Grammy winner Alicia Keys is celebrating the release of her seventh studio album, “ALICIA,” with a trip down memory lane. During an interview with The Guardian published on Friday, Sept. 18, the singer discussed the stories behind some of her biggest hits of the past 20 years.
Keys made her introduction with her debut single “Fallin,” which later became one of the most critically acclaimed singles of 2001. From there, the songstress cemented herself in the music world as a force to be reckoned with.
While talking to the publication, the “So Done” singer recalled another hit record and detailed the heartfelt story behind it — “If I Ain’t Got You” from her 2003 sophomore album, “The Diary of Alicia Keys.” The 39-year-old revealed that the song was inspired by the tragic death of R&B princess Aaliyah Haughton. On Aug. 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight other passengers died in a plane crash while leaving the Bahamas after filming the music video for “Rock The Boat.”
“[I] felt really kindred to her, and I was so devastated that she died — it felt so unfair and abrupt,” Keys told The Guardian. She said the song, about the pointlessness of material goods if you don’t have the one you love, just “poured out of [her]” when she heard the news of the Texas native’s passing.
However, what might be even more surprising is that as heartbreaking as the story was behind the record, Keys revealed she almost gave it to another songstress, Christina Aguilera. “It took me 300 different ways to get to what it sounds like today,” Keys recalled. “It just wasn’t alive. This song was so good, but we couldn’t land it.” Ultimately, Keys said her record label intervened, and she ended up keeping the record.
The solution was to record the song with drums, then meticulously replace each drum sound with programming. “Nobody wants to hear live drums on a record, not since the 70s, maybe the 80s,” Keys said. “If I Ain’t Got You” peaked at No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and became the star’s second consecutive R&B chart-topper, remaining atop of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for six weeks. The song went on to win her a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, along with two Billboard Music Awards and plenty of other awards.