NEW YORK — First it was DMX, and then it was Jay-Z. Now Alicia Keys is saying it's a wrap for her as a performer. She's giving up the mic and the keys.
"I'm getting out of music and I'm now going to become a waitress," Keys said recently, clad in a waitress uniform and holding back a smile on the set of the video for "You Don't Know My Name." "So you'll see in the video that this is my new career. I'm really excited about this 'cause it's is a brand new beginning, you know? Wonderful things."
Fans of the braided artist can stop clutching their chests like Fred G. Sanford, because this is not the big one. The singer was only joking and is far from retiring. Her second LP, The Diary of Alicia Keys, dropped on Tuesday and many fans have already fallen for its first, piano-driven cut.
"['You Don't Know My Name'] is about the first time you see a person," she said. "You imagine all these things about them. You think about how their voice might sound. You think about what would happen if we went out on our first date, what would happen if we had our first kiss. You start thinking all these things. Your imagination runs away with you, but in actuality you don't even know them and they don't even know your name."
Luckily, the five-time Grammy winner knew Kanye West's name, sterling track record and contact number. The old-school flavor of the duo's collaboration might remind listeners of records their grandmother played.
"Kanye is really a soulful brother, so we connected immediately," Keys said. "For me, the music that I love the most is the music from the '60s and '70s. It's just innovative — it's fresh, it's sweet. It's real feelings and emotions. And that's what [the single] feels like. A lot of this album feels like that to me. ... I like to call it 'Back to the Future.' "
Keys took it back to 1971 for a remake of Gladys Knight and the Pips' "If I Were Your Woman" for The Diary's "If I Was Your Woman/ Walk on By."
"It's one of my favorite songs in the world," Keys beamed. "I love Gladys Knight. I really love how back then they really used vocal backgrounds in a different style. In Gladys Knight's case she had the Pips, so it was like her as a woman and then male backgrounds. I experimented with that a lot, too, which was a great thing. But for 'If I Was Your Woman,' we brought in Easy Mo Bee to work with myself and Dwayne Wiggins from Tony! Toni! Tone! That's like three worlds colliding and it's crazy."
It's just Alicia calling shots on the song "If I Ain't Got You." Although she produced and wrote the record herself, she was able to keep the old-school vibe. Keys' flow is jazzy and it goes well with the drums, organs and horns as she tells us that "Some people live for the fortune, some people live for the fame/ Some people live for the power, some people live just to play the game." Alicia insists she's living for the love of that special someone, reiterating that "Everything means nothing if I ain't got you."
Keys is left with nothing but her pride and a few tears when her lover bolts (again) after years of causing her heartache and pain on "Samsonite Man." Apparently Sammy has a pattern of leaving and then coming back into the picture, but this time Keys is turning the tables and making his departure final.
"It will never be the same," she scoffs before taking words from the late comedian Robin Harris, "Gotta go, gotta go."
"I've just evolved so much and I've grown so much vocally and musically," Keys said, commenting on her artistic advancement since her debut two years ago. "My production has grown, my songwriting ... I've evolved as a woman. When you pick up this album, you're gonna feel the evolution from Songs in A Minor. It sits in the same place in regards to my heart and soul. All of me is poured into it, but it's just truly grown to another level."