Alicia Keys made her first big splash with "Fallin'," a tune that reveals both her love of the blues and her classical piano training. With a remix of the song featuring Busta Rhymes and Rampage already in clubs, though, she's all about showing the world her hip-hop side.
"That's definitely a part of who I am, and I like to experiment with all types of music," said Keys, who sees more remixes in her future. "For me, remixes are the bomb. I love to take the same song and make it sound completely different." (Click for photos from this interview and an in-store performance).
"Fallin' " is at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and her first album, Songs in A Minor, is at #2 after debuting in the top spot. But Keys is already looking forward to the next single and video, the slowly simmering R&B ballad "A Woman's Worth," which she calls one of her favorite songs from the album.
Music mogul Clive Davis had been grooming Keys for success for almost three years. Still, she said she was taken completely by surprise when her first album debuted at the top of the charts.
"I was in complete and total shock," said Keys, who got the news while checking out the message board on her Web site. "It wasn't even like I was thinking about that, truly, but when I heard about it I was like 'stop playing.' "
Keys said that, in a way, the album's been in the making ever since she realized she could sing in a kindergarten production of "The Wizard of Oz."
"The album's a mix of everything that's ever filtered through me, all the people, influences and feelings," she said earlier this year. "I was always surrounded by a lot of different types of people, from people who were actors to people who just hung on their stoop all day."
Her musical upbringing was as eclectic as the Hell's Kitchen and Harlem neighborhoods where she grew up, and Keys lists among her influences Beethoven and Chopin alongside classic soul singers Donny Hathaway and Aretha Franklin, as well as jazz heavyweights Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.
The mix can be heard on "Fallin'." Keys offers up bluesy vocals over classical-style piano arpeggios and plucked strings, delivering a tale of romantic obsession she said comes straight from her heart.
"I listen to that song some days, and I'm like, that's exactly how I feel," said Keys, who wrote or co-wrote all but two of the album's 15 songs.
Keys first signed with Jermaine Dupri in 1996, but then hooked up with Clive Davis in 1998, and placed "Rock Wit U," a collaboration with Isaac Hayes, on the "Shaft" soundtrack. She followed Davis to his J Records imprint last year, and credits the man who discovered Whitney Houston with giving her the freedom to be herself.
"He didn't try to divert me to do something else," she said. "I want to be who I am. I don't want to be made into what somebody else thinks I should be."
Keys will hit the road with Maxwell in August for her first major tour. What's next is anybody's guess, but Keys doesn't plan on slowing down any time soon.
"When people say, 'I'm so sorry I missed your show,' I tell them 'don't worry, I plan to be doing it for the next 50, 60 years.' "