Songs in A Minor is the debut studio album by American singer-songwriter Alicia Keys. It was released in the United States on June 5, 2001 by J Records. Keys had first signed with Columbia Records at age 15. She began recording the album in 1998 under the label, which they rejected. After disputes with Columbia, she ended her contract with the label, and then signed with Clive Davis's Arista Records and later J Records. An accomplished, classically-trained pianist, Keys wrote, arranged and produced the majority of the album herself, including "Jane Doe", the only song on the album actually in the key of A minor. The title, "Songs in A Minor," is a double entendre, as it contains the key of A minor and it is also a collection of songs in a minor. Keys was 14 when she began writing the album, which was released when she was 20 years old.
Songs in A Minor is a neo soul album with a diverse musical style that incorporates R&B, soul, jazz, hip hop, blues, and elements of classical and gospel music. Its songs feature classical piano references, and are backed by haunting melodies, funk, classic soul structures, modern production technique and lyrics about the complexities and stages of personal relationships. Upon its release, the album received critical praise from music critics, who noted her musical talents, her ability to fuse and balance multiple genres, and regarded the album to be at the forefront of contemporary neo-soul. In retrospective assessments, critics have considered the album a classic. Songs in A Minor earned Keys several accolades, including five Grammy Awards at the 44th Grammy Awards. 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 16 million copies worldwide, as of 2008. In 2013, Entertainment Weekly ranked the album at the 57th position among the greatest albums of all time.
Keys began writing the songs that would constitute Songs in A Minor at age 14, "Butterflyz" being her first composition for the album. Keys had been accepted to Columbia University, which she attended after graduating from the Professional Performing Arts School at age 16. She dropped out after four weeks to pursue her music career full time. She signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and his So So Def label. Keys co-wrote and recorded a song titled "Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)", which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 hit film, Men in Black. She also contributed to the So So Def Christmas recordings. Keys began 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 was required to work with by the label 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 Davis to his newly formed J Records 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.
Songs in A Minor is a neo soul album with classical piano references and arpeggios. Keys incorporates classical piano with R&B, soul and jazz into the album's music. 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". Jane Stevenson of Jam! described the music as "old-school urban sounds and attitude set against a backdrop of classical piano and sweet, warm vocals".USA Today's Steve Jones wrote that Keys "taps into the blues, soul, jazz and even classical music to propel haunting melodies and hard-driving funk". John Mulvey of Yahoo! Music called the album "a gorgeous and ambitious melding of classic soul structures and values to hyper-modern production technique".
"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 the English band Sade. "Mr. Man" contains elements 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 works of the musical group The Supremes.
On June 28, 2011, Songs in A Minor was re-released as deluxe and collector's editions in commemoration of its 10th anniversary. Both editions feature previously unreleased material and a documentary chronicling the making of the original album. On June 26, 2011, at the BET Awards Keys performed a medley of songs which included "Typewriter", "A Woman's Worth" with Bruno Mars and "Maybach Music" with Rick Ross and "Fallin'". On June 28, 2011, Keys performed "Fallin'", "Butterflyz" and "Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down" on Good Morning America. BET aired "The Story So Far... Alicia Keys" special highlighting Alicia's 10-year career through her BET moments on June 28, 2011. On June 30, Keys performed Songs in A Minor in its entirety and telling stories of its recording in a show titled "Piano & I: A One Night Only Event With Alicia Keys" at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. In an interview for MTV, Keys called its 10th anniversary "incredibly surreal for me" and said of the album in retrospect, "This album is possibly the most precious to me as your first album only happens once, and so Songs in A Minor will always hold a special place in my life that's filled with amazing memories. I'm so proud the songs are still being enjoyed, and I'm crazy excited to share songs never heard before."
Songs in A Minor received critical acclaim from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, it received an average score of 78, based on 10 reviews. Sam Faulkner of NME described the balance between contemporary music and retrospective as "an act of pure genius".Q magazine hailed it as "a prime candidate to head up the nu-soul revolution ... with a voice that challenges Mary J. Blige's". Steve Jones of USA Today said that "Keys already has a musical, artistic and thematic maturity that many more experienced artists never achieve".The Washington Post's Richard Harrington wrote favorably of Keys' musical influences on the album and expressed that she has "vocal maturity and writing instincts beyond her years".PopMatters critic Mark Anthony Neal praised Keys' performance on the album and called it "a distinct and oft-times brilliant debut from an artist who clearly has a fine sense of her creative talents".Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, said that the "grace and grit" of the first half warrant the "auspicious debut" label and that, after some "bores that threaten to sink the project midway through," Keys sustains the album with the songs at the end.
Keys' vocal performance was lauded; Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine declared that Keys' displayed a "powerful range, proving she can belt along with the best of them".Uncut called the album "frequently stunning" and said that Keys sings like "a young Aretha Franklin". However, some found her lyrics to be sub-par to her singing and musical ability.The New Zealand Herald's Russell Baillie stated that Keys "might indicate abundant talent aligned to neatly reverential vintage soul style", but expressed that the songs "don't add up to anything particularly memorable".Entertainment Weekly's Beth Johnson called the second half of the album slacked with "sad sack teen themes", but called it a promising album.Rolling Stone's Barry Walters perceived her singing as more mature than her songwriting, but commended Keys for her "commanding presence" on the album.Los Angeles Times writer Robert Hilburn said that it "makes a convincing case that's she's going far—in both a commercial and creative sense". In a retrospective review, AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine perceived the album's music as "rich enough to compensate for some thinness in the writing" and called it "a startling assured, successful debut that deserved its immediate acclaim and is already aging nicely". Barry Walters wrote in a later article for Rolling Stone, "the album has aged well – excepting a drum-machine beat or two, it feels timeless." In the Encyclopedia of Popular Music (2011), Colin Larkin said Keys had fused urban R&B, hip hop, and blues on what he called "a minor classic of modern soul".Songs in A Minor is regarded as an influential and distinctive album of the era.
Songs in A Minor debuted at number one on the US 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. The song was certified six times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, and it has sold 6,348,000 copies in the US as of June 2014.Songs in A Minor sold over 16 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.
An album of remixes and live songs, Remixed & Unplugged in A Minor (issued in some countries as Songs in A Minor: Remixed & Unplugged), was released on October 22, 2002 by J Records. The album's live portion was edited from a performance recorded on August 10, 2002 at KeyArena in Seattle, Washington.
The 10th Anniversary Edition was released on the 10 year anniversary of the release of Songs in A Minor. It comes in two editions, the 10th Anniversary Edition, and the Collector's Edition. The first disc comprises the original album. The second disc included in both editions contains bonus songs, including unreleased songs from the era, alternate versions, and remixes hand-picked by Keys. The Collector's Edition contains more bonus songs, as well as live songs and it comes with a DVD that features a documentary on the making of album, and music videos. A vinyl version of the original album was also made available.
^"New Zealand Top 50 Albums". Recording Industry Association of New Zealand. Archived from the original on March 9, 2009. Retrieved April 19, 2008. Note: The reader must select "Chart #1299 – Sunday March 10, 2002".
^"Salgstroféer" (in Norwegian). International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Archived from the original on June 26, 2006. Retrieved April 19, 2008.