Alicia Keys first began to permeate our hearts and ears with her debut record Songs In A Minor; earning the singer-songwriter five Grammy awards upon its release. Since then, she’s been a staple in music collections worldwide, picking up a total of 15 Grammy awards in her ever-morphing professional career. Known for her tremendous gift of mixing surging eclectic jazz moments with a twist of neo-soul charm and a dose of hip-hop for good measure – her latest album in four years perfectly picks up where she left off.
Keys is a sharp reflection of the poignant qualities that are essential in accomplishing a thought provoking album in 2016. Here begins with a spoken word interlude; The Beginning. Emotional piano keys and a breathing string section introduces her powerful and poetic strength. “I’m the mystery of what’s inside the speaker cables/ I’m Nina Simone in the park and Harlem in the dark”, she actively affirms. This empties into the next track as The Gospel holds values of piano strong points and a drum firmness that highlights her heavy vocal kineticism.
Unadulterated and true passion is exuberant and integral throughout the entire record. Every track hits home with a control so fierce and essential. No track perhaps better melds together her lyricism skills and connection to hip-hop more than She Don t Really Care_1 Luv. A surprising feature from Jazz vibraphonist Roy Ayers is just the tip of the iceberg in this case, with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Q-Tip also lending a hand to write for the track. The track is split into two vibrant shares. The first half delves into a poignant soul hip-hop joint as Key’s navigates through confessions of urban lifestyles. “She don’t really care/ She Want them diamonds in the ear” she sings. This then shifts into a delightful re-interpretation of Nas and Q-Tip’s 1994 boom-bap masterpiece; One Love. Sublime production and hyper-modern sensibilities make this an incredibly natural and culturally influenced rap jam. Illusion Of Bliss uses Key’s outer world vocal potential within this slow tempo and up-to-date hip-hop swing beast. Blended Family is a lovely re-visit to an early noughties aura as A$AP Rocky pops in for a bold feature. The honesty continues to emerge from track to track until the rapture finalises in In Common; a contemporary force of R&B pop moments made increasingly laudable by her uncompromising vocal warmth.
Here is worth the four-year wait if you’re an Alicia Keys fan. The record lifts interests and unearths emotion like so much of her sprawling back-catalogue does – with ease. Stabbing rhythms and intrepid distinctions flutter within the record’s core. It’s a record that has plenty to say if given the right and well-expected attention it so truly warrants.