I’m really enjoying Alicia Key’s depth and her honesty. Biographies are great because you get to understand how a person grew up and how certain influences have led them to be so expressive and ambitious.
These are some of the passages that stood out to me.
The moment in between what you once were, and who you are now becoming, is where the dance of life really takes place. —Barbara De Angelis, spiritual teacher
“I am eleven. I already know I’ll one day be a singer. I’ve known that in my gut since I was four. Even still, my agent has been rounding up all kinds of little jobs for me. One is to model bras and underwear for a department store catalog. I show up at the shoot, flat-chested and a little anxious, even with my mom at my side. Behind a dressing room curtain, I pull on the white padded bra and cotton panties. I then peer at myself, head to toe, in the full-length mirror, not sure how I feel about what I’ve signed up for. Moments later, I smile awkwardly into the camera, glancing over at my mom on the side. I don’t know why I was nervous, I think in an attempt to calm myself. This isn’t that bad.
“So, you mean, my friends are gonna see me like this?!” I say. Mom, probably surprised at my reaction, doesn’t respond. The picture is not at all racy, especially since my boobs are more like tangerines than grapefruits. Yet I still feel judged. Naked. Embarrassed. Exposed.”
embarrassed, ashamed that I’ve sold part of myself. I now understand why the photographer wanted my team out of that room. A nineteen-year-old girl is more pliable than a set of her grown-ass managers. Had Jeff been in there, he would’ve voiced what I couldn’t at the time: Hell no. Close that shirt. Take your hand off your tit. And you’re not going to yank down your jeans. In fact, Jeff would’ve been over there pulling my shirt closed. The photographer clearly wanted a provocative image, but rather than disclosing that vision from the start, he led me into it. On the day of the cover’s debut, I pass a newsstand where the magazine is on display. I almost throw up. I want to buy every copy on every stand around the world, just so no one will see me in a photo that does not represent who I am. I swear that I’ll never again let someone rob me of my power. It’s a promise I still work to keep.”
“Who am I, really? And as I discover my true essence, am I bold enough to live in that truth? Those questions live at the heart of my story. Gathering the raw pieces of my experience and holding them up to the light has, for me, been a transformational exercise in truth telling. I’ve spent so many years withholding parts of myself, sacrificing my spirit to make others feel comfortable. But now, I’m done with pretending, with living in a prison of my own creation. I’m done with dimming my light.”
“Writing this book has been about meeting myself, with all my wounds and vulnerabilities, exactly as I am—and then, at last, having the courage to reveal my full face. It has been about realizing that in order for the truth to set me free, I must first be brave enough to birth it.”
“Half the time, I wasn’t sure where we were. “What’s the city again?” I’d ask my manager backstage, fearing I’d go out and yell, “Houston!” to a crowd in Oakland or Atlanta or Detroit. My team was filling every available space in my days while I, overly obligated and out of breath, sprinted hard on a treadmill I knew might suddenly halt. With a lioness’s focus and a hustler’s determination, I charged ahead.”
“By then, my armor was securely in place. If I woke up feeling down or lethargic or cranky or pissed off, I’d taught myself never to show it. Instead, when any hint of my humanity broke the surface, I shoved it down and plastered on a grin. “Alicia, can I take a picture?” Sure. “Hey, Alicia, can you do another photoshoot?” Absolutely. “Alicia, can I have your autograph?” Of course. I no longer belonged to myself; I’d become captive to every request, every demand, every surge of fear that came with even the thought of saying no. And amid the constant moving, the constant packing and unpacking, the constant pleasing and pretending, I’d delivered my grandest performance yet: convincing the world that, behind my smile, all was as perfect as it appeared.”
“What’s going on?” The compassion in her tone sends me into a full-fledged Ugly Cry. My tears tumble out and splash onto my white shirt as I cup my palm over my mouth and attempt to squelch my sobs. Through gulps and stutters, I try to tell her what words feel inadequate to convey. That I’m beyond burned out. That I’ve never felt more alone or disconnected from myself. That after years of running, rarely slowing down to breathe and reflect, my body and spirit have come unhinged—disassembled, scattered, lost.”
A break. On this miraculous path I’ve walked, this dream that so many stretch toward but seldom grasp, the idea of stepping away has never occurred to me. For my place in the limelight, my role at center stage, relentlessness is the price of being cast. It’s the cost of sharing my music, my soul, with a world I feel most connected to through song. And in such a magical story line, you don’t take a break. You don’t dare imply you’re unhappy. You don’t tell your truth and risk appearing ungrateful. Instead, you strap on your boots, you keep your gaze fixed on the road ahead, and you work. You put away your feelings and you pull on your daily armor. Until the afternoon, beneath a merry-go-round of unforgiving hot lights, when a quarter-century of tears and suppression collapses onto your shirt.”
“TERRI AUGELLO, ALICIA’S MOM When I got pregnant with Alicia, I was almost thirty and thinking about moving from New York to LA to see what acting opportunities I could get out there. It was 1980. I’d never had a pregnancy, and I called my mother. She said, “Well, you don’t do anything easy.” There were a couple of candidates who could’ve been the father.… In those days, we were in “free love” mode. I used the calendar and figured out who it was. I’d known Alicia’s father for a long time. We’d been going out but weren’t serious. On our third date, I got pregnant—with protection. People want to come through, don’t they? And if you’re the vessel, you’d better accept it. I made an appointment for an abortion, and when I got there, I was told, “Go away and think about it.” I talked to my mom. I talked to my girlfriend. I made a list of pros and cons. Can I do it? I had a good job. I wasn’t a teenager. I had a place to live. By the time I told Alicia’s father I was expecting, I’d made a decision: I was keeping my baby.
“My mother is the blackest white woman I know. On Sunday afternoons in our apartment, she’d put on one of her favorite jazz or R & B albums and just let the spirit carry her away. With Miles or Ella or Stevie or Thelonious crooning over long-lost love and heartache, Mommy would close her eyes and sway her hips to each soulful note as I, her wide-eyed audience of one, giggled and sang along from my spot on our couch. She was as easily moved by music as she was likely to throw shade at anyone who crossed her. It is from her that I get my silliness. My spontaneity. My passion for the arts. And it was her own parents who once passed those gifts on to her.”
“With equal measures of charisma and talent, my grandfather soon won over his listeners as skillfully as he’d once sweet-talked my grandmother.”
“Joe might’ve stood only five feet, six inches tall, but as my mother recalls, his hundred-foot-tall presence filled every room he entered.”
“At home, Donna, an accomplished pianist and vocalist, set aside her musical aspirations to become a homemaker. She was every bit as talented and gregarious as my grandfather but—around the edges—more emotionally delicate. Even before they married, she’d begun to cope with the seesaw of chemical imbalances brought on by manic depression. Joe, though he worked a lot, was his wife’s anchor; and to their children, he was both a joyous spirit and a strong disciplinarian.”
“Ms. Dixon took her to New York City to experience the magic of a Broadway show. “Your father never would’ve wanted any of his children in the arts,” my grandmother would often tell my mother. “It’s a nasty business.” But Mommy’s desire had already taken root. “You know how to dance,” Ms. Dixon told her after she’d finished high school. “Now go to New York and learn how to act.” In 1969, she auditioned for and was accepted into New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. With only the waitressing tips she’d saved up, she set out for the world’s most fiercely competitive city.”
“The story of that day is, in many ways, the story of my relationship with Craig. He wasn’t there, and then, once the difficult moments had come and gone, he’d suddenly show up, only to vanish again. There were occasions, of course, when he spent time with me, memories now scattered and dim. Like the time when he and his first wife took me, then about four, to St. Thomas on a beach vacation. Or those afternoons, starting when I was around ten, when he’d occasionally pick me up from school and call me “Skittles,” the nickname he gave me in tribute to one of my favorite candies. But for a young girl like me, one who clung to my mother’s hand as closely as I did to her side, my father’s easy grin and handful of annual visits were not enough. And when he did come see me I felt uneasy around him, the way you feel uncomfortable in a new pair of shoes. Technically, they fit. But the leather hasn’t lived on your feet long enough to learn their grooves and tendencies.”
in that reality, I grasped only what I was missing—the irrefutable affirmation that I, my father’s child, mattered more to him than anything.”
“College, it turned out, wasn’t for him. After a year of studies, he returned to New York to work briefly as a clerk in the district attorney’s office and then for a year as an NYPD officer in Harlem’s Twenty-eighth Precinct. He eventually landed a job as a salesman at a high-end clothing store on the Upper East Side. Tall, dapper, and charismatic, Craig was already a hit with the ladies when a mutual friend introduced him to my mother. Their friendship grew into a mild flirtation that later blossomed into the night I was conceived. By then, Craig had traded his sales job for a career as a flight attendant—based first in Queens, and later in Missouri and Colorado. For most of my childhood he was constantly on the road, flying in and out of town with the same unpredictability with which he seemed to show up in my world.”
“Craig never knew his own biological father. His birth certificate listed only his dad’s name and occupation: policeman. “Do you want to meet him?” his mother had asked a few times when he was a boy. Craig had no interest. Between his mom and his stepfather, Michael, he had all the love and nurturing he needed, he’d tell me years later. Yet I’ve often thought about how the absence of Craig’s father must have impacted his relationship with me, perhaps in ways he was not conscious of. I can only imagine how Craig, fatherless himself, must have felt on that summer afternoon when my mother sat across from him and said she was expecting me, and that, yes, he was the father. He was just twenty-seven then and, as he recalls it, still trying to find himself. As far as he was concerned, things had turned out well enough for him even without his dad around. The child my mother was carrying was undoubtedly his, but as he told her on that day, he wasn’t prepared to put on the heavy mantle of fatherhood. Only now, as a parent myself, can I understand what may have been true: Craig was living out of the template he’d inherited. In the empty space left by Craig, my nana and fafa stepped in..”
“They rarely missed one of my piano recitals or pageants. My mother’s mom, Grandma Donna, did watch me when she flew in from Toledo, but Nana and Fafa, my only local extended family, served as my mother’s primary safety net. They kept me whenever Mommy traveled for the job she’d taken by then as a paralegal at a law firm in Rockefeller Center.”
“Fafa in front of our building, he’d already be there waiting: gray fedora, trench coat, leaning back against his car, gun holstered on his hip, old-school Italian style. “That’s my girl!” he’d call out as soon as I emerged from our building’s revolving door. Moments later, I was buckled in and on my way to the only other home, outside of our apartment, where I felt seen. My nana and fafa—and later my brother, Cole, who is a decade younger than I am—would be Craig’s greatest gifts to me.”
“In my mother’s gaze, I see grace. I see her profound love for her only child, a baby she once bravely chose to keep. I see a woman whose father was gone too soon and a mother determined to protect her own little girl from life’s sharpest edges. I see someone who, on a prayer and a paralegal’s meager paycheck, called on heaven to help her firmly ground me.”
“Chopin was my homie. His compositions were poetry for the piano: layered, measure by measure, with the dark passion and poignancy that still speak to me. Ms. Pine believed, as I do, that great music is not confined to one style. As she guided me in studying the greats in every genre, she also encouraged me to add my own flair, to play from my heart. If I heard a song I loved on the radio, like Brian McKnight’s “Never Felt This Way,” she’d have me create and perform my own composition. Her approach wasn’t traditional, but it was genius because it kept me tuned in”
“Mommy knew then what I know now: I was put on the planet to play. I’m not sure how much of identity comes threaded in our genes and how much of it is shaped by our environment, but as far back as I can recall, placing my fingertips on a keyboard felt like coming home to myself. There was no courtship phase, no period of becoming acquainted with the piano; rather, the connection was instantaneous, as comfortable and familiar for me as breathing. On those afternoons when I had the apartment to myself, I’d slide up to the keys and lean into the music, the world growing quieter as I gave myself over to the flow of the notes. Through my fingertips, through hour after hour of delicious solitude, I expressed what words felt inadequate to convey.”
“My mother had to be strict as a matter of my survival. I grew up near Times Square before it became Disneyland, during a time when Hell’s Kitchen lived up to its name. The kitchen, in most homes, is the place where the action goes down, where everyone passes through or congregates. It’s hot. It attracts dirt. It’s often loud and odorous—all accurate descriptions of my old stomping grounds.”
“I always felt older than I was. For one thing, New York grows you up fast. And for another, I skipped two grades: first and eleventh. I entered kindergarten already able to read, probably because my paralegal mom had taught me to sound out big words like affidavit and subpoena. All through school, I was simultaneously ahead and behind: a smart and enthusiastic student striving for my gold star, and the youngest (though somehow still the tallest) of all of my classmates. But you couldn’t have told me I wasn’t grown. As my mother recalls, I showed up on Earth as a bit of an old spirit, one who savored my alone time. I was happy to play with other children but also content to see them leave—eager to reclaim my space, my silence, and my solo hours at the piano. I’m still that way.”
“My self-protective instinct spilled over into my social relationships. Even as a small child, I seldom fully trusted anyone, nor did I reveal the real me. Too risky. To this day, I don’t know exactly what led me to build mountains between myself and others. Maybe it began with the teasing. When I was four, one of my friends accidentally scissored off several of my long braids, and a barber then had to chop all of my hair short. “You look like a boy!” the other kids screamed when they saw my little crop of cotton. My ’fro eventually grew into a heap of wild, disobedient curls that Mom often swept into two giant poofs. The teasing grew louder. Having a name like Alicia Augello-Cook didn’t quiet the insults. “Alicia cooks JELL-O!” I’d hear constantly.”
“My ballet teacher, thin and lanky, ordered me to “tuck in” my thick behind after I’d already tried to do so. With her second request, I became acutely aware that my butt was never going to “tuck in” as tightly as those of my classmates with smaller backsides. I suddenly felt self-conscious about a curvaceous figure that I’d been mostly happy with up till then.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the precise moment when we internalize others’ assessments; it’s usually not just a single experience but rather a series of moments that bruise the spirit and lead us to distrust ourselves and those around
- And then we wake up at age seventeen or twenty-five or thirty-seven and realize we don’t know the last time we’ve lived life only to please ourselves.”
“Thankfully, race was never a part of what made me feel guarded. Being mixed, for me, didn’t come with a major identity crisis or the typical interracial angst. That’s in part because New York City is one enormous United Nations, a stew pot of ethnicities and cultures and head wraps and accents representing more than 150 countries around the globe. No one even questioned my heritage in a city that cares most about your aspirations and less about where you’ve come from. Based on the chorus of daily “Hey, Mami!” catcalls I got from construction workers along Ninth Avenue, many assumed I was Puerto Rican or some other kind of Latinx.”
“became my people. And yet through every age and stage, I kept my mask in position. The less others really knew about me, I reasoned, the less ammunition they’d have to make me look foolish. Only if I revealed my tender spots could they wound me. My true self, the one I kept so deeply concealed, only emerged in my diaries. There, I could unveil. If Mom got heated and I got tongue-tied, I could escape to sort out my thoughts and gather my words before the two of us spoke again. And alongside my musings and misgivings lived my poetry, my unfinished lyrics, my schoolgirl crushes, my feelings about Craig. On cotton pages scrawled with purple ink, I didn’t have to be tough or brave or capable or strong. I could just be me.”
“FLYING SOLO CRAIG COOK, ALICIA’S FATHER When Alicia was fourteen, she sent me a letter. She said she didn’t want to have any part of me and that she wanted me to go away. I was living in Colorado with my second wife, Marsha, and our son, Cole, then three. I won’t deny that I was hurt when I read her words. But I also looked at what she was saying, and the circumstances, and I understood where she was coming from. Did I try to rationalize why I wasn’t around more? In some respects, yes. She was a teenager and already developing into who she was going to be, whereas Cole was still young. I also needed to tag team with his mother since we were both working for an airline. When one of us was leaving, the other was coming home, and getting to New York was a challenge. Yet I cannot negate what Alicia was feeling: when she needed me, I wasn’t there for her. I didn’t respond to the letter, but I did say to myself, I’m not going anywhere.”
“Kerry told me more of his story. Born in Brooklyn and raised between Harlem and Far Rockaway, he’d been dreaming of the emcee life since the day he first heard “Rapper’s Delight” banging from his radio. When he was eighteen, word spread that the producers at B-Boy Records were in search of new artists. Kerry and a friend showed up at the label with their hastily created VHS demo, and not long after, they signed a contract. The deal ultimately went south, but Kerry’s passion for rap remained. By day, he sharpened the lyrics that Village bystanders applauded; by night, he worked his security job as a way to keep the lights on until his next break came around. We found immediate common ground in our desire to one day share our creations with the world— me, a classically trained pianist steeped in soul and R & B, and him, a striver with as much of a deep love for hip-hop as I’ve always had.”
“It saddens me that most of my heart is bitter towards you,” I wrote. “It’s only that little part that feels sad that’s not bitter … all I want is for you to mind your own business. I don’t want the phone calls. I don’t want the letters. I don’t want the fake acts you pull to try and make me think you care. I don’t want anything.” By the time those words rolled from the tip of my pen and onto my notebook paper, my longing for my father had hardened into resentment. My mother still recalls the many times when Craig said he’d fly in to see me but, for reasons unknown to me then, he did not show up. I’d sit beside the window in our living room, looking down over the terrace to see if I could glimpse him arriving. An hour or so after the appointed time, the phone would ring and I would overhear my mother, in hushed tones in her bedroom, saying, “Okay, I understand.” Moments later she’d emerge into the living room with disappointment etched on her forehead as she announced, “He can’t make it.” That was it. Conversation over. Expectations once again dashed.”
“Craig now explains that he, too, was then struggling in a paycheck-to-paycheck existence and couldn’t help us as much as he wanted to. But it wasn’t his money that I most desired; it was a sense of his concern and caring.”
“Mommy took on additional work that often kept her away from the apartment for long stretches. That left me, a latchkey kid, with plenty of time to contemplate Craig’s whereabouts while seated at the piano, emptying my soul into bluesy jazz compositions. On the afternoon that I picked up my pen and paper and began my letter to him, I’d grown weary with the promises not kept. The last-minute cancellations. The long silences between the annual birthday cards. I sat at our small table and finally wrote out, in bubble cursive, exactly what I felt. I then carefully tore off the frayed edges along the perforations, folded the paper in half, shoved it in an envelope, and slid it into the slot of a blue mailbox.”
“Craig didn’t answer my letter. My father, in those days, was more of a pacifist than a fighter. Confrontation was not in his nature, which may be one reason he and my mother, seldom one to back down from a brawl, were attracted to each other from opposite ends of the personality spectrum. But Craig says he had no intention of allowing me to push him off the ledge of our relationship. He says he attempted to stay connected from the back row of my life, often checking in with Nana to hear the latest on what was happening with me.”
“What I lacked in age I made up for with experience. In the years since I’d made my preschool debut as a brown skinned Dorothy, I’d swiftly moved through my classical training and onto composition. I wrote my first song when I was twelve, after losing my dear fafa. I hadn’t been there on the day he passed away. But when I later heard that an ambulance had to be called multiple times before help arrived, that news nearly broke me.”
“My grandfather, in his death, left me with a treasure I’ve carried with me through life. His memory opened up in me an emotional vault I hadn’t even known existed, and what poured out was a deluge of lyrics: “I sit here all alone / And I wonder what is wrong / Why are there so many deaths? / So many lost survivors?” My early compositions clearly weren’t all that deep, but they came from a real place. My first experiences of longing, of heartache and anguish and love—they have a certain vibrancy to them, a passion and immediacy that pale in life’s later rounds. The magic in any art is not only in its technique but in its authenticity. Truth in its rawest form is what resonates most powerfully.”
“That was the start of Jeff’s campaign for me to go solo. “You need to be on your own,” he told me later. “You can sing. You can play. You can compose. You’re the whole package.” I was stunned and flattered. What artist wouldn’t be gratified by such an affirmation, one I’d longed to hear in the years since that tattered upright slid across our doorway? But I didn’t feel ready to go out on my own. The group thing was all I’d known. It was comfortable. At fourteen, I hadn’t yet developed the muscle required to push past my zone of familiarity and into new and frightening territory.”
“KERRY BROTHERS, A.K.A. KRUCIAL, ALICIA’S WRITING PARTNER AND FIRST SERIOUS BOYFRIEND After Alicia moved out of her mother’s place in Hell’s Kitchen, we lived together in a one-bedroom walk-up in Harlem. I was hustling together jobs by day, and at night, Alicia and I had jam sessions. At first, I just had a keyboard and a drum machine. Then after she got a record deal, I was like, “Yo, we should buy some equipment.” We went down to Sam Ash and got everything we needed. We turned the bedroom into our studio … the acoustics are better in a small, closed-off space. We used nails and tape to put blankets on the walls and comforters on the ceiling, for soundproofing. Until the early hours of the morning, we were in there jamming and vibing and listening to the greats, from Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone to Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield. We were like, how come our music sounds so thin? We studied the credits on Stevie’s records and were like, “Man, these guys are layering. They’ve got a Wurlitzer”—an electric piano. We’d bought this rolling rack mount with all these sounds you can trigger with a keyboard, and sure enough, when we turned it on, we were like, “Look, we got a Wurlitzer!” That’s how we got into making our music sound fuller—by trial and error.”
“on my own. No band. No backup singers. No soundtracks. Just me and my quivering hands on a piano, weaving together my best original songs alongside the elaborate compositions of Chopin and Bach. At every showcase, I played my music like it was the only chance I’d ever get to land a contract, because in my view, it was. Coming from a place where the sense of struggle lingers as strong as the smell of piss, I’d grown up seeing life through a single lens: survival. And from that vantage point, opportunity is never a promise. Rather, it is a hope and a powerful hustle, the kind I watched my mother keep up year after year. As I saw it, these showcases were my potential way out—my passport to a different existence.”
“My passion must have resonated. Within days of my series of performances, every label executive had expressed interest. I was a musical combination they’d seldom witnessed: a classically trained pianist with Stevie-inspired cornrows, a fresh face with an old spirit, and a neo-soul sound reminiscent of the ’70s. Jeff, eager to maximize our payday, created a bidding war. Peter ultimately did not bid. After we’d pulled together my demo and began meeting with various labels, things had moved so quickly that Peter hadn’t yet made the transition to Arista. And he didn’t want to sign me to Warner Bros. only to abandon me shortly after. Many made offers, and Columbia made the most lucrative one. That’s when Michael Mauldin invited me to Columbia’s stunning, marble-floored offices for a final performance—and perhaps a chance to cement a deal.”
“A week later, I signed the contract—not just for that piano, but I’ll admit it did sway me. In addition to the baby grand, the label executives also offered us the highest advance, a fact that pleased Jeff as much as it did me and my mother. And Donnie ultimately kept his promise to give me a new piano, though not the one I’d played that day. A baby grand of the same brand was delivered long after my deal was done. By then, the music business had already begun teaching me its first pair of lessons: Always study the fine print in your contract. And after you’ve negotiated the best possible deal for yourself, buy your own damn piano.”
“If I thought I was grown at fourteen, by sixteen, my mother couldn’t tell me anything. Mom was as forthright and impassioned as she’d always been. What changed was me. As I grew out of my natural introversion and into my voice, I challenged her in every regard. At all hours, I ran around the city with Kerry. I ignored Mom’s incessant messages on my beeper, along with her demands that I check in with her regularly. I was still technically a minor, but circumstances had prematurely edged me into purgatory—that transition away from the dependence of adolescence and toward the autonomy of adulthood.”
“a mother whose very presence gave me a deep sense of stability, the solid grounding I felt each time I walked through our apartment door. In essence, I longed for two mutually exclusive realities: inextricable connection and full-fledged self-reliance.”
And yet as much as Mom did not want me to go, she wisely anticipated what I see so vividly in retrospect: Forcing me to stay would have widened the chasm between us. In a sense, I’d purchased my freedom with a contract and a six-figure advance. She understood that and just let me go.”
“As a liberal arts major, I started with a full course load—and I felt overwhelmed practically from week one. Professors assigned an enormous amount of reading, sometimes hundreds of pages a week. My plan was to attend all of my classes during the day, and then stay on top of the reading while en route to my evening studio sessions. There I’d sit on the train, doing my best to concentrate on long passages of Homer’s Odyssey while struggling to hold my book steady and keep my eyes open. The New York City subway has to rank as one of the worst places in the world to focus. It’s noisy. It stinks. And seemingly at every stop, a street musician rolls in, attempting to earn a little applause and enough tips for a meal. I usually did more ogling or dozing than I did studying.”
“For a week after I left my dean’s office, I wrestled with my decision. The thought of disappointing my mother broke my heart. I’d wanted to prove to her, and to myself, that I could balance college and a career on stage. And yet, in a sense, I’d already chosen my path years earlier, when I’d entered Ms. Hazel’s magical world of song. From that moment on, music had grabbed hold of me and never put me down.”
“Musicians often spend years toiling away at their craft, playing in small venues and hoping to get discovered and signed. Most never do. And here I was, at just sixteen, with a yellow brick road in front of me. Yes, the thought of telling my mother that I might leave Columbia scared me. But what frightened me more was squandering a chance I might never again get.”
“Life’s current was so obviously carrying me in the direction of music, and rather than trying to swim back upstream, I simply let the tide carry me forward. At the time, I wouldn’t have described it that way, nor did I truly understand that there was a flow with my name on it. But from this side of life, I can see how every moment, every experience, every pivot, even my supposed missteps have been life’s way of getting me where I have always been meant to go. Rather than resisting the current, I’ve learned to surrender.”
“It’s not that my efforts had produced nothing—just not nearly enough. I’d hammer out lyrics while in the studio with the producers, and then attempt to forge ahead on my own. I always made the most progress at home, in the makeshift studio Kerry and I had created. Using all that equipment I’d purchased with my advance, the two of us would often be up until sunrise, vibing and jamming and just enjoying the music. There was a freedom and playfulness in the air. That’s because we were creating simply for the love of the process.”
“A record label is a marketing machine. Behind its doors, fledgling artists are crafted into whatever image the label’s execs believe they can sell. And what was selling in the late ’90s? Female pop stars like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson. Most label executives aren’t all that interested in artistic innovation. It’s not about carving out a niche; it’s about shoving an artist into an existing one. Commercial success, not imagination, is the primary goal. There’s nothing wrong with being a pop princess. It’s just not who I am. Trouble was, no one quite knew what to do with a piano prodigy in cornrows, mixing classical music with hip hop beats and bass lines alongside a dash of gospel. “We can help you get a more radio-friendly sound,” the new ’fro. We adjust ourselves to fit, to adapt to others’ ideas of who we should be. We shift ourselves not in sweeping pivots, but in movements so tiny that they are hardly perceptible, even in our view. Years can pass before we finally discover that, after handing over our power piece by small piece, we no longer even look like ourselves.”
ANN MINCIELI, ALICIA’S LONGTIME SOUND ENGINEER AND FOUNDER OF JUNGLE CITY STUDIOS Alicia’s approach to music is retro-futuristic. She captures the old ways of recording, and yet she does it in a modern setting. We might watch an Aretha Franklin video from the ’70s, where all these artists were vibing together, and we’ll go out and find the actual guitars or drums they played. Then we’ll bring in musicians to play those instruments in our studio. With today’s technology, many artists never even meet their drummers or guitarists or keyboardists. Those musicians might be thousands of miles away in some other city, just sending in files that are eventually pieced together, like a puzzle. That process creates a disconnect that can be felt in the sonic. It also dilutes the quality, because the music is missing the human element—the gathering of real instrumentalists making magic in one space. By bringing artists together, Alicia infuses her material with a depth, emotion, and authenticity that software can never duplicate.”
“I’m often asked where my melodies and lyrics come from. I may never fully comprehend how a song sprouts from nothingness into existence, and truthfully, I’m not tempted to decode the mystery. I hope to be constantly surprised, in amazement of how the tiny seed of a possible chord or lyric miraculously springs to life. That unexplainable process, that alchemy, is part of what separates art from logic and reason. I don’t create from a set of rules or formulas. I tap into my true feelings and experiences and allow them to guide me.”
Davidson Hang is currently in Sales at Cheetah Digital which is a Marketing technology company located in NYC.
Davidson is an avid networker, personal growth- life and business coach.
He loves spreading the love and regularly helps people create and design the life they want for themselves.