NEW YORK —
Alicia Keys is winning — not because you say she is, but because she says she is.
As the piano-playing singer releases her sixth album and reflects on the 15 years since she put out her Grammy-winning debut "Songs in A Minor," she feels very content.
When asked about her goals, she replies: "I already won. And I won because I've been able to create and maintain what I believe is my artistic vision, you know what I mean? A real artistic vision that I've had from the beginning."
"I feel, like, so dope," she says with a laugh. "Seriously, I just feel so blessed, and I feel so grateful, I feel so excited, and I feel so moved by music, maybe more than I have ever felt ever before because I understand ... what my special thing is that's different than what anybody else can do, and I feel so grateful to have my own lane and to have my own space that I've been able to carve."
Keys has had a string of hits and successes since 2001, winning 15 Grammy Awards and launching hits with "No One," "Fallin' " and other tracks. She's seen her album sales not match previous releases — much like most of the recording industry. "Here," despite debuting at No. 2 on Billboard's 200 albums chart this month, moved only 50,000 equivalent album units in its first week.
"I do feel like I've had a rare situation of critical acclaim but also popular success, and sometimes they go together and sometimes those don't," she said.
Though she's satisfied, Keys says her new album does show that she's still growing — as a musician and truth teller.
"One of my favorite Nina Simone quotes is she says she feels like the artist's duty is to speak the truth [about] what's happening around us. And I feel like this is the first time I've really been able to figure out how to do that," she said.
"Here" is something of a departure for Keys, 35, who ditches typical love songs and tackles social justice issues, women's struggles and more on the album. It includes the hard-hitting, gritty "The Gospel," a song about Earth called "Kill Your Mama" and "Blended Family (What You Do for Love)," which Keys describes as a conversation about the modern family. The latter also reflects her own family — Keys is married to producer-rapper Swizz Beatz, who has children with Keys as well as two other women.
"I expect your face to be very scrunched up when you listen to this album. That's how I would like you to react," Keys said of the 16-track set.
The album is also heavy on conversational interludes — much like Solange's recent "A Seat at the Table" and Lauryn Hill's epic "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill," which in 1999 became the first hip-hop-based album to win the coveted Album of the Year award at the Grammys.
When Keys' "Here" is compared to "Miseducation," she says: "But can't I get my Alicia on?"
But she adds: "But I will not turn down a Lauryn Hill comparison ever. That will be an official thank you. I am honored."