This is a pretty impressive record given Keys’ age, especially when she first started writing it, and her inexperience in the industry. It’s flawed, for sure, but I think it’s important to keep in mind how damn young she was.
The songs are, for the most part, pretty decent, especially given her inexperience. She had some help, but not as much as I would have thought. And, honestly, from memory I’m not sure the ones she cowrote are so clearly superior to the ones she wrote. Though I think there’s basically nothing else as good as “Fallin'” on this record, the material is better than expected. Yes, there’s too much of it, but that’s another story.
Some people are critical of her lyrics. She was just turned 20 when this was released. Personally, I have pretty low expectations of teenage lyricists. (You should see the shit I was writing at that age!) I’m impressed they’re not terrible.
It’s a neo soul record with a substantial hip hop influence in the production. I was just listening to the excellent Hit Parade episode about rapping and singing becoming one and I was surprise, listening to this, that Molanphy didn’t mention Keys much. Sure, she sings almost exclusively on this record but not entirely. There are a couple of moments where she approaches rap. Anyway…
Her voice is better than I remembered it being, it’s amazing. And, as others have noted, she knows how to use it. She doesn’t always belt and she’s willing to do different things. She’s pretty mature as a singer even at this young age.
A lot is made about the piano playing. At his remove it feels a little gimmicky, not in her playing piano but in the marketing of that piano playing. I’m always happy to listen to singers who also play instruments well, but R&B is definitely a space where there’s less of her. Good on her that she plays but, to me, the importance of the piano playing is more in the sound: it’s 2001 and the piano – the honest to goodness piano, not some keyboard trying to sound like a piano – was not a very common focal instrument in ’90s R&B. So that’s it’s value here for me, it stands out much like India.Arie’s acoustic guitar playing around the same time.
The album is too damn long. There is not enough material to support the length, though that is true of basically every R&B album of this era. And it could be quirkier. But still, this album was written and created by a teenager. I’m impressed.