Release date: June 2001
Songs in A Minor is the debut studio album by American recording artist Alicia Keys, released June 5, 2001, on J Records. Songs in A Minor debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling over 236,000 copies in its first week. It has sold over 6.2 million copies in the United States and twelve million copies worldwide. Rolling Stone magazine named Songs in A Minor the second best album of 2001, while ranking it number 95 on its list of the best albums of the 2000s decade.
Background and conception
After graduating from the Professional Performing Arts School, Keys was accepted to Columbia University. She dropped out after four weeks to pursue her music career and signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and his So So Def label. Keys co-wrote and recorded a song entitled "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)", which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 film, Men in Black. She also contributed to the So So Def Christmas recordings. Keys began writing, producing and recording the album in 1998. She completed it that same year, but it was rejected by Columbia Records. Keys explained that the producers she worked with would tell her to "just get in the booth and sing", which frustrated her. Her record contract with Columbia ended after a dispute with the label. Keys then performed for Clive Davis, who sensed a "special, unique" artist; he bought Keys' contract from Columbia and signed her to Arista Records, which later disbanded.
Following Clive Davis to his newly formed J Records label, after ending her record contract with Columbia after a dispute with the label, Keys rented an apartment and struggled to create an album. She began writing the song "Troubles" and came to a realization: "That's when the album started comin' together. Finally, I knew how to structure my feelings into something that made sense, something that can translate to people. That was a changing point. My confidence was up, way up." Keys learned how to produce by asking questions to the producers and engineers; she wrote, arranged and produced a majority of the album. She recorded the songs "Rock wit U" and "Rear View Mirror", which were featured on the soundtracks to the films Shaft (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001), respectively. One of the final songs Keys recorded was "Fallin'". A total of 32 songs were recorded for the album. Originally titled Soul Stories in A Minor, the title of the album was changed over concerns that it would limit exposure only to black radio stations.
Keys incorporates classical piano with R&B, soul and jazz into the music of Songs in A Minor. With influences of classical piano, classic soul and East Coast hip hop, Keys described the album as a "fusion of my classical training, meshed with what I grew up listening to [...] things I've been exposed to and drawn from and my life experiences".
The album's opening track, "Piano & I", begins with a rendition of Ludwig van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, combined with a hip hop beat. The introduction is followed by "Girlfriend", which was produced by Jermaine Dupri. Commended for its "crisp production", the song samples Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Brooklyn Zoo". Keys' cover of Prince's 1982 ballad "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" (retitled "How Come You Don't Call Me") was inspired by a long-term relationship with a partner. The music critic for PopMatters felt that the song was credible, but fell short from the original and Stephanie Mills's 1980s cover. "Fallin'", the gospel-driven lead single and often considered Keys's signature song, contains a sample of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World". The song earned Keys comparisons to Aretha Franklin.
"A Woman's Worth", the second single released from the album, is a "gospel-tinged" song that recommends to men to show respect to their female partner. "Jane Doe" is a funk-driven song, with backing vocals provided by Kandi Burruss. "The Life", which elicits Curtis Mayfield's "Gimmie Your Love", describes Keys's "philosophy of life and struggle". The song was compared to the work of English band Sade. "Mr. Man" contains elements of Latin American music and was described as a "sexy and soulful duet", in which Jimmy Cozier "adds his spice". The album ends with the hidden track "Lovin' U", which Christian Ward of NME compared to the works of the musical group The Supremes.
Marketing and promotion
In advance of Songs in A Minor, "Girlfriend" was released to urban radio in early 2001 to "introduce" Keys. In order to promote her, music executive Clive Davis booked Keys to The Tonight Show. Afterward, he sent the music video of the first single, "Fallin'", to MTV; "half the women had tears down their face" when the video finished playing. "Fallin'" peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts, where the song remained atop the charts for six and four weeks, respectively. It became the most played song in the United States at the time and was certified gold by the RIAA. The album's second single, "A Woman's Worth", peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. The third single, "How Come You Don't Call Me" peaked at number 59 on the same chart, while the fourth single, "Girlfriend", peaked at number 82 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Davis wrote a letter to Oprah Winfrey, asking her to allow Keys, along with Jill Scott and India Arie, to perform on her show. The group of singers performed on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Keys "wowed" the audience. This led to the album's pre-orders to double that night. From August to October 2001, Keys toured alongside recording artist Maxwell in promotion of the album. Soon after, she embarked on her Songs in A Minor Tour.
Songs in A Minor debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 236,000 copies in its first week. Through word of mouth and promotion, the album sold 450,000 copies in its second week and remained atop the chart for three non-consecutive weeks. The album became one of the bestselling albums of 2001. It sold over 6.2 million copies in the United States, where it was certified six times platinum by the RIAA. Songs in A Minor sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Billboard magazine ranked the album thirty-second in the decade-end recap of the most successful albums of the 2000s, while placing it twelfth in the R&B field. The RIAA lists it as one of the Best Selling Albums of All Time.
Songs in A Minor led Keys to win five awards at the 2002 Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song for "Fallin'", Best New Artist, and Best R&B Album; "Fallin'" was also nominated for Record of the Year. Keys became the second female solo artist to win five Grammy Awards in a single night, following Lauryn Hill at the 41st Grammy Awards. The album also won a NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Album". Keys was also named Best New Artist at the 2002 World Music Awards. "Fallin'" was ranked at number 37 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the Past 25 Years in 2003 and was ranked the 413th greatest song of all time by Blender magazine. The album was ranked number two on the Rolling Stone magazine's Top 10 of 2001, number 18 on The Village Voice's 2001 Pazz & Jop list, number 27 on Mojo magazine's Best 40 Albums of 2001 and was inducted to Q magazine's 100 Greatest Albums Ever. In 2009, Rolling Stone named it the 95th greatest album of the past decade, while "Fallin'" ranked at number 62 on the magazine's "100 Best Songs of the Decade" list.