Alicia Keys – Songs In A Minor
Released June 5th, 2001 on J Records
Produced by Arden Altino, Miri Ben-Ari, Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, Jimmy Cozier, Jermaine Dupri, Kandi, Alicia Keys, and Brian McKnight
Peaked at #1 U.S., #6 U.K.
“Fallin'” (#1 US, #3 UK)
“A Woman’s Worth” (#7 US, #18 UK)
“How Come You Don’t Call Me” (#59 US, #26 UK)
“Girlfriend” (#3 US, #19 UK)
Let’s get one thing straight: there is only one song on Songs In A Minor that is written in A minor. That would be “Jane Doe”, which wasn’t even a single. Regardless of this weirdness, the album is best known for launching the career of Alicia Keys, who would spend the next twenty years bouncing around the Billboard charts and being played constantly on R&B radio.
James Hetfield once said that you have the first eighteen years of your life to write your first album. This may or may not be the case in general but it was certainly the case for Alicia Keys. Some of the songs on Songs In A Minor date back to when the singer was fourteen, and others were written in the period of her life during which she graduated from the Professional Performing Arts School and was accepted to Columbia University at the age of sixteen. She was a prodigy, but like many prodigies frustration was more often the fruit of her labour. Despite scoring a berth on the soundtrack to 1997’s Men In Black, her first cut at a debut album was rejected by her label, Columbia Records. None of the producers hired to work with her bothered to listen to her ideas, telling her to just get in the booth and sing. It wasn’t until she got the chance to sing for Clive Davis that she made headway on getting people to listen to her. After some label shuffles she signed on to J Records and set about writing another album to debut with.
That album was a slice of searing neo-soul, built around cutting samples and deft piano work. Keys’ vocal range took home most of the praise but if the album was just about her voice it would have come and gone without staying power. Good voices are a dime a dozen; there are thousands of singers out there possessed of good voices and if that was all it took they’d all be superstars. Alicia Keys showed off a good voice and backed it with a pop genius sense of phrasing, stellar songwriting, and an ear for finding the right producer for the song (like Brian McKnight’s work on “Goodbye”). When it comes to R&B from the era, she had few real competitors. Aaliyah, potentially, had her life not been tragically cut short. Others, like Eve or Blu Cantrell, hit big but then faded without the goods to keep it going (the former having a better career as an actress and television personality). Alicia Keys made a splash with this debut and then kept that going, becoming one of the bigger stars of the 2000s and keeping a respectable career afloat during the 10s. Songs peaked at #1 on the charts, and every subsequent album would peak in at least the Top 5.