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Hi, everyone, I'm Bernie Brown, and this is unlocking us. This episode is presented by my friends at Audible.
OK, I know I'm filling up your audible wish list here with all the books that I'm obsessed with on Audible. But as some of you may know, I am really into the fiction performers on Audible.
So, you know, I do nonfiction and so I read my own books. But for fiction they get voice actors and people who are trained in this work because a reading a book is so hard.
But B, when you read fiction, you have to read conversation.
So you have to change voices and you have to do different genders.
And so let me tell you what I'm obsessed with right now. The whole series. You can hate me or thank me later. If you're listening to it like I am while you're walking, you can thank me for the 10 miles you're getting every week if you're doing it instead of working. Yeah, well, good for you.
OK, I'm obsessed with the Cormoran Strike series. This is a detective series written by Robert Galbraith, who is also known to many of us as J.K. Rowling.
OK, so you know how J.K. Rowling, like Harry Potter, everything she's ever written, can literally take you somewhere else and set a scene and where you can smell where you are.
The Cormoran Strike detective series.
I mean, I'm in London. I live in London. Let me tell you how crazy it is. Cormoran Strike, the main character. I even follow his favorite local pub, the Tottenham, on Twitter. It doesn't exist, but this is how obsessed I am. So, again, it's written by Robert Galbraith, who is J.K. Rowling, but it's narrated by Robert Glennister, who is one of my favorite all time audible performers. Take a listen.
This is from The Cuckoo's Calling.
He returned to the bar to buy a third pint. Back at his table beneath the cupola, he drew out his mobile phone and called a friend in the Metropolitan Police. Whose friendship, though, of only a few years duration had been forged under exceptional conditions. Just as Charlotte was the only person to call him Blooey, so Detective Inspector Richard Anstice was the only person to call Strike Mistick Bob, which name? He bellowed at the sound of his friend's voice.
Looking for a favor, Strike told Anstice Nimet, who handled the Lulla Landry case. While Anstice searched out their numbers, he asked after strikes business right leg and fiancee Strike lied about the status of all three. Glad to hear it, said Anstice cheerfully, OK. Is Waldo's no, he's all right, loves himself. But you'll be better off with him than.
OK, let me just say I cannot get over how these people do these voices. I try to at home in front of the mirror. No can do. And of course, I mean, he's I'm sure he's British and he knows all these different accents, but I just get swept away. Now, I'm going to tell you the first book is The Cuckoo's Calling out of the Cormoran Strike series. It goes from that to, I think, the Silkworm.
They're long, so The Cuckoo's Calling, 15 hours and 54 minutes, I can't tell you how Book four ends because I'm not allowing myself to finish it because I've got a little Countdown Web page until the next one comes out. That's how good these are. You know, how you get, like, sucked into mysteries, because not only are the mysteries good, but you fall in love with the characters and you have to know what comes next. That's Cormoran Strike, the audible reader.
Wow. I mean, just Robert Glenister, thank you so much.
So here's what you can do.
You can sign up today for your free 30 day trial at Audible Dotcom SGB, or you can just text two five zero zero five zero zero in your free 30 day membership.
It includes your choice of one audio book and two audible originals. Some of the audible originals are just like I only listened to three or four of them, but they're amazing. The app's free and what I love is that you can listen across devices without losing your spot so I can listen on my phone when I'm walking and I can listen on my iPad while I'm flying, which I prefer to do.
So you can sign up today for your free 30 day trial at audible dot com slash beeby or easier.
You can just text be to five zero zero dash five 00.
Again, you can sign up today for your free 30 day trial at Audible Dotcom Igby or just Haxby to 500 Dasch 500. And tell me what you think about the Robert Galbraith mysteries. So good.
Today I'm in conversation with Alicia Keys.
Oh, man. She is a modern day Renaissance woman, a 15 time Grammy Award winning artist, songwriter, musician, producer and accomplished actress, a New York Times best selling author, a film and television and Broadway producer and entrepreneur, and a girl on fire, a powerful force in the world of activism. Since the release of her monumental 2001 debut album, Songs in a Minor, Alicia has sold over 65 million records and built an unparalleled repertoire of hits and accomplishments.
Alicia's forthcoming studio album, entitled Alicia, is slated to be released worldwide later this year.
The first single Show Me Love earned keys, a record extending eleventh No. One on the Billboard charts and adult rhythm and blues songs. She recently released a new book called More Myself A Journey. And that's what we're talking about today. So excited to invite you to this conversation with me and Alicia.
OK, so I have to start, Alicia, with this big question. How are you doing? Housewares, Egypt, Genesis.
How are y'all doing? Thank you. Thank you so much for asking. We are well, we're grateful for our health. We're definitely together and and we're so happy in that way to be together for sure. Of course, we're all adjusting to what the world is adjusting to. It's, I guess, a new normal to some degree. And we're trying to figure that out and navigate our way through it. And and definitely it's a new set of balances.
And I have to get reconfigured. Just when I thought I found my balance, I liked and the minute I thought I had my balance together. But nonetheless, obviously, as is an imperative time, it's a challenging time. I think it's a necessary time. So we're doing well. Thank you so much. I hope that your family is also doing well. We are.
We're doing the same. We're together. We're learning new ways of showing up with each other with a lot more kindness and patience. And we're doing OK. Tell me, you know, when I think of you, even before the song, when I think of you, I think of New York, your cities in struggle right now. Yes, absolutely.
I you know, I recently posted one of the most beautiful performances of my life was during my album here. And we did a performance on, believe it or not, the Circle Line, which is the most kind of one of the most iconic New York things ever that every person has ever come has somehow find themselves on this boat that brings you around the entire city. And we wanted to do a performance on there. And we end up by the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
And and I was singing Empire State of Mind, and I really dedicated it to New York. And I wanted to remind us of just how incredibly strong we are, how incredibly resilient we are. I mean, in these challenging times, I know that New Yorkers were hit hard and we're feeling it and just, you know, just wanted to send some light to all my fellow New Yorkers and all the people that I love there. And listen, what I know for sure is that there's no place that's stronger than us and we're going to make it through.
You know, we're going to make it through this somehow. So just send in my love and light.
There's no doubt in my mind that we will that human human spirit will triumph and New York's spirit will always triumph.
I really believe that with my whole heart. Me to me, too.
OK, let's talk about your new book more myself. Yeah, who I got to tell you, let me tell you, I thought I was going to read this and know more about, you know, what I didn't know was going to happen is that I was going to read this and know more about me.
Wow, that is an unbelievable quote, can I quote that because that's crazy and that's so amazing, because let me tell you, this is this is a master class for it in courage and vulnerability.
Wow. That is such a really incredible honor for you to say it like that. The craziest part is it's taken me so long to find my way to my vulnerability and find my way to really pulling down the layers and the armor and the masks and all the things that I totally didn't even realize I was piling on in order to just keep going. So that's a big compliment that was accomplished with these words. And and it's a testament to the practice that I'm forcing myself to stand in.
I have goosebumps right now thinking about it. I'll tell you what I've never seen done quite like this in a book. And, you know, I read a ton of books from the time you were little. You walked us through your armoring up process.
I watched you assemble that armor around your heart, around your life, and then I watched it weigh you down and then I watched you take it off and to bear witness to that in a book.
Was remarkable. Wow. It's so crazy how all the things that are our lessons, that are our challenges, that are placed before us to show us some piece of who we are. It's like it's just crazy how much of it gets so in the way.
And then you don't even realize that you're holding it in a way that you do.
And then you kind of harbor it and gather more of it and keep pulling it in there. So that's a beautiful description as well that I love. That's my prayer, is that I could take the armor off, especially not even knowing that it was on in so many ways. So it seemed to me that when I was reading this, I'm going to armchair social work, you hear, it seems to me as I'm reading this. Yeah. Oh, yeah.
You strapped in?
Yes. It seems to me that. Fear put the armor on you, but your heart was so big and the love was so fierce, it would not be held down. So I want to start I want to start with what I came to is your first love affair. So let me read I'm going to do this weird stuff right now throughout this podcast. And so I want to tell everyone that we're not together as you're listening to this militia is safe with her family.
I'm safe with my family and we're far apart in location, but I think not in spirit. So I'm going to do this weird thing during this during this interview where I'm going to read your book to you and ask you to walk us in deeper to something.
OK, this is exciting. I love this. Are you OK with that? Yeah, I'm with it.
OK, first love. Margaret Pine, a pianist who came highly recommended to my mother, would be my only piano teacher from when I was six until I graduated from high school.
This is my first goosebump of your first love from the first C major chord I struck, I was smitten. It's true, it's so wild because my grandmother, my mother's mother played piano and in fact, she you know, as I even writing this book and learning more about my mother and learning more about our story through her eyes and through that side of the family's eyes, she in a way, put it aside. And like most. Women at the time she was married and she had a family and it was right out of college and she was, you know, 19 or 20 or something, and so she put those dreams and things aside.
But when I was born, that's something I remember about my grandmother. I remember her playing piano. I remember me being able to listen to her. But outside of that, I didn't really have a lot of introduction to that particular instrument besides music and listening to different people that were kind of in my space. And so this love that I had for the piano was so. Strange, it was just a bit of an obsession, like since a little girl, even if I would pass the window of the Steinway store, fifty seven street or if I was able to a vintage like an old piano, please, that would just have these vintage pianos.
I would, I would just I would be stuck. I would stand there and look at them and I was drawn to it. I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't know how to play at the time. But I was just like something about that is calling me. And so it's kind of like slowly but surely all the things lined up as they were supposed to be. We got offered to have this piano from a friend in the building because they were moving.
I mean, random stuff that just doesn't happen. Like, when does that happen? Never. Never. And my mother would have never been able to afford a piano. And then she found this teacher and that woman who is still in my life today because she teaches my son piano, which is just crazy.
Isn't that unbelievable? I know. I know. It's truly, truly. And so all of these things kind of lined up to allow me to learn this and have this deeper relationship with the piano. And it's just mind blowing. So, yes, I was smitten for real throughout the book.
It's so interesting. One of the things that I, I can never turn off my researcher had when I'm reading books like this, because I keep thinking I could learn from this. And one of the things that you do that's interesting to me in some ways is not only was there a love affair between you and the piano, but you personify the piano a lot. And it always seems to me that it's not going to put up with any bullshit. It's not going to be played in a false way for you.
It will not participate in your armor. It can't.
It's the antithesis of what a piano or music does. I can't create and no one can create if you're not able to access pieces of yourself and the truth in yourself. And so it won't put up with the bullshit. Thank goodness. At least that was one thing, because I sure did. So I'm glad that it wouldn't. But let's get to that. Let's get to that, because let me tell you.
So you're in Hell's Kitchen, your mom comes up with 50 bucks to have movers move this piano. You get the piano teacher. I literally have like 17 pages of quotes here from your book that I could read that just blew my mind. How so? Things are going well, but now you're starting to get some attention. People are like, wow, who is she? This music's amazing.
And you write, It's hard to pinpoint the precise moment when we internalize other people's assessments. It's usually not just a single experience, but rather a series of moments that bruise the spirit and lead us to distrust ourselves and those around us. And then we wake up at age 17 or 25 or 37 and we realize we don't know the last time we've lived life only to please ourselves.
That was that's a big one. And it's I found myself only recently realizing that I truly made so many decisions or I found myself in so many positions of altering little small pieces of myself in order to either please somebody else or in order to fit in better to what I thought that they would want me to be or, you know, even with my relationship with my mother, who she's my rock, she's my main foundation. And and she also is a very strong willed and minded woman, which taught me so much because she taught me how to be strong willed.
She taught me how to speak up. She taught me how to speak for what I want and things like that. And yet I also found myself doing a lot of pacifying and doing a lot of shrinking because I wanted her to be happy and not be frustrated or upset with me. And and so we do these things where we kind of contort into the places that we think we could fit in with. And then next thing we know, we're like, what do I even think?
I didn't even know what I thought. I knew what everybody else thought so clear, but I could not access what do I even look like?
All stretched out.
Right? I'm smushed. I'm super crunched up.
It was interesting because you had your mom you had Jeff, who was someone who really started helping you build your career. Yeah. Then you started to deal with the music industry machine, who all had ideas about what you should look like and sound like and all of that.
So in addition to kind of the contorting and figuring out who you should be, you had a couple of other things that kind of related to so much. It was painful. One, you had some good girl stuff.
Oh, gosh, that's that's so annoying, but so much of it I have so I had so much of it and truly in the past three years, maybe four maximum, have I finally understood what that means and how we actually, we are told, just be a good girl. Come on, you're not being a good girl. And I hear it and I freak out about it because even with my my sons, I really try hard not to say be a good boy.
I really, really, really try. I try to get more specific, be more kind to, you know, be more thoughtful, be more helpful, you know, you know, be more patient, but do not be a good boy. Please don't just be a good boy because I told you to be a good boy and I realize that that good girl syndrome is all up inside of us, so bad and so heavy. And we literally will break our necks and to the detriment of ourselves anything so that you will just know that I'm a good girl.
Please don't think that I'm not a good girl and we will choke ourselves and kill ourselves to be that. And I truly didn't even realize that. And only in the past four years have I been able to unpack that part. And that's been crazy. So, yes, it's the worst ever and it's easy to slip back into. It's a weight, isn't it?
Oh, my gosh, God, it's a weight.
So I saw the good girl for sure, because and I relate to that a lot at my age, I still have to say, is that what I want to do or am I trying to get a gold star from some asshole who I don't need a gold star.
I still do that. Oh, but the other thing I noticed in addition to Good Girl is.
And this is anyone that I know who has had any experience of success and a lot of women I know especially is I can never say no because I will be perceived as ungrateful and the opportunities might go away.
And here's what you write. Coming from a place where the sense of struggle lingers as strong as the smell of piss, I'd grown up seeing life through the lens of survival. And from that vantage point, opportunity is never a promise. Rather, it's a hope and a powerful hustle, the kind I watch my mother keep up year after year.
As I saw it, you were talking about your showcase is going to showcase after showcase after showcase where my potential way out my passport to a different existence.
You lived so far beyond human scale through so many pages of this work, always putting everyone's. Needs and wants and success ahead of your body and your mind and your spirit, until one day you were like now. I wasn't even like, no, my body, my mind, my spirit, my mental wellness, literally, like started to crack. It was as if it was like a dam and all of a sudden the cement wall was there holding back the water.
And then little by little, that force started to crack that wall and crack it and crack it until it was just overwhelming rush of everything that I tried so hard to hold back all of those feelings and all of those emotions, all of those insecurities and all of those tears and all of those places I didn't even have to choose anymore. I literally chose for me, it was like either I'm going to either you're going to pay attention or I'm just going to crack and you're not even going to be able to take it anymore.
And so that's I guess I just took it that far to the point where I couldn't even I couldn't even make the choice myself. It was like Spirit had to make the choice for me or that your mind, body spirit had to make the choice for you. So, yes, it did get to the place where. It's just I was so full of such a deep sadness and I didn't even know where I was coming from. And then I felt terribly guilty about feeling it because I was like, how dare you?
How could you be like that? This is your dream. This is the dream of so many and you're on the precipice of it. And why would you be sad? What do you have to be sad about? But this constant swallowing of your truth and this constant kind of like creating a persona that might not even honor where you are at the moment, just so that you can greet whoever you have to greet or put on whatever you have to put on or.
Create whatever moment that you're part of creating and after time, it just became such a deep, deep sadness that I didn't even recognize it. I don't even know what I didn't want it, but it was mine.
I believe everybody listening to this. Can understand that, I mean, I understand that what was interesting to me and after we talk through this, I'm going to tell you what my big takeaway was, that just.
The first thing I did as I told my 20 year old daughter, you have to read this book. And she said, you know, she loves you.
She actually this girl is on fire as her ringer when she calls me, but because that's what she reminds me of. And she said, why? And I said, because every lesson you have to learn as a woman is in this book with a story to back it up.
And so here's one thing that you never did tell me, because I'm trying to figure it out.
Well, let me tell you, you protected your music. With the same fierceness that your mother, like I fell in love with your mom in this book and your nana, lots of lots of people, but you fell in love with your music and protected it like a mother. Let me read what you wrote.
And this is when you're you're in struggle with Columbia and they listen to your amazing music and they're like, well, it's soulful, but it sounds like a demo. And let me get something more poppy and more commercial. And really what you write is they wanted me, the tomboy from Hell's Kitchen, to become the next teen pop idol. In short, they wanted me to alter my entire identity.
Look, and this is what this is what I love. Maybe I didn't own my music, but I would always be in control of my voice, my image, my actions and my intentions. The person, an artist I am at my core. I am the girl who spent hours with my head bowed over the keys of a second hand upright Prain. I'd one day get to share my creations with the world. I am the girl who wore my tough exterior as proudly as I did my soft heart.
I am the girl who sported hoodies in place of sequined dresses Temse in place of stilettos. If I betrayed that girl, if I sold myself out by succumbing to the label's vision of who I should be. I might have been an extraordinary success. But I would have been so utterly miserable, I wouldn't have been able to be up there on stage singing songs I truly didn't believe in. For me, that sacrifice was unthinkable. It's amazing that you bring that up, because I guess I was always really clear for the music.
I really was. I was I was really clear about. What the girl that I knew I really needed it to represent and I was so clear about that part and I think I was clear about that part because it was the beginning before anything came of it. So I was still so sure about that. Part of me and I was so clear that I knew a whole group of young people and young women who looked like me and I couldn't find artists that really represented that style, maybe Mary J.
Blige, maybe Lauryn Hill. But outside of that, I was like there wasn't really that mixture of the girl that I knew because I was that girl. I grew up in this urban environment in this city. And I think that that's one of the deepest parts that I recognize now. That at the beginning, I was very, very close to myself, and then over time I started becoming more far away from that clarity. But I did always protect the music.
I did always know that the music and an honesty and that truthfulness and that soulfulness and that being that made your hair stand up and and you just want to say that I knew that's how I wanted it to feel and sound and and nothing made me content if it didn't feel like that. So it's interesting, though, as at that time you're describing how clear I was about who I was and then how I started to drift from that clarity.
So you get to a moment where you've been pulled a little bit away from yourself by the machine that your success, your fame. I mean, you are part of something huge. You can't go anywhere anymore. Things are crazy. And there's a moment where you write late one evening while alone in the apartment, I turned down the world's volume and tuned in to the whisper of my spirit that deep inner knowing, that quiet voice, an inkling I believe we all have.
I knew my answer. Each of us usually does, but the calls for us to conform are nearly overpowering. They come in the form of a ballet teacher who demands a tucked in behind or a classmate who throws shade at thick thighs and a curly fro, we adjust ourselves to fit, to adapt to others ideas of who we should be. This just grabbed me by the throat, we shift ourselves not in sweeping pivots, but in movement so tiny that they're hardly perceptible.
Even in our own view, years can pass before we finally discover that after handing over our power piece by small piece, we no longer even look like ourselves. Hmm, good man to say something and fix me.
I can't because it's so true, I don't I don't know how to fix that now. I think I know how to fix that a little bit more, I hope. But it's like it's so true that the point is, is that it's not at all in this one big moment that all of a sudden you've just somehow betrayed yourself or decided not to know yourself or not, that it's like this tiny, tiny, incremental thing, these small betrayals. And you don't even recognize them.
You don't even realize they're happening. You're not even tracking it. You're not even aware. And that's why that beautiful paragraph that you read does really describe the feeling, because so many people will tell me, like, what are you talking about? Like you wrote a woman's words. You've always looked like so in control of your self. You've always seemed like very empowered. You seem strong. Like, what do you mean? And. That's the thing is, had you asked me, I would have thought I was empowered to I did.
I thought I was in power.
I thought I was totally strong and meet me on any corner and Eighth Avenue and in the forties. In the fifties in Hell's Kitchen. And who was going to tell me in a second that I was a strong I was the strongest person that I knew I could defend myself, hold my own, do whatever I needed to. And yet. I was not and I was not even aware, especially as I started to transition into a world that constantly this entertainment world that constantly is a place where you have to remember what the reason is and you are so intimate with.
Wanting people to like what you do, because that's part of it, right, of course, you create a song, you want people to love it, you want people to relate to, you want people to sing a song. That's the goal. That's what you that's what you want. And so there's nothing wrong with that. And yet the judgments or the opinions and the constant kind of someone's opinion about what you're creating all the time, all the time, and you have access to it all the time, hearing it all the time.
It's very difficult to not slightly pivot and change and see if wait with this any more what you like. And suddenly you're asking everybody, do you like it? Oh, wait, wait, wait.
Oh, wait. You got to say that again. If I do even more, will that be even more of what you like?
Will that be even more of what you like? You stop even asking yourself what what you might like. It's not about what you like. It's do they like it? And it's a tricky balance to actually still be very clear about what you like and who you are and what you think in your opinion, and then being strong enough to if your opinion differs. Here's the part. Oh, yeah.
Your opinion differs from what the large majority of whomever is in your ear or whatever noise is around you. Are you strong enough? To say, I respect what you think, but here's what I love, could you really? It's challenging, was challenging, and a lot of times, a lot of times I did, and a lot of times I didn't, you know, it's really interesting as a creative I so related to.
Your ability to find inspiration in in everything and high art, low art, outsider, art, insider, art, it didn't matter. You found inspiration. And when I read this piece. That said that the betrayal's are small and imperceptible. I thought about the movie Spirited Away and I thought about the concept of death by papercuts. Wow, it's so small and you can't see it, but it's there. Wow. So on creativity, this is what you write that I think is really interesting.
Creativity is inherently messy. It's chaotic and nonlinear. It comes to life in fits and starts disjointed and seemingly random. That chaos for me often begins with a fleeting inspiration, a sudden burst of an idea or sound. The spark may come from a line I read in a novel, a conversation I've overheard, or an abiding sense of calm I felt during a Sunday stroll through Harlem's Mount Morris Park. You. You strike me as someone. Who walks through the world?
With their heart open and their feelers on. Grabbing every bit of magic from life that you can find, and there's also a price you pay when for those of us who do walk through the world with our hearts open and our antennas up and on, it can be overwhelming, right?
Absolutely. So much I. It's so interesting because I've always been so glass half full somehow, and I've always been really grateful about that, I'm proud of being that way and being an optimist. And I think that's also a form of survival that. Deep desire to know that everything's going to be OK and to hold on to that definitely always been an open spirit and an open, empathetic heart. And it's so interesting because when I refer to that first moment when my mother and I were taking a taxi down 11th Avenue and as the first time that I saw these women on the corner and they didn't have any coats on, it was freezing outside.
And I'm asking her, what are they doing there? And she's trying to explain to me and a little kid way, you know, as best she can. And so I remember talking about this idea of powerlessness, this idea of vulnerability and feeling exposed and how scary that felt to me. And yet there's this crazy dichotomy. And so I did put an armor on in order to avoid that. And there's this crazy dichotomy that as a creative person, you you have to have all your senses out and you have to have all of those that openness available to hear and to listen and to have the perspective and to translate it and bring that emotion to it and that truth to it and everything like that.
And so, in a way, I had to as much as I knew how to protect myself, for my spirit in my heart from being powerless and vulnerable. I actually had to learn how to also be in the sense of putting yourself first, in the sense of being able to ask yourself what? Do you get out of this? I remember the first time that I learned how to ask myself, what do you get out of this without feeling badly about it as opposed to how great it was for everybody else and all these other things?
Yeah, to stop and to start to ask myself, what do you get out of this? And then put that question first. I say that to say that this openness is open spirit. You speak of this antenna's out the open heartedness. It's this crazy to me, as you're talking about, is just making me think about the dichotomy that it is this farmer that I put on as a woman, as a human, as a girl, to protect that outside me, a physical me from any confrontations and then the inside of me being more open and creative and in the antennas up and big hearted and then eventually having almost had to learn how to protect that side of me as well.
So the physical part to protect and then in so many ways the emotional or the spirit part or I don't know if so, what is the balance? Almost in a way, you have to you have to protect it and also keep it open, which is a hell of a seesaw.
It is a seesaw. And you you write about paradox a lot in this book. You don't always call it that, but you write a lot about. Straddling the tension and let me tell you, you are let's talk about Egypt, not your precious son, but your trip, right.
So things are out of control for you. You have lost that inner knowing and you say, I'm going away.
And I was stressed out when you were going because I was like, so she's going to go with probably 20 people.
But you did not tell me about it. The walls are crashing down that inner light, which is becoming dimmer and dimmer. I didn't even know who I was looking at in the mirror. I didn't recognize myself. I didn't like how I felt. My dear friend, who also works for me at the time, she I remember her encouraging me to go. And I was like, how could I go? Where where can I go? So I chose to go to Egypt and I also ended up going to Italy, which.
It's interesting because my mother's Italian and then my father is black, and so it was almost in a way a pilgrimage, didn't even realize that I was putting together and taking. And so I completely decided to do this by myself. Everybody was like, are you crazy? You can't go somewhere by yourself. Yes, I can. And I will because I had to. I couldn't navigate anything else. I was literally up to the brim to that point where I couldn't navigate another personality, another opinion, another person, another anything.
I literally just needed to escape to be alone. And so I went there and I went to Egypt and I was on the boat that sailed the Nile for three days and I couldn't believe it. I this is a dream come true to just be in this space. And I wanted to bring my piano and I want to play and I want to write songs. And I wanted to just feel the moment when I bring my piano onto the boat and the whole thing.
And and the minute that I get in my room, I lose my voice. Yeah, I can't speak, I have laryngitis, I never get laryngitis, I never had that a day in my life that that's no accident and that was it.
The universe, the most high, whatever you want to call it, was like, be quiet, say nothing, sing nothing. Do nothing. Listen. And I didn't have a choice, I didn't have a choice but to sit there in my silence and in my solitude and I needed it more than ever, we can get busy doing many things and that's my default even in this time right now, when it's kind of calling on all of us to get more quiet.
Somehow I find myself busier than ever. And so my wait and I doing that thing again, where I'm actually feeling every moment with something to do, am I not creating the space?
I always say that we stay busy enough. So the truth of our lives doesn't catch up with us, you know, still dangerous.
So dangerous. But in that moment in Egypt, there was no nothing I could do. And and that was so crazy.
I want to read what you wrote. Oh, man, this pissed me off and I wrote it because I was like, this is important and I don't know if I'm brave enough to do it. And you wrote, Most of us take about 16 breaths per minute.
That means we typically breathe 960 times an hour or about 23000 times a day. During my two weeks of silence, I had more than 320000 opportunities to breathe my way into a new existence. One exhale at a time.
I let go of the urge to twist myself into a pretzel, stop living up to others expectations. I let go of the belief that if I stepped away, nothing would be there when I returned. And in place of that notion, I inhaled liberation.
I inhale the boundlessness and brilliance that once guided the Egyptians in crafting monuments of greatness.
That's what 14 days of solitude can bring space to breathe, time to reflect, a chance to reimagine what your life can look like.
When freedom tapped me on the shoulder, I answered loud and strong. It was so interesting during that time, too, because, you know, it was a. It was a very interesting time in my business life as well, and I was learning a lot about finances and the amount of people that. Come into your space and have each one has a different commission and each one has a different feel and each one has us, and it's like all these people that are doing something and some of it is quite valuable, but it's all these people.
And I wasn't aware that at that time the structure of a lot of my business was not in the most fair position for me. And so when I also came back from Egypt, I remember seeing the. Structures of those ancient. Architecture and thinking about how I how you can build whatever it is that you. Imagine to build, and I remember that renewing me and in a lot of ways, in many ways of liberation, and then this particular business facet of restructuring and rebuilding the way that all these commissions were handled and all of this ways that an artist can be taken advantage of financially to find themselves in a place where, you know, how many artists do we hear of that are extremely successful and then lose everything?
And you're like, how? It's because you are not personal.
I totally understand how. Yeah.
And if you're not personally clearly managing what is happening and how are you supposed to know, how do you learn these things? And so I remember that being a big part also of that trip, just this idea of how I could in fact build like the pyramids, like the temples, these whatever it was that I wanted to create. And I remember that landed on me in a way that it had never before. And when I went home, I wanted to begin doing that.
So to me, in the hero's journey structure of a story which we all live in, there is an act one, an inciting incident like there's the big thing happens. And to me, that was your fame. Then act to our protagonist tries every way to solve the crisis that does not involve being vulnerable. And then the end of Act two is that big climactic moment where the hero has to get vulnerable.
And so for me, this is where I saw you came home and shit changed.
I mean, it really I remember you went on tour, I think, in Japan. Right. You know, somewhere after that. And you looked at your schedule and you were like, no, I need 15 minutes between each of these interviews. This is how this is going to work. And this is where I came to this is what I told my 20 year old daughter about your book that I thought was. Just profoundly moving that. From the time you were little, and I remember that cab story struck me so much because I thought, what, your mom is amazing because she didn't look at those woman on the corner and say, oh, lock the door, roll up the window.
Those are dangerous sex workers. She said some people have to do really hard things to survive. And it was such an empathetic response. So for me, the story here is she fought you know, Alicia fought all the time to stay true to herself, never sacrificing the things she loved. Then one day she decided what she loved more than anything, including the piano was herself and the day after that. And trouble foot, baby, like everything changed.
I mean, let's talk about let's talk about relationships start to shift for you.
Suess comes into the picture. Man, you tried not to like him for a long time. Sure.
Yes or no? I sure did.
I was like, oh, I know. I had all my judgments and opinions and thoughts and and preconceived notions. And they were all wrong.
And I was fighting with you. I was like, now, this doesn't seem like the right guy for her, you know? And then I was like, then I'm like, oh, no, she needs to be with him. I really like him.
And then you're right. This is so incredible. A soulmate connection.
I'm just smiling because I was like, you're cheering for this relationship. At this point in the book, you're like, no, this has got to work.
A soulmate connection isn't just an awareness. It's a deep sense of knowing a wave of intuition that permeates your every pore, all the cells in your body rise up on their tiptoes. You don't see this feeling coming. You can't prepare for it. You might even try to push it away, as I did, which I thought was the understatement of the book.
But and yet it always surges back each time with greater force sweeping you up. And it's mighty current, thrusting you toward a beautiful shore. Unknown.
Absolutely, man. And so much of what you know, I've even learned about becoming myself and honoring myself has definitely come from the way that he and I balance each other. It's like it's it's truly unreal because you just don't I have not met many people in my life that I relate to so purely and so naturally. I just you know, those relationships don't often go like that. Even relationships with your friends or your parents or now, you know, it's just that, you know, you kind of got to work at it and it's all like crunchy.
And sometimes it's just you don't understand each other and you just have to accept it now. Frustrate him. He and I, we we. We've both come from such similar places and had to experience such similar experiences that we know each other in a very. A very unique way, simply by our experiences, that we have shared similar experience when we were not even with each other. And so that gives us an equal footing that's very different. And then his perspective of life is so much more kind of head in the clouds.
Big, huge dreamer, totally let the magic take you wherever it might blow me a small extra buttoned up and organize.
I need to schedule every moment is scheduled.
And so he was able to give me a glimpse into what it feels like to actually give some space for the unknown, allow there to be the things you didn't plan to be able to come to you and to come come near you. And and that has been a really new experience for me. And so, yes, this relationship that we have is so unique and pure because he's always somewhere up here.
And I'm kind of like, hey, let's come back.
And and then I'm kind of somewhere down here and he's like, hey, let's come, you know? And so we equalize each other in that way. That really is complimentary. And so, yes, that sure of the unknown is exactly where we're floating.
So you get pregnant. And I do have to say one of the moments I'm going to go for them to backtrack a minute. You did get pregnant. One of the things I loved is that the line where was says the Egypt trip was such a defining moment in your life. Wouldn't that be an amazing name?
Yes. I couldn't believe he thought of that. I mean, why didn't I think of that? I have no idea of my trip. But he completely got he just completely got it. He was like before but before he before Egypt arrives.
Here's what you write, the questions you were carrying around. What if I'm not cut out for motherhood? What if I fail at being responsible for a child alive? What if I can't do this? There's probably not a parent on Earth who hasn't asked those questions in some form or another. I had to be so strong outwardly, but inside I felt afraid and emotional. The fear was real and I found so was the whole nesting instinct.
And I love this metaphor so much. I think it's nature's way of prompting a mother to vacuum every corner of her emotional and a spiritual house. Even in the earliest months of pregnancy, I felt a powerful desire to clear my space of all negativity.
Oh my God. You said it's a similar instinct that took you to Egypt. Oh, my gosh, it's so true.
I never it swept over me. I've heard that whole thing about how you the next thing and how you want to clean everything but the cleaning. I didn't realize the cleaning was going to literally be with people that I needed to clean.
Yeah, I truly do. That's hard, right? That is the craziest.
But I was so clear for the first time. I was so clear. I wasn't strong enough to clear them on my own behalf. But I was definitely very clear that on behalf of this little being that didn't know anything about didn't deserve any of the energy that would come from it, it deserved to get cleaned up. And it was a tough time for sure. But I was very, very. Determined and I knew that it was time to create this, remove the stagnant, negative energy that I was kind of just OK with prior to that.
So you're right.
I was like, I could talk to you, like for five hours. Let me just say one thing from like writer to writer. The way you start these chapter openers with quotes and descriptions about you from the people in your life, your mom, Bano, your husband, friends and not.
Fluffy pieces about you, some hard some, I mean, honest, what a really authentic and brave approach to opening up a chapter in a book, but also a talisman, a touchstone for us as the reader about where you were in your life during that chapter.
I thought it was, like, magnificent.
Thank you so much. I knew I wanted to do that from the very beginning. I didn't know how we were going to do it exactly, but I just knew that there had been moments. There had been a few special books that I'd read over my love affair with reading that would either chapter by chapter switch perspective or would even go between two main characters. And each time they spoke, you'd hear their perspective and then the other chapter you'd hear the next person.
And there was something about that shift of perspective that I feel really allows people to see a more full picture of what you're talking about. Because honestly, I have to say that that was the part that was really unique, was what I remembered and then what other people remembered it was. And it was always more augmented. What they remembered augmented my own memory. And I'm very proud of that piece, an element of the book as well. It really does give you an insight that I couldn't have done just by myself.
I loved it so much, you know. So I want to ask you this question because I want to be aware time and again, I really could talk to you for, like, four days. I'm such a huge fan.
I remember the first time I heard falling. I was like, I've heard that song my whole life and I've never heard it before. And that song has to be from the 30s and that songs from the future. What is happening?
Who is this person? It was that old and soulful and then new and different. It was so many things in one thing, which is kind of is you. Right?
Thank you. I yes, it is all wrapped up in the mixture and the amalgamation of every single part of it all. I love that song is such a triumph because it was truly never really supposed to work, not in the way that the world goes with commercialism and consumerism. But who knows?
The magic of it is so incredible that when people were able to be exposed to it and to the mixture of it all and and the old and the present and the future and all of it, it just it connected.
And so you just never know what's going to happen. You think you know and other people definitely think they know. And you can do analytics and surveys and all types of things all day long, but you just don't know, OK, you just keep singing the truth and we'll follow you wherever you go.
That's my Alicia Keys motto there. Right? OK, all right. OK, let's see in it.
You were worried. About empire in other countries and whether the music would translate, did it translate? Oh my gosh, that song Empire was a monster. It was literally a colossal monster. And the thing was, I think both Jay and I were uncertain as to how the world would respond to a song that was so clearly about New York. And, you know, even he was like, does this seem like it's to New York? And I was like, yeah, it's very New York.
But and so, yes, we did have a feeling wondering how that would translate across the world. And I'll tell you what, every place around the world, and we know this now, but at that time, how were we, any of us to know that this record would connect? But no matter where I was, Paris or Germany or Japan or places that absolutely one million percent don't speak English as the first language, it's the second language or whatever it might be, that resiliency of hope and dreams and the possibility that one day you might get a little closer to those dreams that you have and you can make it embodied in the spirit of New York.
Man, there was not a soul that didn't understand the message. It was really an incredible moment in my life to experience and witness what hope means for people and how much we had. And we need hope. Fifth generation Texan.
I heard that song the first time. I'm like, I am a New Yorker on the inside. I am a New Yorker on the inside.
I think that's how everyone felt. I ask you this question.
I've got two more questions for you. You write the image on the cover of Songs in a Minor captures my essence. I'm rocking a green, wide brimmed hat. Hats are my thing. They just work for me.
My head is cocked to one side, rows of big beads adorning my long braids, hands on my hips, a black leather coat and green striped cropped blouse. Is that girl, that woman that's on the cover of songs in a minor? Is that is that still your essence?
Oh, yeah, that's me. All the that mixture, that tomboy mixed with the toughness, the softness that we're on is one million percent. My essence.
I'm going to say two more things. One, again, more myself. We didn't even scratch the surface of this amazing book. Just your career, the music, the time at the piano, your family. Oh, God. When your grandmother died, I couldn't take it. I just really I just couldn't do it. I had to walk away from it for, like a long time and come back.
Wow. You're you're stepping into your power as a businesswoman. It's all here. So I want to close with this. Alicia, the album is a musical exploration of my identity, both my own and ours collectively. For so long, I've been cautious about showing all of who I am. I've been much more likely to reveal the Zen calm, rational iesha than to ever show the crazy freaked out, seeing red yelling and screaming Aleesha, the one who doesn't have it all together.
I am strong and fierce and brave, no doubt. Yet I am also someone who's found myself on the bathroom floor boohooing and feeling vulnerable. I am also the woman who doesn't always know how to rise to my feet and take the next step. This album, this life is about accepting all of those parts of myself, those dichotomies. Yes. Oh, my gosh. And yes, the next body of music that is called the is definitely a beautiful companion to this book myself.
It's like almost like more myself has brought us up to date to where we all are currently right now and where I am right now. And then, Aleesha, the music is going to take us to the next place. And it's true. It is thought of who are we and what makes you who you are and not just what you've been told or what you maybe have been shown. So you assume that's what you're supposed to emulate. But the truth is inside of you.
And how do you find that? How do you know that is true for you? Even if nobody said that it's the truth and that's a part of that inner listening that definitely says. This rings true to me, this feels good to me and I really have been working very, very hard and I want to continue to practice to pay attention to that little small, tiny voice and therefore stepping into more, more and more and more of the fullness that's up in there and on all sides, too, because, you know, I don't want to just be the Zen one, although I'm happy that I can default to that.
There's a reason why that you'll probably discover in the book when you read it. But I want to know more. I want to know more. And I'm excited that you have been able to chat with me during this time, I love the way that you've internalized this and how you shared it back with me. I'm almost in all of it. I was supposed to answer, you're supposed to leave me and I was supposed to take you deeper. And I was kind of stuck just thinking and listening to even the way that it's touched on you and how your experience has been similar to this.
And I and I really believe that that's people are going to feel that in many ways. I keep saying I think we're going to be like best friends. I feel like I'm going to be more close with more people than I've ever been able to be before because I was in.
I wasn't ready and I'm definitely ready now, I'm ready for the small voice that leads to your big voice, that leads to my speakers in my ear. I've got a fast ten round of questions. Are you ready to do a song, man with many fastpass.
Here we go. You ready? OK, ready.
Fill in the blank. Vulnerability is the best.
You, Aleesha, are called to be brave, but your fear is real and you can feel it right in your throat. What's the first thing you do if you have to do something brave? Deep, deep breath, 10 in, 10 out, something that people often get wrong about you, oh, that you know that I have it all together.
The last show that you watched and binged on TV and really liked it as a hard one.
That's that's that's been a long time and might have been empire.
I mean, how long is that still a good one? Favorite movie. Something that you would never turn past if it was on.
Oh, my all time favorite is beaches. Oh, God, that's a killer.
And a concert that you'll never forget. The one when I missed seeing Shardey, and then she hasn't been on tour ever again and I'm kicking myself, I may have missed that one and one that I won that I actually. Yeah, that's the one.
That's a hard way to not forget.
One favorite meal, bread, anything with bread. What's on your nightstand right now that I'm reading?
A letter. Letters to a young poet. Mm hmm. OK, give me a snapshot of a very ordinary moment in your life, just a single moment that brings you joy. Like the time when Genesis and Egypt, they just hear some type of music and they both do this silly thing with their butts and they like kind of, you know, they do it like it's silly, but dance and and then and then the little one is just trying to copy the big one.
And they both, like, look partially ridiculous and just absolutely adorable. And I just want to eat them alive.
Perfect. OK, last one. What are you deeply grateful for right now?
I am deeply, deeply grateful for your health right now and really, really grateful for the staying stillness to really. It's to really be close, and even though we're all feeling quite far because we physically have to be far, I feel grateful for being more emotionally and spiritually close, and I feel grateful for that.
I'm going to close my conversation with Alicia Keys with a quote from her new book, and it's a quote that I'm cutting out and hanging in my study along with I think in my hang you, I'm hanging right next to Oprah and I quote wall.
Let's go. And here's what it says. And I think it's a quote for all of us right now in the midst of this pandemic. Again, from Alicia's new book, Nothing but uncertainty is certain. Circumstances come together only to fall apart moments or months later. And then in a flash, we must rise up and regain our footing in the rearview mirror. And I see so clearly what escaped me then. It's not that the ground underneath me was suddenly shifting is that the ground underneath us is never still.
That's part of the work of my journey, getting comfortable with life's groundless ness. I mean, we are experiencing a collective experience of life's grand lessness right now. And I'm so grateful for more myself. A journal by Alicia. I'm grateful for your book and I'm so grateful for your music right now. You know what else? And we didn't talk about this, your activism, your knob's activism. It's all in the book. Thank you for spending this time with us.
You're just a gift.
You are a gift. Thank you for your time. So happy that we could connect truly. And I'm really glad we could spend some time together because I admire you deeply. So it's so good to see you and thank you for having me and for helping to lift this up and all the message and light. Talk to you soon, you go on to my quote, board girl right now. Oh, yeah. Thank you, Alicia.