Alicia Keys refuses to be boxed in. After a four-year break between album releases, the 19-time Grammy winner, known for her unique brand of R&B/Pop, is readying her sixth studio album. And there’s nothing Hollywood about her return. “In Common,” an official single for which she tapped llangelo, the Weeknd’s producer, has nothing “in common” with her many hits, including her star-making smash single, “Fallin.”
But that in itself is becoming a Keys trademark. Each of her five previous studio albums, including her 2001 debut Songs in A Minor and her last Girl on Fire in 2012, have differed. For the most part, Keys’ music has marked her evolution as an artist. Who she was when we first truly met her with “Fallin,” braids and all, is not who the mother of two is today and, unlike some artists, that hasn’t scared her one bit. Whether it’s the pro-female anthem, “Girl on Fire,” or such nostalgic ditties as “You Don’t Know My Name” or “Teenage Love Affair,” the New York City native hasn’t been afraid to switch it up. And that’s what “In Common” shows.
First her look is way more relaxed and natural. In the “In Common” video, she is fresh-faced with minimal make-up and upswept hair secured with a wrap. She has stripped down to the basics, which is quite unusual for a star of her caliber, especially at this stage of her career. Typically artists who have sold over 30 million records globally pile on the layers, not peel them back. But Keys strips herself bare lyrically and musically, which has, of course, set the stage for her latest album to be her rawest to date.
In May, she told Kyle Kramer of Noisey, the music arm of Vice, that she wanted “To talk about what’s happening around me, around us, as I see it: the stereotypes and the boxes that we either put ourselves in or we allow ourselves to be put in, kind of a mixture between both.”
With the “In Common” video, she challenges it all, by showcasing same sex love as well as subtly questioning the police brutality that has claimed the lives of many. Ultimately, the video spotlights and celebrates individual creativity. Musically, the song harkens back to the infamous New York club days of the 1980s and early 1990s when hip-hop had not completely taken over. As a result, “In Common” is hip-hop tinged, but not drenched.
“We are very excited to have new music from Alicia Keys after almost four years,” says Geo Bivins, Sr. VP/GM of Promotion at RCA Records. “The response from radio has been incredible, and we look forward to taking ‘In Common’ all the way up!”
Keys’ brief stint as singer Skye Summers on Fox’s hit series Empire had most viewers caught up in Skye hooking up with the openly gay Jamal, played by Jussie Smollett. But, musically, the character mirrored the real-life Keys, in that she too wanted to create music that made a bigger statement than she had in the past. The irony, of course, is that Keys has continuously made statements each album. There’s a reason the WNBA and many women’s organizations adopted “Girl on Fire” as their anthem.
Still she keeps reaching higher as an artist and as a person. She’s reported that her forthcoming album, largely a collaboration between her, hubby producer Swizz Beatz, writer/producer Mark Batson—whose many credits include Anthony Hamilton’s “Charlene,” Gwen Stefani’s “Rich Girl” and India.Arie’s ”Brown Skin— and songwriter Harold Lilly, who assisted her on “Unbreakable” and “You Don’t Know My Name,” is her most communal to date. Most of all, it’s her most empowered. And that’s precisely what she told CBS This Morning anchor and O Editor-At-Large Gayle King for Hearst’s Master Class.
“What’s becoming more evident is that I’m becoming more powerful,” she told Gayle King, CBS This Morning anchor and O Editor-At-Large, for Hearst’s Master Class. And part of that power is her willingness to be even more vulnerable. She showcased her power and mastery of many instruments during a headlining performance at the recent BET Awards. During her May 7 SNL performance, she followed up “In Common” with “Hallelujah,” also from the album, and showed just that.
Very pared down and relying mostly on her voice, accompanied by minimal piano, some organ, some drums and lots of clapping in the end, she sang, pleaded almost, “Hallelujah, let me in.”
And, this time, as with every time before, her many fans are holding the door wide open.
To view the “In Common” video, click on the following link
By Ronda Racha Penrice