On this day in 2001, Alicia Keys released her debut album, Songs in A Minor. Bolstered by the success of lead single “Fallin’,” it became an instant neo-soul classic and propelled Keys to R&B superstardom.
After the past half-decade defined by image-based teen pop acts such as Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys, 20-year-old Alicia Keys carved out a space on the charts once more for scaled-back production and soulful vocals. Discovered by Clive Davis, Keys melded her classical piano background with modern hip hop beats. The gospel-influenced lead single “Fallin’” did it best: built on a simple two-chord riff, it feels timeless while foreshadowing the decade’s future in R&B. Keys has since surpassed the success of “Fallin’” with 2007’s “No One,” but her debut single remains her best.
Other highlights on Songs in A Minor include follow-up singles “A Woman’s Worth” and “Girlfriend.” Despite the album’s title, only one song here is written in the key of A minor: the Kandi Burruss-produced “Jane Doe.” That said, if the A is to stand for Alicia, Songs in A Minor delivers on its promise and more. From the Moonlight Sonata-interpolating opener “Piano & I,” it’s a moody young adult record that shares more in common with Jill Scott and Mary J. Blige than Keys’ same-age peers in Destiny’s Child.
Songs in A Minor went on to be a major commercial and critical success. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and nearly doubled its sales in the second week. Taking home five awards at the 2001 Grammys, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year, Keys became the second female solo artist to win that many in a single night after Lauryn Hill in 1999. As the initial wave of Max Martin-produced pop acts fell out of favor, she ushered in a new era of female singer-songwriters like Norah Jones, Nelly Furtado and India.Arie, blending pop with jazz, folk and soul and emphasizing talent first and foremost.
Keys went on to release her arguably better sophomore effort, The Diary of Alicia Keys, in 2004, and eventually scored more hits with “No One,” “Girl On Fire,” and Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” But still, “Fallin’” and Songs in A Minor remain her signature song and album.
In honor of the album’s 20th anniversary, an expanded edition of Songs in A Minor is available for streaming. It includes four previously unreleased songs, one being a new version of “Fallin’.”