There was a time not too long ago when Alicia Keys was dominating R&B in every way imaginable. It was about 15 years ago that her debut album Songs in A Minor became one of the best selling albums of all time, an unprecedented feat for a brand new artist with nothing to offer other than genuine soul music. Yet in 2001 a real artist was met with critical acclaim for her sultry voice and piano skills, and she followed it up in 2003 with her sophomore album The Diary of Alicia Keys - which was another smash hit and to many her career defining album. Over four years later Keys was still in her prime, however, releasing As I Am which was once again a blockbuster success, officially making her a hit making machine in a Soul/R&B genre that had certainly seen better days.
In an era of disposable music Keys put out real quality for the better part of that decade, yet after her fourth album The Element of Freedom felt more experimental and transitional, her last offering Girl on Fire felt like a sharp decline overall from the previous work that had rose her to stardom - while during this time a somewhat unconventional marriage to producer Swizz Beatz had made her personal life more of a headline than the music - which has led many critics (and fans) to believe that her best work is likely behind her. Yet to prove those people wrong, or perhaps to simply continue to make the music she loves, Alicia Keys is back with her sixth studio album entitled Here - and for the most part it seems that the girl from Hell’s Kitchen has more to offer and is here to stay.
Without further ado, Here is critiqued track by track below:
The Beginning (Interlude)
“I’m Nina Simone in the park and Harlem in the dark, I’m the musical to the project fables, I’m the words scratched out on the record label, I’m the wind when the record spins” Perfect intro… exactly what it should be couldn’t ask for anything more
“Change gon' come, the spirit of Sam Cooke ,when the feds comin', everybody get shook, now we doin' life like Eddie Murphy and Martin, on the chain gang, I was singing into the coffin” Alicia is spittin on this track like a revolutionary and I’m not mad at that at all… she’s cookin on this like a real MC 💯 only thing it’s missing is Swizz adlibs which would have even made it more 🔥🔥🔥
Pawn It All
“Sometimes you gotta let it go, just to make it possible, sometimes you gotta do it, be willing to lose it, freedom has no price, you know” Co-produced by herself along with her husband Swizz Beatz and Mark Batson, this is a slow burning piano ballad that showcases her signature sound and her beautiful voice, a decent album cut overall
Elaine Brown (Interlude)
“Black mother, I curse your drudging years, the rapes and heart-breaks, sweat and tears, but I swear on siege night dark and gloom, a rose I'll wear to honor you, and when I fall, the rose in hand, you'll be free and I a man, for slave of natural death who dies, can't balance out to two dead flies, I'd rather be without the shame, a bullet lodged within my brain, black mother” In this interlude a poem written by Bunchy Carter, one of the founding members and martyrs of the Black Panther movement - is recited by Elaine Brown, another civil rights activist, musician, and chairwoman of the Black Panthers.
Kill Your Mama
“Shame on us, on your sons and your daughters, thieve all your gold and we poison all your waters” Co-written by recording artist Emeli Sande, this one is said to be inspired by and dedicated to the issue at Standing Rock, where the Natives are once again seeing their land compromised by the greed of capitalism in America. The intent is certainly honorable but unfortunately the record leaves a lot to be desired, making it one of the least memorable cuts on the album.
She Don’t Really Care_I Luv
“She grew up in Brooklyn, she grew up in Harlem, she grew up in Bronx, she know she was a queen, she lived in Queens” Produced by her husband Swizz Beatz and premiered at the Apple Music Festival in London, Alicia Keys calls this the most “purposeful and intentional” music she’s ever written about, and set in NYC it’s likely autobiographical to an extent. Either way it’s fire front to back with a Nas sample in the middle that puts it into another category.
“Because you gotta always add on, you can't bring, can't just do what was done. You gotta always add on, we always build, we always grow, we elevate.” Following the One Love sample is a conversation with Nas that’s right on time.
Illusion Of Bliss
“What would you know? what would you do? If you had no control over what you pursue? You talk yourself, tell yourself, baby, ‘I'm better than this’, all that I'm fighting, I don't wanna resist” In this emotional record Keys illustrates the power of love, or perhaps moreso the power of addiction, in a record that she’s disclosed “leaves her overcome with emotion every time she sings it” - this is a slow burner but a real nice record all the same - if you love Alicia Keys then you’ll love this record.
Blended Family (What You Do For Love) ft A$AP Rocky
“Hey I might not really be your mother, that don't mean that I don't really love ya, and even though I married your father, that's not the only reason I'm here for ya” Keys references her relationship with Swizz Beatz and his children from a previous marriage, where produced by Keys herself along with Mark Batson - this one is equally heartfelt as it’s feel-good, complimented by a solid verse from A$AP that overall makes this one of the best tracks on the album.
Work On It
“Some days are hard, there ain't no easy way, no matter how we try, nobody is perfect, but if we just love each other through it all, baby, now that, that makes it worth it” Co-produced by Keys & Pharrell this one has a fire melody and an even crazier instrumental, one that’s definitely worth a listen.
Cocoa Butter (Cross & Pic Interlude)
“Hold up, listen, listen, this is the thing, what if you kissed her stomach and you cut your lip” An interlude about cocoa butter and stretch marks... I’ll pass...
Girl Can’t Be Herself
“In the morning from the minute that I wake up, what if I don’t want to put on all that make up? who says I must conceal what I’m made of? maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem, whose job is it to straighten out my curves? I’m so tired of that image, that’s my word” The official anthem of Keys #NoMakeUp campaign… that unfortunately hasn’t seemed to catch on… while those Amber Rose #SlutWalks are doin numbers… SMH… Keys certainly means well however and this is likely to touch more than a few young woman out there, as it’s a quality record with a nice rhythm to it.
You Glow (Interlude)
“I heard this lil girl in P.S. 257 yelled out one day to the teacher and said ‘that shit is wack’”... Another short interlude and this one is right on the money...
More Than We Know
“If I could breathe underwater, every fish would walk on land, if I could fly in the sky baby, then wings would be on me, if words could move mountains, if I could swim the ocean without drownin', if there was pain without hurtin, then the impossible has been found, 'cause baby we can do more than we know, more than we know...” Beyond the meaningful and descriptive lyrics (which is present in every record on Here) the melody is actually this song’s best quality, and it’s also somewhat reminiscent of the records from her early years - making it one of the best records on the album hands down.
Where Do We Begin Now
“What they gon do 'cause we the same sex? and we spendin' all this time, this could be the love we ain't made yet, even though it's on my mind, we ain't even had the conversation, but do you wanna testify?” In what’s more than likely a concept record and nothing more, Keys wonders what it would be like to be in love with a woman, in a record produced by Keys, Batson, and Harold Lilly that’s definitely intriguing in it’s sound as well it’s content. Overall it’s a solid album cut.
“If war is holy and sex is obscene, we've got it twisted in this lucid dream, baptised in boundaries, schooled in sin, divided by difference, sexuality and skin” Produced by Keys & Illangelo, this one was presented by Keys as a poem at the MTV Music Awards this past summer, and it has anthem potential but I’ll personally take a rain check on this
“There's a hole in my heart I've been hiding, I've been strong for so long that I'm blind, is there a place I can go where the lonely river flows? Where fear ends and faith begins” Written and produced by Keys, Swizz, & Jimmy Napes (British songwriter who’s topped the charts with Sam Smith), this record that originally debuted on SNL is a nice way to close out the album, simple and effective and easy on the ears (although the hand claps I can maybe do without).
“We got way too much in common… If I'm being honest with you” The first single was released almost 5 months before the album came out, making this more or less a bonus cut, yet produced by Illangelo this one is still a heater for sure… great record that deserved the video treatment (as well as the decent verse from Kanye on the remix)
Overall this is definitely a solid project that probably fits right in the middle of Alicia Keys impressive catalogue, as while it’s certainly not on a Songs in A Minor / Diary of Alicia Keys level, it’s definitely comparable if not better than Element of Freedom or Girl on Fire - essentially making it her best work in almost a decade. The standout records have to be ‘She Don’t Really Care_1 Luv,’ ‘Illusion of Bliss,’ ‘Blended Family (What You Do For Love),’ ‘More Than We Know,’ and ‘In Common’ - yet all together it’s 18 records straight from the soul of one of the greatest singers of the time period, and it’s my hope that her entire catalogue will be played and admired for many years to come.