Duality is the spice of life, and Alicia Keys’ eighth studio album, a double release, is all about leaning into her own. For an artist with over two decades’ worth of work under her belt, that means considerations of both time and style. In one breath, she wanted to pay homage, as she explains to Apple Music's Ebro: “The goal was to own my greatness, to own the shoulders that I stand on, to recognize the classic, iconic artists that I couldn't even breathe without.” And in another, she wanted to honor the love and lineage she shares with hip-hop by sampling herself to reveal those songs anew. Thus, she divides KEYS between a first half she calls “Originals” and a second half titled “Unlocked.”
“Originals” is largely a showcase of the singer-songwriter's essence that leans heavily towards jazz. In her own words, it was “born off the simplicity of a piano, of a pen, and of a voice,” and songs like “Love When You Call My Name,” “Daffodils,” and “Like Water” reflect this spirit with artful elegance. The first half functions as a throwback to her classic sounds—all raw emotion, grit, and soul. The “Unlocked” section takes bits and pieces of the first and reconfigures them, often into slightly bigger sounds with the help of producer Mike WiLL Made-It. Analog melodies and understated arrangements are met with programmed bass or lines of synth; the magnificent speakeasy texture of “Old Memories” morphs into an '80s dance club, while the gorgeous and solemn blues of “Is It Insane” (a song written during Keys' Diary era) becomes something more sultry. Through it all, the qualities that made Keys a showstopper remain. Whether acoustic and raw or highly produced and polished, she performs in service of a vision that is now, as it was then, transcendent and uniquely her own—two sides of the same invaluable coin.