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by Andreas Hale
16 December, 2003@12:00 am
0 comments

Alicia Keys has had such a meteoric rise to the top in such a short time that many may question how long will the 21 year old be able to burn her music into the memories of many. Forget the 10 million records sold from Songs in A Minor, forget her cleaning up at every single award show her name is mentioned at, forget her success that stretches beyond commercial acclaim and critical appeal. The sophomore album is when all of that one-hit-wonder shit hits the fan and gets stripped down to the bare minimum, the music. The shock of her talent has now passed and her cloak of freshness has been uncovered. Now is the time when the term
“sophomore slump” takes effect, when the music has to speak for itself. With that Alicia Keys bears her cross on her most important album of her short career, The Diary of Alicia Keys.

On paper how can this young lady lose? She has an old soul which is not ashamed to bare her musical roots. In her interviews she possesses a magnetic personality that can melt the heart of Mr. T. She dons an angelic face, and we all know that the striking young lady is extra nice when her fingers grace the ebony and ivory. Not to mention this time around she has enlisted the help of grade A producers:  Kanye West, Timbaland, Tony, Toni, Tone (minus Raphael Saadiq), and Vidal and Dre (of A Touch Of Jazz fame). So how can Ms. Keys go
wrong with all these tools at her disposal?

Here’s how… With the overkill of Songs in A Minor, hype may prove to be the yin and the yang of Alicia Keys career. Sure, she is going to sell ridiculous numbers out the box, but how can she live up to her debut?  Her multi-platinum, award winning, chart topping (though way overrated) debut has set the stage for her to only go down from here. The Diary of Alicia Keys points out a few things that were severely overlooked her first time out, yet it still shows that this young lady is talented with an exceptional ear for music.

The Diary of Alicia Keys points out the blaring differences of what’s good and what’s just doesn’t cut the mustard. When it’s good it’s great, as seen on the Kanye West assisted lead single “You Don’t Know My Name “. Here, Kanye and Alicia make beautiful music that
could have walked right of the 70′s, thanks to its ridiculous production (check the Main Ingredient sample) and doo-wop flavor, complete with a coffee house interlude. Also, when Ms. Keys joins forces with Vidal and Dre to create the hip-hop infused flavor of “So Simple”, it’s nothing but net as the sped up vocal sample caresses the mellow groove. “Feeling You, Feeling Me” may be a few minutes too short with its swanky production, as Alicia whispers sweet nothings through your speakers. “Nobody Not Really” just comes off as some beautiful music
that melts the eardrums.

But as previously stated, this is her yin AND her yang, and when it’s bad it shows. One of the biggest issues is the songwriting. When the production is stripped down, and you really pay attention to what she is saying, many fans may frown from her elementary wordplay. The
songs are well written form a musical standpoint, however as far as the lyrics are concerned they may make your skin crawl. When she belts out  “If I was your woman and I was your man/you’d have no other woman/you’d be weak as a lamb” a few may chuckle. Then, when she
oversimplifies “Like a desert needs water/I need you a lot”, a few more may laugh, but after the whole medieval theme gets killed on “Dragon Days” many may be wishing for an instrumental album. Her voice is another thing, many may say she has a great voice, but at times it stretches too far for her throat to handle. When she uses her voice more as an instrument, simply accompanying  the track, we have an impressive outcome. But when she attempts to display range, she falters, as seen on the sped-up cover of Gladys Knight’s “If I Was Your Woman.” Also, some of the songs just seem seriously underdeveloped. “When You Really Love Someone” just sounds like she attempted to redo her smash “Fallin’”. Hell… she may as well sue herself
for plagiarism. The Timbaland produced “Heartburn”, although funky, sounds like it could have fit the portfolio of Beyonce much better. At times the listener is left scratching their dome trying to figure out what exactly is Alicia Keys trying to accomplish with this album.

The Diary of Alicia Keys is a solid, yet flawed album that may kill a lot of her hype. At times she commits to ground breaking results, but for most of the album she opts to stick with a bland and familiar sound. Although many may still cling to the bandwagon by their teeth, many others may realize that the other old souls in the game sound just as good, if not better than Alicia Keys. Quite a few may feel more inclined to turn to Floetry, India Arie, or even Meshell N’dgeocello to be musically satisfied. With this release, Alicia Keys exposes what makes her good as well as her piercing imperfections that downgrade her from super-sista to mere mortal. After experiencing the greater moments of The Diary of Alicia Keys, the listener is left with a rather boring album that will probably end up collecting dust with some other over hyped acts.

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