Alicia Keys spent her childhood in Hell’s Kitchen, living at Manhattan Plaza. As she launches her new album this week — “Alicia”, her seventh record — she’s been talking to journalists about the influence the neighborhood had on her music.
The single,”Underdog”, co-written with Ed Sheeran, reflects on dreaming of a better life:
The hustlers trading at the bus stop. Single mothers waiting on a cheque to come.
She told The Guardian: “I am that person. The one that wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hell’s Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a prostitute, a young mother at 16 years old, or addicted to drugs. I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got injured or killed. And what the fuck is a dream? A dream is a luxury, if you have to pay all these bills and put food on the table for your kids. That is why I understand so much about what it means to have the strength to follow your own path. All the songs I’ve ever written that have been considered empowering or uplifting, I’ve written them at my lowest point. Because I needed to remind myself: don’t forget that.”
In the interview, she spoke about surviving the tough streets of New York.
“The New York that I came from was very dark, very desolate,” she says. “Hell’s Kitchen had what looked like movie theatres, but it was all porno places, with hookers on every corner. I had to always wear something very baggy, very dark, always had my hair back; I felt like if people saw me, they might try to touch me. That’s why I’ve always been such a tomboy – I’ve never been the one in pretty dresses and nails, because I could not have nails and hair. And for a lot of girls, it still is a safety risk to walk the streets.”
Talking about her hit “New York State of Mind”, she said: “you walk towards Broadway, and you start to see these iconic theatres … it was this weird dynamic of the have-nots and the maybe-possible”. She adds: “It feels unbelievable – we have this modern-day anthem of New York City. But I remember that the first time I performed it in France, I didn’t have to sing one word. Listening to the crowd sing it to me, I realized it has nothing to do with New York, it has to do with hope. That you could have a dream and it could maybe come true.”