Alicia Keys has been laying down tracks for the follow-up to 2001's multi-platinum Songs in A Minor. She wrote most of the album, due in November, on her recent European tour. "I would be down in my little bus," she says, "banging out beats, putting down thoughts on things that happened on the road."
And many of those beats and thoughts were inspired by Keys' international surroundings, including exposure to African singer Oumou Sungare and the traditional flamenco singers she saw in Madrid. "It's like hip-hop freestyle, real raw," she says. "Everybody's in a room, and they're banging on a guitar for a beat. And people just speak about the pain they feel in their life. I was really touched."
The five-time Grammy winner's album will also feature familiar sounds. "Some of the tracks are me on piano," she says, "where I belong."
Among the new songs are "Dragon Days" and "Nobody Not Really," inspired by a boy who sold Keys candy in an airport. "I just got off a plane and gave him the five dollars and went about my business," she explains. "Then I said, 'Wait. What's this for?' And he said, 'A community center. We're trying to do a music program and raise money.' So this song is about how nobody really cares about those simple little things that can make such a big difference, and how I realize I can slip into that thought process too."