By the time 20-year-old Alicia Keys came on the scene in 2001, a 21st-century "around the way" girl from New York City's Hell's Kitchen, reigning rap&B princess Lauryn Hill seemed to be coming undone.
Just a month after Keys' classic Songs in A Minor was released, Hill taped an edition of MTV's "Unplugged" during which she told the audience her "public persona had held her hostage." Eventually, Hill gave up battling fame and retreated from the industry altogether. And it was in this landscape that Keys made her debut. For girls looking for a different voice, Keys, a corn-rowed beauty who still walked with a tomboy's gait, proved to be that figure.
When MTV News caught up with Keys last week, on the eve of the 10th anniversary re-release of the piano-driven A Minor (collector's and deluxe editions will hit e-tailers and retailers on Tuesday), she told us why she thought fans connected so deeply to her and the Grammy-winning album she calls her "coming of age."
"I think that people related to Songs in A Minor because it was just my truth at that time," Keys reflected of the J Records album helmed largely by her and production partner Kerry "Krucial" Brothers. "And I really wanted to just be me. I didn't want to be anybody else, I didn't want to be, you know, that girl with all the super fancy dresses, and all the, like, big ... hair!" she said, bursting into laughter.
Indeed, Keys favored midriff-baring tops, snug jeans and the (relentlessly copied) variations on zigzag spider braids, coming off as just a more polished version of the girls you bumped into riding the subway. Even now, one of the best-selling recording artists of her generation, Keys endearingly sprinkles her speech with street dialect.
"I just wanted to be myself, and being myself was like being every girl I knew, you know? Being every girl in Harlem, in Brooklyn, in Queens. So I think people really could, hopefully, feel that."
Keys will make a hometown stop with her piano-only mini-tour on Thursday at New York's Beacon Theatre, where she'll revisit mega-singles like "Fallin' " and "A Woman's Worth," as well as her personal favorite "Troubles" and some tracks from the Songs sessions that fans will find on the new editions.
What's your favorite track from Songs in A Minor? Tell us in the comments!