Release date: December 2009
The Element of Freedom is the fourth studio album by American R&B musician Alicia Keys, released December 11, 2009, on J Records. Despite mixed criticism towards its low-key style and Keys' songwriting, the album received generally positive reviews from most music critics. As of June 8, 2010, it has sold 1,305,000 copies in the United States.
After recording her third studio album, As I Am, Keys began to "find the way to totally be myself and what that meant; figuring out what choices I wanted to make and not make in order to truly honor myself". She described The Element of Freedom as diverse, but noted that there is a "balance". She explained that "one side is strong and one side is vulnerable", which she pointed to as the theme of the album. The album has a "strong, edgy feel", but is also "intimate and vulnerable and delicate". While on BET's 106 & Park, she described the album: "The way that the songs progress is gonna take you on a natural high. I just want you to feel a sense of freedom, I want you to feel out-of-the-box, feel inspired, You're definitely going to be taken on a trip, I know you're going to be shocked, you're going to hear things that you probably didn't think that I would sound like. It's a journey." Keys revealed to The Times that in the period she was recording the album, she listened to artists such as Genesis, Tears for Fears, Fleetwood Mac and The Police.
In an interview with Billboard magazine, Keys stated that she "eliminated all of the boundaries and all the limitations, so that you can feel your freedom and express your freedom in every way you possibly can". The Element of Freedom was scheduled to be released on December 1, 2009, to correspond with World AIDS Day, but was pushed back to December 15 for additional recording. According to the senior vice president of urban marketing for J Records, Keys "had a couple of more things in the oven and she wants this to be right [...] So we gave her the additional time she needed." Keys pointed out that she felt the album was being rushed for no reason. In an interview with Scottish newspaper The Scotsman, she stated that it "seems unfair to have to rush these songs that were still coming and not allow them to be the best songs they could be. It was just two weeks' difference, but it made for an even better record".
Keys began working on the album in May 2009. During this time, Keys and her audio engineer bought several vintage keyboards, describing the Moog as her "special best friend". Recording took place in The Oven Studios in Long Island, New York. Keys expressed that she "didn't know what to do" when she began working on the album, but knew to do it. After exhausting herself, she stated that she "finally found the key, and that is to allow yourself to be free". She explained that the album dealt with overcoming depression. She went on to say, "I found more freedom. Before, I thought I could only show the strong side of me. Now there's a mixture of strong and delicate. A new sound, a new emotion. That's a lot of who I am right now". Recording for the album was completed between August and September 2009. The album includes production by Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, Jeff Bhasker, Noah "40" Shebib and Swizz Beatz.
MTV News reported that Keys and rapper Jay-Z recorded "Empire State of Mind Part 2", a second version of "Empire State of Mind", from Jay-Z's album, The Blueprint 3. The final product did not include Jay-Z. In mid-November 2009, Brothers revealed on Twitter that Canadian recording artist Drake will be featured on the album. Drake described the studio session with Keys as "one of the best studio experiences of my life". He explained that "I came in there and instead of being like, 'Here's the beat, get to work,' she was just like, 'Play me your favorite songs and lets battle'... It's almost like the transition from listening to great music to making a song — like, no one even noticed it, because she started playing the keys and I just started writing the melodies." Keys stated that due to the album being pushed back, she was able to record "How It Feels to Fly", as well as to work with recording artists Drake and Beyoncé, which Keys described as "the most exciting collaborations of my career yet".
Alicia about the album : "It feels emotional and vulnerable but there's also a kind of freedom in it. I can't quite find a better word than freedom to really describe it. Even though every song has touches of different textures and sounds, the overall sense of freedom is the thing that grounds it. It's definitely the theme of where I am in my life."
Marketing and promotion
In September 2009, the day after the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Keys posted the audio to the album's lead single, "Doesn't Mean Anything", on her YouTube channel. In October, she performed the song live on the Regis and Kelly show. "Doesn't Mean Anything" peaked at number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 14 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
On October 21, 2009, Keys held "The Element of Freedom Lecture & Performance Series" at New York University, free for students at the Tisch School of the Arts. Among the songs she performed included the new "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart". The song, produced by Keys and Jeff Bhasker, was released as the second single from the album. The music video premiered on November 16, 2009. Keys performed a medley of "Empire State of Mind", "Doesn't Mean Anything" and "No One" on the sixth season of The X Factor on November 29, 2009.
On December 1, 2009, Keys performed a benefit concert at the Nokia Theater in New York, where all the proceeds went to the Keep a Child Alive program. The concert—held on World AIDS Day—was streamed live on the video sharing website YouTube. A week prior to its release, Keys streamed The Element of Freedom in its entirety on the peer-to-peer music streaming service, Spotify, as well as social networking website, Facebook, through an application. She became the first major recording artist in Facebook's history to do so. BillboardLive.com is working with Keys to show off its new technology that allows fans to watch free concerts broadcast in HD via iPhone or iPod Touch. The "Alicia Keys & Friends" concert took place on January 7, 2010, at the Apollo Theater in New York. In addition to her performances, Keys introduced new artists who also performed during the event. Keys also performed on Saturday Night Live on January 9, followed by an AOL Music Sessions premiere on January 14. On Valentine's Day, Keys performed with recording artists Usher and Shakira at the 2010 NBA All-Star Game during halftime. At the show, Keys performed "No One" from her 2007 album As I Am. She also performed "Empire State of Mind" as well "Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart".
On March 3, 2010, Keys embarked on the North American portion of The Freedom Tour at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois. The European leg of the tour will commence late April 2010. Keys will also perform at the Essence Music Festival taking place on July 2–4, 2010. According to Keys, the album may be re-released with additional material.
The Element of Freedom debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 417,000 copies in its first week. It became Keys' first album to not debut at number one on that chart. In its second week, the album sold 280,000 copies. In its third week the album sold 80,000 copies. In its fourth week the album sold 62,000 copies. In its fifth on the US charts, the album sold 48,000 copies. The album has sold over one million copies in the United States and has been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. As of June 8, 2010, it has sold 1,305,000 copies in the United States.
The album entered the UK Albums Chart at number seventeen on December 20, 2009 and climbed to number one in the UK Albums Chart on February 7, 2010 making it her first album to ever chart within the top five and top the chart. In the space of the first month it had spawned three top ten singles in the UK, and had remained at number one on the UK R&B Albums Chart for thirteen consecutive weeks. The album reached number one in Switzerland and has been certified gold after sales in excess of 15,000. It has since gone on to reach platinum in the country. In December 2009, the album was certified platinum in Canada for sales of 80,000.