyond her 20 years, while simultaneously maintaining the essence of young love. This first single from Minor reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and earned Keys numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, most notably, Song of the Year in 2002. And really, who WASN’T rocking those classic cornrows because of Alicia in the video? Iconic. – Jordan & Andrew

Iconic.

“Rock Wit U”

So many songs with this title, and this one is by far one of my favorites. Starting with a funky bass line, groovy percussion section, and a piano medley reminiscent of funk’s heyday during the 70’s blaxploitation film period, this song organically breezes from funky soul to hip hop with ease. Relying heavily on stellar instrumentation, the song plays for nearly a minute and a half before Alicia’s voice enters the track. Personally, I find that Alicia’s vocals are at their best when she demonstrates her lower contralto range, and this song is a good representation of that. Homegirl served us some good Anita Baker tease with this one. Content wise, the song describes the typical lust and longing between lovers, however the vocal delivery and vocal arrangement are impeccable. Besides, any song that can incorporate Stevie Wonder’s “Ordinary Pain” from his magnum opus Songs in the Key of Life, gets automatic 10’s from me. – Jordan

“A Woman’s Worth”

I remember despising this song when it first came out. I didn’t get what it meant, and found it annoying. I had to grow up to really appreciate it’s meaning. The song details exactly what the title implies, with Alicia musing that she will do all she can to hold her man down, but in return expects his love and undivided attention. If there is any question as to whether or not Alicia is a competent songwriter, this song is definitely one that best exemplifies her skills, with lines such as this one:

“She walks the mile makes you smile all the while being true,
Don’t take for granted the passions that she has for you
You will lose if you chose to refuse to put her first,
She will if she can find a man who knows her worth.”

PREACH, GIRL! -Jordan

“Lovin’ You”

Hello, hidden track! These have become such a thing of the past, to find one these days, and of this quality is surely a rarity to say the least. As if there weren’t enough comparison to Aretha, she proceeds to flip “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” on this. Not only the instrumentation (piano, rich strings), but also the occasional background “awoo” and lyrical subjects. It’s the perfect, secret closer to this classic body of work. – Andrew

 

After 15 years, this album has done nothing but age gracefully like a fine wine. Alicia went on to win five Grammy Awards for Songs in A Minor, including Song Of The Year and Best New Artist. Minor proved to be a catalyst for a shift in early 2000’s R&B, and began her ascent to being one of the most consistent, revered, and greatest artists of the new millennium.

 

*Note: Because “How Come You Don’t Call Me?” is a Prince song, it is not available on Spotify, but trust us, it’s worth the $1.29 on iTunes!

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