Alicia Keys Taps Mos Def, Common For 'Inspired' 'Unplugged'

Program scheduled to air September 9.

If anyone could get MTV to bring "Unplugged" out of retirement, it would be Alicia Keys, who just taped her installment of the series last week in New York. She says it was a dream come true, and she can't believe she's about to be in the same company as Eric Clapton, Nirvana and Mariah Carey.

"As a child, in my wildest dreams — and I dreamed so big — but you never think it's going to happen," Keys said. "So to be here, on the set that we're going to record 'Unplugged' on, it's amazing and beautiful and everything I've ever dreamed of.

" 'Unplugged' is my thing, it's really my style, it's what I'm all about," she added. "When I first started playing anywhere, it was on a little cheesy keyboard in a small, nasty hotel dive, and even though I didn't have a beautiful 9-foot Yamaha piano, there was a certain energy that comes with an intimate space. I really loved it."

Keys says she also loved dreaming up brand-new arrangements for well-loved — but well-worn — tunes such as "A Woman's Worth" and "Heartburn," as well as a few choice covers (see "Alicia Keys Talks About New LP, But Won't Blow Her 'Cover' "). "To have strings, to have percussion, to have all these elements to put in the piano base that I have, this is so much fun, man," she enthused. "When my drums do come in — a lot of times they don't, it's just about the percussion — but when they do, it's about using the brushes and keeping it calm and cool for a minute."

Creating a feeling as if everyone was gathered around the piano in her living room, "just chilling," was important, she said, so that the audience could feel like her extended family. "It's about the personal feel, as opposed to a big huge rocking-out crazy three-hour show," she said. "It's about speaking to the audience."

Part of that audience also included her guest performers. With Maroon 5's Adam Levine, she covers the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," which she calls "the most beautiful classic on the planet. The chorus is, 'Wild horses couldn't drag me away,' and if you feel that serious about something, you know it's real," she said. Damian Marley came onboard to do "Welcome to Jam Rock," while Common and Mos Def ("two of my most favorite MCs") contribute to "Love It or Leave It Alone."


Alicia Keys Gets "Unplugged," 07.14.2005

In addition to a cover of "Every Little Bit Hurts," previously performed by female greats like Aretha Franklin and Brenda Holloway, Keys also whips out two new songs: "Stolen Moments" and "Unbreakable." The former track, which she co-wrote with Al Green, is about a romance "that shouldn't exist, but it's so perfect in how they relate to each other," she said. As for "Unbreakable," she said it's about "how life and love can be unbreakable," when it comes to couples who are inseparable, citing Will and Jada Pinkett Smith as an example. "This might be an 'Unplugged' exclusive," Keys said. "But we'll see."

"Once people see this 'Unplugged,' I just want them to feel the spontaneity, to feel passionate," she said. "I want you to see another side of me, that's free, and feel where my head is, where whatever happens, happens. I want you to feel inspired."

"Alicia Keys: Unplugged" is tentatively scheduled to air on September 9.