As I Am On "Girlfriend," one of her earliest singles, Alicia Keys blatantly ripped off Ol' Dirty Bastard's rowdy street anthem from 1995, "Brooklyn Zoo" — right down… As I Am On "Girlfriend," one of her earliest singles, Alicia Keys blatantly ripped off Ol' Dirty Bastard's rowdy street anthem from 1995, "Brooklyn Zoo" — right down… 2007-11-13 Alicia Keys Pop R&B
Music Review

As I Am (2007)

Alicia Keys | CHANGIN' KEYS Hopping on the pop bandwagon, Alicia Keys works a glossier, if safer, sound on As I Am
CHANGIN' KEYS Hopping on the pop bandwagon, Alicia Keys works a glossier, if safer, sound on As I Am
EW's GRADE
B

Details Release Date: Nov 13, 2007; Lead Performance: Alicia Keys; Genres: Pop, R&B

On ''Girlfriend,'' one of her earliest singles, Alicia Keys blatantly ripped off Ol' Dirty Bastard's rowdy street anthem from 1995, ''Brooklyn Zoo'' — right down to the unladylike line ''It's enough to make a n---- go crazy.'' By contrast, track 11 on her third effort, As I Am, subtly borrows the organ riff from Wendy Rene's 1964 song ''After Laughter (Comes Tears)'' — the exact cut sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan for ''Tearz,'' track 11 of 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Keys may always harbor a fondness for Wu-Tang, but as she's ascended from R&B upstart to actress-spokesmodel-music diva, all of her varied sensibilities — rap, soul, classical — have folded into a tidier, pop package. The result is Keys' most polished — if, at times, edgeless — album to date.

''Teenage Love Affair'' and ''Wreckless Love,'' both paeans to the impetuousness of youth, boast heavy hip-hop beats but are slick and radio-friendly. While the former is almost too wholesome, with Keys singing over a Motown-reminiscent groove about balking at third base, the latter finds her waxing coquettish — as opposed to childish — to shuffling percussion and playful horn stabs. ''I Need You,'' meanwhile, deftly balances urgent D.C. go-go funk with supple, catchy guitar. It's only later in the tune that the piano quietly picks up, a further sign of Keys' morphing ways.

Though her native instrument is ever-present on As I Am, she no longer seems as hell-bent on flaunting her virtuosity as she did on previous albums. Instead, simple melodies prevail, as on ''Like You'll Never See Me Again,'' a pretty ballad that evokes Prince noodling on a toy piano. Adopting an unusually high, breathy delivery, Keys successfully pulls off pap like ''I don't want to forget the present is a gift.''

As I Am overflows with such clichés, many courtesy of Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera, Pink), who co-wrote three songs with Keys. ''Sure Looks Good to Me'' includes this trite barrage: ''Don't rain/On my parade/Life's too short/To waste one day/I'm gonna risk it all.'' But despite Perry's penchant for bland mantras, her American Idol-ready songs best showcase Keys' husky range and position her in a mainstream light. In particular, ''The Thing About Love'' begins as a melancholy R&B lament and rolls into pure pop-rock uplift, with Keys belting, ''It's time for me to shine.'' Songs like this and the empowering ''Superwoman'' have more than a pinch of Aguilera's Perry-penned chart-topper ''Beautiful'' in their DNA. So, understandably, there's less room for ODB. B
DOWNLOAD THIS: ''I Need You''

Originally posted Nov 05, 2007 Published in issue #964 Nov 16, 2007 Order article reprints
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