Since making her musical debut as a teenager, Alicia Keys has been one of the most successful R&B artists in the world. Does she write her own songs?
Alicia Keys has been a songwriter for as long as she has been a musician. She wrote her first compositions when she was 11 and began writing her debut album, “Songs in A Minor” when she was 14. Keys has a writing credit on the vast majority of songs she has ever recorded, as well as writing some for other artists.
For more on Alicia Keys and her history of songwriting, read on.
Alicia Augello Cook began learning the piano when she was seven years old, later choosing to name herself after the piano’s keys, which she felt were also the metaphorical keys to unlocking success in life.
Keys wrote her first song when she was 11 but believes that she truly began to find her voice musically when she was 14. Her piano training was very traditional, studying the Suzuki method, which gave her the technical foundation and expertise to experiment with different genres more freely as she matured.
While she was a teenager, Keys was discovered performing in Harlem and was signed to Arista Records. She then moved to new label J Records, where she released her first studio album, “Songs in A Minor” in 2001.
The album was a huge success, going seven-times Platinum and winning five Grammys, establishing Keys as a superstar overnight. Two years later, she released “The Diary of Alicia Keys”, another huge success.
Despite how young she was during the creation of “Songs in A Minor”, Keys has a songwriting credit on almost the entire album. The only exceptions are “How Come You Don’t Call Me”, a cover of a Prince song, and “Never Felt This Way”, written by Brian McKnight.
Keys had a hand in writing all of the other 14 songs on the album, including writing several alone, remarkable for somebody who was only 20 when the album released. Many of the songs were several years old, as Keys had begun writing it in 1995 when she was just 14.
She also displayed her eagerness to learn every facet of music production during the album’s creation, frequently asking her producers how particular tasks were performed. This fuller understanding would serve Keys well during the creation of her subsequent albums.
Given the enormous success of “Songs in A Minor”, it’s little surprise that Keys has continued to be the primary writer on all of her subsequent releases. She has always displayed a willingness to collaborate with other songwriters and listen to input, however, increasingly so in recent years.
Keys has said that writing with other people demands opening yourself up to them and revealing your inner self. She finds this a challenging process but believes that it also produces strong results when you are able to fully embrace it.
She has also talked about the various ways the writing process can occur. She wrote the lyrics of “If I Ain’t Got You” in one sitting during a journey on a plane, then quickly added the chords when she reached the hotel at her destination.
One of her most frequent writing and producing partners has been Swizz Beatz, real name Kasseem Dean, who Keys married in 2010.
Keys writes her music in traditional mediums, preferring the familiar comfort of writing with a pen and paper instead of increasingly widespread digital methods such as computers.
Her talent for songwriting was recognized by the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 when she was given the Hal David Starlight Award. The award was created in 2004 to celebrate musicians who were at the apex of their career and making a significant impact while writing their own music, making Keys a very worthy recipient.