Alicia Keys has won 16 Grammys, which is sort of mental. It’s also been four years since her last album, ‘Girl On Fire’, whose eponymous single sold over two million copies in the US alone. The New York R&B superstar is now working on a new album, led by recent single ‘In Common’, a cool serving of tropical house that sounds unlike anything she’s done before. We spoke to Alicia about the single, the new album and why she’s got no time for Donald Trump.
How’s it been, working on your new album?
It’s been on the best experiences I’ve had making music. I’m very ready to talk about what’s happening in the world as I see it and who are as humanity. I’m ready to talk about the complexity of life, about who we are as people and the way we get boxed in and told who we’re supposed to be. All of us are struggling and fighting for our own personal truths.
The lead single, ‘In Common’, is quite as departure for you
That song sums up the theme of how we are all on our journeys and trying to figure out who we are, which presents a lot whole of problems and challenges. We’re all messed up in our own separate ways with things we’re trying to get through. There’s something really liberating about being able to say, “I got my mess, you got your mess – and that’s all right.” I love that it’s the [lead single]. I love that it has that tropical house thing happening. I love that people are surprised that it’s me. It’s fresh; it’s new. Sonically it’s progressive but it’s very understandable and relatable. I love it.
It’s been a few years since your last album. Does that put pressure on you?
You know, I feel more calm because for the first time ever I recognise who I am and who I’m meant to be. I’m meant to be an artist who takes you some layers deeper. I’m meant to be an artist who can stand on my own. That’s my place; that’s what I’m supposed to do. If I’m just out here chasing numbers or chasing the things we all begin to chase, that’s not the point. There’s plenty of people doing that. I need to say something that makes people have a connection.
Did making this album differ from making your previous albums?
For this album, I brought together four people that I knew who could help me go those levels deeper and who are really ill musicians and writers, with really interesting personalities and styles of music. That was myself, two other writers and my husband Swizz Beatz. We’re all from all these different points in our minds and when it comes together, it’s just like a combustion. Normally I create alone but very creative people were drawn to the studio; sometimes there would be 15 people in the room while I was writing or singing. I’m kinda shy in the studio. I like to be alone so I can be vulnerable. But I’ve been learning this process of being vulnerable in public.
It must be very exciting to still be learning new ways of working at this point in your career.
It’s exactly that – I have so many years in the game and great success and have so many stories that I can refer back to, but I feel like I’m at the beginning of myself. I feel like I’m at the beginning of my creativity, at the beginning of my greatness. I’m at the beginning all that I can still do. So even this album feels to me very much like the first time. When I put out ‘In Common’, it felt like the first time I put out a song. And it feels good because I don’t what y’all to feel that type of stale energy.
What’s it like, working with your husband, Swizz Beatz?
Working with my husband has been dope. He has very kinetic energy – he gets it out the minute he feels it. I’m a little more of a ruminator and a crafter, so to combine it all together is crazy, and a lot of fun. Occasionally in the past we’ve worked together a little but to work together on a whole project was totally unexpected. I was so glad how it worked out we ended up being on the same page; we started to create this stuff out of nowhere. We’d be in the car driving somewhere and we’d be writing a song. Every time we finished, we’d look at each other and be like, ‘Wait a minute, we should do this again tomorrow!’
You famously performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2013. How do you feel about Obama been potentially succeeded by Donald Trump?
I refused to believe that that is going to happen. I refuse to energy towards that and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s how I feel.
What will you do to prevent Trump from becoming President of the United States?
We can make sure that we show up the way we’re supposed to show up and exercise our rights for who we help elect. It happens because we show up or we don’t show up. We can all do that. We can all say let’s be motivated or let’s be active, let’s make sure someone hears us for the future of our country.
Who are you backing?
There’s one or there’s another. It’s pretty incredible that we have the potential to have our first female President [Hilary Clinton], too, so we’ve to keep it going forward not backward.