Alicia's Keys to Hit Records: Authenticity and Range

That is the true core of her appeal. Think back to "A Woman's Worth" from "Songs in A Minor," and you'll find embedded in the respect-driven anthem concepts of "realness." ("A real man knows a real woman always comes first, and a real man just can't deny a woman's worth.")

When she says this, it is achingly authentic partly because of her image. There is an organic quality to her music. The instruments are real. The production doesn't feel like it was overtweaked by a computer. It feels honest even when she's working with drum loops. Not only does this probably help her sell well, but it earns her a great deal of respect.

In 2005, Keys released her "Unplugged" record chronicling her appearance on the legendary on-again/off-again MTV series. She works in the old Motown mold of actually being backed by a tight band. Lauryn Hill did the same thing a few years ago, and one can imagine Wyclef Jean or Badu on the show, but Keys's piano prodigy status and soulful voice are suited for the a live venue.

That album became Keys' third No. 1 record in a row. In addition, it added another interesting cover to her repertoire, with the inclusion of her take on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," which she turned into a duet with Maroon 5's Adam Levine.

If It Ain't Broke …

So, given the fact that her first three releases all landed at No. 1, stakes are high for "As I Am" to do well, too. A look at the title and one can tell that there hasn't been any major gearshift imagewise. Why mess with something that isn't broken?

As an album, it's got a lot of the same elements present on the other records: the raging, hard-edged anthem of a woman done wrong on "Go Ahead"; the uplifting ballad of feminine pride on the Linda Perry collaboration "Superwoman"; the earthy intimate moments of "Lesson Learned" featuring John Mayer; and a nice helping of smooth-loving R&B track turned big-time belter ("The Thing About Love.")

"As I Am" will likely add more hits to Keys' growing canon. I can imagine the closing ballad, "Sure Looks Good to Me," turning out to be the album's high watermark.

Only time will tell if "As I Am" repeats the success of its predecessors, but one thing seems certain — Keys is here to stay, building a legend based on honest talent and hard work.

She's successful because she's able to get fans from a very wide pool. She appeals to casual pop fans just as much as she appeals to hard-core R&B enthusiasts. Radio is completely behind her, something that might help to also explain her steady sales flow, and set her apart from her dwindling peers like Jones.

Twenty years from now Keys' records will be respected classics.

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