Alicia Keys enters her truest musical form

More than twenty years after her stint as a poetic, mainstream contemporary R&B singer-songwriter, Alicia Keys is still focusing on her music career. The classically trained artist began composing as a child after being given an upright piano by a family friend, and at 15, signed a deal with Columbia Records where she began work on her debut album – before finally releasing it five years later. Clive Davis’ Arista Records.

Now 42 years old with nine studio albums and 15 Grammy Awards under her belt, Keys has proven time and time again her ability to continually evolve her sound without shying away from her footing as a classically trained artist in the rapidly changing music industry. As musical tastes change and genre trends eventually drift, few living artists have the awe-inspiring staying power that Keys possesses. Her appeal isn’t just evident in her storied discography — a body of work that includes early hits like “If I Ain’t Got You,” “Empire State of Mind” and “No One” — but in more recent years, it’s proving from her latest efforts, the self-titled back-to-back records ALICE (2020) and KEYS (2021).

For her next act, Keys maintains her own seasonal legacy. After decades of contract work, she went freelance. After officially fulfilling the terms of her deal with RCA Records at the end of 2021, she surprised her fans with her first holiday album, Santa Baby, via the new Alicia Keys Records. Now working on her own imprint, Keys is exploring the limitless possibilities of her next independent release.

“Am I finding new freedom as a new independent artist?” Keys reflected, speaking to Hypebeast after an intimate show at Joshua Tree’s Kellogg Doolittle House celebrating her new role as the face of Hennessy Paradis cognac. “I accept. First of all, I feel incredibly inspired. I feel like I haven’t even begun to peel back the layers of what I’m going to do, and I see what I can do much more clearly now.”

Released from her contract freed Keys from the levels of approval and clearance required by tight label management. The singer describes coming to a new “vision and the ability to understand how limitless everything can be.”

Signed to Columbia as a teenager, Keys’ first experience with a major label found her constantly fighting the label for the freedom to make the music she wanted. She has spoken at length in the past about being pressured by songwriters and producers, not to mention the ageism and sexism she faced, both in the studio and in meetings with record executives.

Keys finally found her niche after Davis bought out her Columbia contract to sign her to Arista. The vast majority of the neo-soul album Songs In a Minor was written, arranged and produced solely by Keys. Being completely independent might be a whole different ball game than switching labels, but it’s something she’s been prepared for her entire career.

“This freedom will really influence all of my creative endeavors and just my life as a whole.”

“That freedom is really going to impact all of my creative endeavors and just my life as a whole,” Keys says. I think sometimes there are so many cooks in the kitchen that it’s kind of hard to navigate your North Star and now, I feel very clear about my North Star.”

Blending sounds from blues, soul and gospel, the ALICIA and KEYS albums laid the groundwork for Keys’ continued exploration of genre and composition, as well as the sheer prowess of her vocals, which are fluently immersed in a serious style and, in few rhythms. later, effortlessly climb to dizzying heights.

Building on the world created within these back-to-back releases, “the themes and sounds that I envision experimenting with on my next album, I really feel like it’s going to be something that gets inside of you and you won’t let go,” Keys says. And for what listeners can anticipate, he promises “there will be so much to sing about.” Her approach to the record will also see her lean more towards “experimenting with different rhythms, different rhythms, different energies.”

Beyond the incredible natural freedom of independence, Keys notes how change has renewed creative inspiration and empowered her as a woman, and through her imprint, as a business owner.

“It just feels like I’m in a whole other space to create,” he says. “I live in my own freedom, not just by being an independent artist, but by being the woman in music that I am now.”

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