Music Reviews

Album Review: Alicia Keys – Here

Stripped back Alicia Keys has just dropped her sixth studio album ‘Here’. This album is a very daring comeback, four years since Keys’ last album, it appears to be a revelation and each melody is a prayer – openly discovering the raw and influential nature of identity, growth, opportunity and her lifelong love affair with her birth city New York.

HERE addresses the cultural climate of the world we live in today, it is evident that she has taken influence from her personal journey and current events in society e.g. police brutality.

The artist that decided to go make-up free this year and wrote in an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter in May that she hopes to God “it’s a revolution… ‘Cause I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,”.

This is very inspiring to many of Alicia’s young, vulnerable female fans who look up to unrealistic ideals of how to look when comparing themselves to ‘flawless’ celebrities.

“The 15-Time Grammy®-Winner’s has produced an 18 track album with RCA Records.”

To be brutally honest, during my first time hearing this album, I didn’t like it. I thought there were about a couple decent tracks, but the rest didn’t sound like Alicia’s past records. However, the more I listened to the album I realised that the artist wanted to produce a project that was different to her past albums, to awaken her fans. Her music and concept is deeper that anything she has previously released.

The track ‘Hallelujah’ has a gospel-feel to it; she sounds like she is repenting as she prays for ‘forgiveness’ for her sins. It seems that the vocalist is following the recent gospel movement in RnB music that Solange and Kanye West have both adopted in their albums this year.

‘More Than We Know’  is more along the lines of the tracks we are used to from Alicia Keys. It’s the sing-along track we’re likely to find on her previous album The Element of Freedom.

‘Blended Family (What you do for love) featuring ASAP Rocky’ is the only song on the album with a feature, is a relatable uplifting track about the difficulties faced in families, that you get through for the sake of the family. This seems to be a sincere glimpse into the artist’s priorities and personal experience of family life with husband Swizz Beatz.

‘Holy war’ is a healing track all about forgiveness. This album almost sounds like a testimony. A battle cry that Keys does not shy away from in order to awaken and encourage everyone to face the issues in our society.

It appears that there is another movement forming within the African- American artist’s community, particularly by the females. Like on Solange’s recent album where she had her mother Tina Knowles speaking on an interlude about the important of being black and proud. Black Panther’s leader Elaine speaks on ‘Elaine Brown (Interlude)’ about black mothers and delivers “poetry from the street”.

In 2014, Keys launched “We Are Here,” a program that empowers the global community around a group of subjects and initiatives building a better world where all people are heard, respected, equal, and treated with dignity.

As an accompanying visual story to HERE, Keys has released a short-film entitled “The Gospel” inspired by the album tracks written by Alicia Keys. The story consists of fictional pieces depicting coming of age in New York City, encountering harsh truths about life, and exploring our universal connectedness as humans. 

The black and white theme the short-film adopts, fits into the appearance of the album’s cover work and her previous music video off the album ‘In Common’. As viewers go on a literal journey with Alicia through “Her New York” she points out the buildings and conversations that raised her. It covers the corruptness of the New York police department.

The short-film ‘THE GOSPEL’ was written and directed by A.V. Rockwell. In the first chapter in the film: ALL GOD’S CHILDREN, we watch the singer sit composing her album with a keyboard, pen and paper. We see the black younger generation of NYC and she asked someone what they wish they would’ve been told as a child? One message was warning about how fast-paced life goes.

Chapter two: SWEET GIRL, this is a message to young girls knowing their worth. The young women in this scene all embrace natural hairstyles and the camera pans hair shops selling wigs. One woman whips her braids with joy on her face and we get a glimpse of a Barbie doll, then a black dolly with afro-textured hair. The film demonstrates how diverse New York is with a Caribbean taxi driver.

Chapter Three: Young Love is about the knowing difference between real love and fake love. CHAPTER FOUR: THE GIFT begins with a birds-eye view of NYC with all the lights and high-rise buildings. It covers identity, the gift of a good heart. Alicia shares how she grew up around a lot of pimps and prostitutes which made her ‘high’ and not want to be a ‘girly-girl’. The film includes a scene of a young, black male being arrested and a prison hallway. It shows police brutality and a woman’s testimony about the issues people of colour experience.

On HERE, Keys was driven to open up a dialogue and discuss the sensitive issues that are often swept under the carpet, but are prevalent and soul-damaging. It covers issues of beauty standards, the black experience, poverty, family, sexism and more. The songs on the album focus on the complexities of life, struggles that come with it, and a desire for acceptance and change.

HERE is a response to the world we live in today,” says Keys. “The music on this album is a reflection of the truth I’ve found in myself and the conversations happening all around me. HERE is about exploring the good, the bad, the ugly… the shadows and the light with compassion and an open mind. I’ve come to realize that in order for us to understand and accept each other, we have to recognize the complexities in ourselves and everyone around us. We have to be willing to talk about our differences and meet each challenge with love, right HERE.”

HERE‘s production credits go to The ILLuminaries, including herself; songwriter/producer Mark Batson; husband/visionary/MC/producer Swizz Beatz; and long-time Keys songwriting collaborator Harold Lilly. Pharrell Williams and Carlo “Illangelo” Montagnese also contributed to the production.

It is phenomenal how the songwriter also produces her content and compliments a lot of the tracks with her superb piano skills. It will be interesting to see how the artist pans out when she goes on tour. There is a powerful vision that many RnB singers are producing this year, Alicia Keys included.

Amani Dauda

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