14. Alicia Keys

In honor of me turning 30, I’m making mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 14 is Alicia Keys.


To label Alicia Keys as successful would be a considerable understatement. She has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide. She has won multiple Grammy awards. And Billboard magazine named her the R&B artist of the decade for the 2000s. Oh yeah, and she’s only 33 years old. She’s also married to producer Swizz Beatz, and they recently announced that she is pregnant with their second child. Alicia Keys often sings messages of female empowerment, but even if she didn’t actively promote it, her life is a walking advertisement for the power of womanhood.

Keys burst onto the music scene with her 2001 release of Songs in A Minor. She won the Grammy in 2002 for Best New Artist and her hit track “Fallin'” won for Song of the Year. In addition to being Keys’ signature song, “Fallin'” was a definitive song of the decade. The song, which is about the ins and outs or ups and downs of relationships was the first track I ever heard by Keys, and I was immediately hooked.

In addition to “Fallin'”, I included three other tracks from Songs in A Minor on my compilation: “Mr. Man”, “A Woman’s Worth” and “Lovin U.”

Keys’ ability to blend musical elements is what makes her such a rarity. She is an accomplished pianist, and she often infuses classical piano with other genres ranging from R&B and hip hop to gospel, soul and jazz to rock and pop. Her range was definitely on display on her second album, The Diary of Alicia Keys. “So Simple” opens up with a distorted voice and thumping bass. The piano is very faint in the background. Contrast that with the opening piano and soulful crooning on “If I Ain’t Got You.”

In 2005, she released Alicia Keys: Unplugged, which features a terrific cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.” Keys teamed up with Adam Levine of Maroon 5, and they deliver an amazing performance that earned the track the privilege of closing out this compilation.

2007’s As I Am led the way with five tracks making the cut. It also features another famous collaborator as John Mayer joined her for “Lesson Learned.” Her lead single from this album, “No One” actually surpassed “Fallin'” in terms of commercial success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks.

In addition to “No One” I really like the message of “Tell You Something (Nana’s Reprise)”

I wanna tell you something, give you something
Show you in so many ways
’cause it would all mean nothing if I don’t say something before it all goes away
Don’t wanna wait to bring you flowers, waste another hour let alone another day
I’m gonna tell you something, show you something, won’t wait till it’s too late

The message is not to wait to tell the important people in your life that you care about them and you love them. If you wait, it might be too late because no one is promised tomorrow.

Another of Alicia Keys most notable songs is her collaboration with Jay-Z on “Empire State of Mind.” It has become a New Yorker’s anthem and a fun song regardless of whether you’re from the Big Apple or not. [SPOILER ALERT] I’m saving that track for Jay-Z’s compilation, but I did include “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down” off of 2009’s The Element of Freedom. As the title states, it is a broken down, slowed down version of the song that really allows Keys’ voice to shine. If you’ve only ever heard the Jay-Z version, I’d recommend checking out this alternate version.

My favorite track from The Element of Freedom though is “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready).” With backing vocals provided by Drake, the song came out around the same time as I was starting to seriously consider proposing to Jessie. Not knowing if she was at the same point in her life at that time, the lyrics really stuck with me:

I was wondering maybe 
could I make you my baby? 
If we do the unthinkable would it make us look crazy? 
Or would it be so beautiful?
Either way I’m sayin’
If you ask me I’m ready

Fortunately for me, by the time I popped the question in July of 2010, she was ready to say yes!

Keys’ most recent album was 2012’s Girl on Fire, which Keys admitted was an allusion to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. “New Day”, the only track from Girl on Fire to make it onto my compilation is a fun, empowering, song with a catchy chorus and an unusual outro that sounds like it’s being mixed by a DJ in the club. It’s probably the most “gym-ready” of any of the Keys tracks on my compilation in terms of being a pump up, energizing song.

With her next album rumored to be released sometime before the end of 2014, suffice it safe to say Keys’ successful career is far from over.

MM 30 at 30: Alicia Keys tracklist (finalized June 16, 2014)
1. Mr. Man feat. Jimmy Cozier
2. So Simple
3. Teenage Love Affair
4. Fallin’
5. If I was Your Woman/Walk On By
6. If I Ain’t Got You
7. Lesson Learned feat. John Mayer
8. Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down
9. Tell You Something (Nana’s Reprise)
10. Wait Til You See My Smile
11. Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)
12. Unbreakable
13. No One
14. New Day
15. Wreckless Love
16. Doesn’t Mean Anything
17. A Woman’s Worth
18. Lovin U
19. Wild Horses feat. Adam Levine


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