Music critics are invited to see burgeoning singer-songwriters almost every day. But when a request came across this writer's desk to see a young singer-songwriter at an intimate showcase 10 years ago, it carried with it high expectations.
Backed by music mogul Clive Davis, Alicia Keys was billed as a cross between Lauryn Hill and Whitney Houston - a gritty, cornrow-wearing R&B singer who was a brilliant, classically trained pianist with a stunning voice and beauty. She was going to be big. Bigger than big. Grammy Awards and multiplatinum sales were more than hoped for, they were expected.
Keys delivered when her debut, "Songs in A Minor," was released in 2001. The album established the 20-year-old as one of the most influential artists of her generation. But looking back, Keys says she didn't expect the album would make her a superstar.
Now, the 30-year-old, who married music producer Swizz Beatz and gave birth to a son last year, can celebrate.
The album is being re-released in a special edition that includes previously unreleased tracks and video footage.
In a phone interview, Keys talked about that milestone album and how she has evolved over the decade.
Q. In the video that accompanies the re-release, you talk about how you weren't the refined girl people expected. What were the adjustments that you had to make over the years, and how have you changed?
I was straight off the streets of Harlem and Hell's Kitchen. ... I'm a real New York girl.... and here I was doing all of these interviews. ... When I look back at them, I'm like, 'Damn, Alicia, you could have been a little gentler.' I just had a certain kind of roughness to me.... There were a lot of judgments, I think, that definitely made me conscious about how to start to maybe be a little bit more aware of how I was coming off - but I'm still the same me.
Q. How have you musically evolved?
There really is no formula ... it's all about a gift, it's like a moment, and you don't know when that moment is going to come. ... (Also) I've been able to be more experimental and just more open and more driven to do things that are new and different from me, because as an artist, you just always want to do things that are like unique and new and fresh. You don't ever want someone to say, "Oh, yeah, that's that same thing that she does."
Q. How has marriage and motherhood changed you?
It's made me so much stronger; it's made me so much more powerful. First of all, I'm having more fun than I've ever had in my whole life. I'm happier than I've ever been in my whole life. And I also realize more the importance of time, and I realize the importance of really, really making sure that you dedicate certain times to the people that you love. Back when I was younger, I was so focused on doing whatever it takes to get noticed, or getting a chance to have my music be heard by people, I didn't recognize how much time was valuable. ... It helps me make more clear and concise choices.