As I Am

You have to admire Alicia Keys' commitment to her street-nice vision. In the year Ciara grew up, Rihanna left the islands and Jill Scott explored the joy of sex, the twenty-six-year-old's third studio album envisions a hip-hop generation ready for its own Roberta Flack. Despite substantial input from Kerry "Krucial" Brothers, the rapper boyfriend Keys says she made wait a year to get down, the prevailing mood is reflectively soulful and the prevailing tempo mid. The pair's collaborations peak with two power ballads anchored by heavy keyboard hooks: the watch-your-step "Go Ahead" and the unconditional "No One." And while proven hitmakers Linda Perry and John Mayer add little, Plantlife's relatively obscure Jack Splash chips in on the album's two liveliest, loveliest tracks: "Teenage Love Affair," in which a street-nice girl stops at "third base," and "Wreckless Love," which goes "crazy" without specifying a single body part.

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