S5 E49 | Alicia Keys
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sat down with Alicia Keys to discuss her latest album, KEYS; standout moments throughout her career, and more.
The talented singer, songwriter, and pianist was born in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen and developed a passion for music at an early age. She was enrolled in classical piano lessons while she was still in elementary school and just a few short years later, she started writing her own music. After graduating from the Professional Performing Arts School in New York at the age of 16, she enrolled at Columbia University. But, she later dropped out in favor of singing a record deal with Columbia Records.
While at the record label, she recorded a song that was used on the Men in Black soundtrack, but behind the scenes, disputes about her image and material later led to her contract being terminated. In 2000, she signed with Clive Davis’ J Records where she had more creative control over her music. Her debut single, “Fallin’” was released in 2001 and attained global success, topping the US Billboard Hot 100 as well as reaching the top 10 in several other countries. Just a few months later, her debut album, Songs in A Minor, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard and sold 236,000 copies in its first week. It also went on to earn five Grammy awards. Since her debut, Keys has released seven albums and has gone on to become an actress, philanthropist, and global icon. She’s just released her eighth studio album, KEYS, and is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of her debut.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Alicia Keys interview. Take a look at them below.
1. On Lil Mama Crashing Her MTV VMA Performance With JAY-Z
There were many shocking moments that happened at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, including Lil Mama randomly taking to the stage while Keys and JAY-Z performed “Empire State of Mind.” N.O.R.E. asked Keys what she remembered about the incident and the singer revealed that she was focused on her performance and didn’t even realize Lil Mama was there. “In my head, I was such a gorilla at the time,” the talent said. “My eyes were like this is what’s happening. I’m going to destroy this record tonight. That’s all I had in my head. The whole show, I was so focused on making it amazing. I went backstage and JAY was like…‘You didn’t see what just happened?’ I had to watch the playback myself. I had no idea. Super big love to her. She’s super good. I think she was just inspired. If you’re from New York, you feel inspired.”
2. On Prince Always Being Real
Keys has always cited Prince as one of her inspirations since the early days in her career. She explained during the interview that while the late singer always supported her, he never shied away from keeping it real. “He was raw,” Keys said. “[At one of my concerts], he was like, ‘Your sound was fucked up.’ And we would properly tell me some truthful shit, which you wouldn’t get from most people. He was amazing.”
3. On Her New Album
Later on in the interview, the singer spoke about her latest album KEYS and explained that the project is a mashup of her signature sound and new school remixes. “It’s a double album and it has two sides,” she said. “The first is called ‘Originals’ and the other one is called ‘Unlocked.’ So, ‘Originals’ is that classic AK, piano, songwriter [sound], those ones that you can sing at the top of your lungs. And then, ‘Unlocked’ is the one that me and Mike Will connected on and we sampled the ‘Originals’ and made a whole [new] record out of those.”
4. On How “Empire State of Mind” Almost Didn’t Happen
“Empire State of Mind” is Keys and JAY-Z’s legendary salute to the Big Apple. After its release in 2009, it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks and also sold 205,000 digital copies in the U.S. But Keys revealed on “Drink Champs” that the legendary collaboration almost didn’t happen. “In this particular case, [JAY-Z] had the record,” she said. “He was reaching out to me to do the record for a minute. And for whatever reason, the people that represented me did not tell me about the record. I don’t know why. It created a whole new thing for me to make sure I was in front of my shit. Because so many people, you trust them to handle your stuff and do their thing for you and you don’t know what’s coming back to you or what’s not coming back to you. Could you imagine if ‘Empire’ never got to me?”
Keys added that another setback happened when she sent in her vocals for the song and the Brooklyn emcee asked her to record them again. “I actually had to record it a couple times,” she said. “The first time I recorded it in L.A., the shit just didn’t work. I thought it sounded good but [JAY-Z] called me and was like, ‘You think you can do them vocals again?’ I was like, what? What’s wrong with my vocals? My vocals are fresh. But to be honest and to be fair, I was sick. And you could kind of hear it. I went back in, I did it in New York, the energy was right. You can’t do a New York record in L.A. That’s just wrong.”
5. On The Chaka Khan Vs. Stephanie Mills Verzuz Battle
Legendary singers Chaka Khan and Stephanie Mills went up against each other during a Verzuz battle in November and many fans speculated whether Khan was inebriated or not during the event. N.O.R.E. asked Keys her thoughts on the singer’s performance and she said that she enjoyed the show despite what people had to say. “[Khan] is a legend and a genius and her pairing with Stephanie Mills was like one of the most incredible pairings ever,” Keys said. “And what I loved from seeing the playbacks, I loved the sisterhood. You could see her being there for her. I just thought that sisterhood was really beautiful. And that’s a big show. You get nervous. You might need to [drink] to calm down. But that doesn’t take away from her legendary status.”
6. On Wanting to Work with Lauryn Hill
Over the course of her career, Keys has worked with an expansive list of renowned artists. However, she explained on “Drink Champs” that she never had the opportunity to work with Lauryn Hill and wants to make it happen one day. “She is greatness personified,” the singer said. “Me and her, there’s such an emotional energy that she brings and I feel that we could have something really crazy.”
7. On Being Compared to Legends
Keys’ strong vocal ability, musical prowess, and songwriting talents have gleaned her comparisons to many legendary performers of the past. N.O.R.E. asked the singer how she feels being compared to these artists and she explained that she’s happy to carry on the torch. “I just feel so grateful to continue on that legacy,” she said. “That legacy of songwriter or that individual unique artist. Like a Nina Simone. These artists had something to say. They had a perspective they operated from. They weren’t backing down from nobody. So, for me to be compared to artists like that, it means a lot. I don’t take that for granted. That’s something I appreciate.”
8. On Swizz Beatz’s Issues with Drake
Last year, Keys’ husband, Swizz Beatz, made headlines when he called Drake a “pussy boy” during an IG Live interview with Busta Rhymes. According to Beatz, his frustrations derived from the fact that Drake and Rhymes collaborated on a track together and the Toronto emcee’s miscommunication prevented the song from being released. Although the producer later apologized, Drake’s camp still didn’t appreciate the insults. When asked about the incident, Keys defended her hubby. “My take on Swizz is that he is the most real human on the planet,” she said. “Ask anybody who knows him. He’s on the phone with people he loves at 3 in the morning. He shows up for everybody times one million. People love him in a way that I’ve never experienced before. My perspective on him is he’s always going to speak his truth because whatever he’s saying there’s validity behind it. He’s thorough.”
9. On Her Bucket List
Not only has Keys dominated music, but she also has appeared in movies, television, and has been involved with a host of other endeavors. When asked if she’s crossed everything off on her bucket list, the singer said that she always going to continue to learn and grow. “I always feel like there’s more to learn,” she said. “I always feel like a student. There’s a lot of things up my sleeve for sure. I got a lot coming. A lot of amazing ideas coming. Everyday I’m learning more about myself and who I want to be in the world.”
She added that on her list of future goals is a Broadway play. She also wants to educate people on generational wealth. “A lot of times, we don’t have the tools or information that allows us to get ahead,” she said. “I really want to focus on that in a major way.”