Singer Alicia Keys had to dig deep into her past when writing material for her latest album, Alicia. One single on the album is called 'Underdog' — which was co-written with Ed Sheeran — and Keys revealed that she drew inspiration from her own life.
"I am that person. The one that wasn't supposed to make it out of Hell's Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a prostitute, a young mother at 16 years old, or addicted to drugs," she said in an interview with The Guardian.
Since performing on Oprah in 2001, Keys has gone on to win 15 Grammys from six albums. "None of my songs should have ever worked, to be honest," she explained.
Growing up in New York City, Keys revealed that she grew up in a dangerous neighborhood and there had been plenty of opportunities for her life to take a completely different turn.
"I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got injured or killed. And what the f--k is a dream? A dream is a luxury, if you have to pay all these bills and put food on the table for your kids. That is why I understand so much about what it means to have the strength to follow your own path", she added.
Just as the songs on her latest album, she drew on her own experiences and childhood to write some of her most well-known singles — and her collaboration with rapper Jay-Z on 'Empire State of Mind' is the best example of that.
"The New York that I came from was very dark, very desolate. Hell's Kitchen had what looked like movie theaters, but it was all porno places, with hookers on every corner. I had to always wear something very baggy, very dark, always had my hair back; I felt like if people saw me, they might try to touch me. That's why I've always been such a tomboy — I've never been the one in pretty dresses and nails, because I could not have nails and hair. And for a lot of girls it still is a safety risk to walk the streets," she revealed.
It's a powerful experience, but Keys was quick to point out that those types of songs are the ones that can inspire people the most.
"All the songs I've ever written that have been considered empowering or uplifting, I've written them at my lowest point. Because I needed to remind myself: don't forget that," she added.
Even 11 years later, Keys is still in awe of her duet with Jay-Z — and she had a profound realization while on tour about it.
"It feels unbelievable — we have this modern-day anthem of New York City. But I remember that the first time I performed it in France, I didn't have to sing one word. Listening to the crowd sing it to me, I realized it has nothing to do with New York, it has to do with hope. That you could have a dream and it could maybe come true," she concluded.