Alicia Keys is an established household name. She’s continually grown in stature and ability since her debut album hit the charts when she was just 20 years of age.

Alicia marks a number of changes for the soulful superstar, as she brings her A Game, along with a “who’s who” of collaborators and dynamic immersive production from husband and long-time collaborator Swizz Beatz.

The album was one of a raft of pandemic-related delays. Originally scheduled for release when Keys was enjoying the huge chart success of “Underdog,” one of the album’s brightest sparks with its upbeat message, catchy hook, and thoughtful lyrics:

“I sing a song for the hustlers trading at the bus stop, single mothers waiting on a check to come, young teachers, student doctors, sons on the frontline knowing they don't get to run”

Keys’ output in recent years has included multiple releases, and a book, More Myself in which she spoke in-depth about the themes of the album, describing it as “a musical exploration of identity – both my own and ours collectively.”

As she passes two decades in the business, identity seems to be a central muse for Keys, a theme she described herself covering as “what makes us up to be who we are, and the expectations that are put upon us mostly from outside sources – societally or from your family, or from those people that you love, or yourself"

Alicia has described the album itself as “genre-less” and undeniably, the musical themes flit and evolve along with collaborators, of which there are many. Ryan Tedder, Ed Sheeran, Sampha and Swizz Beatz are some of the names involved in Alicia, which was recorded over a four year span and darts from downtempo to country and even Caribbean music, all interlaced with the soulful sound we know and love.

Aside from genre, the album instead gets its continuity from the lyrical themes.  The opener “Truth Without Love” explores the concept of truth being harder to come by in our society, and “Time Machine” is a dive into the sense of self.

Alicia’s powerful and poignant messages continue with “Perfect Way to Die,” a ballad led by Keys on piano, with beautifully arranged strings, covering topics of police brutality and racism. The song and its accompanying video were met with huge critical acclaim.

As the album works through to highlight “Authors of Forever,” Keys leaves listeners with an optimism and purpose – We're here to make meaning / for as long we're breathing sounds a powerful refrain.

The immersive audio mixing has deservedly seen the album nominated for a Grammy award in the category of Best Immersive Audio Album. The huge soundstage gives the perfect platform to a musician evolving from chart hits to incredibly thoughtful cultural commentaries. Alicia Keys hasn’t rested on a bed of success, she has continued to push the boundaries with new technologies, such as 3D mixing.

Fans of the soul icon have found Alicia’s output in recent years to be a refreshing rebirth of a musician with a unique place in the industry.

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About the Author
Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his site, Subreel.