Alicia Keys Has Had Quite The Transformation

In 2004, eight-time Grammy Award winner Usher Raymond IV, simply known by his stage name "Usher," landed his fourth No. 1 single of the year when he and Alicia Keys collaborated on the track "My Boo." The song, he said in a chat with "CD:UK," came about because he and Keys had a good rapport. "Great chemistry is what it's ultimately all about," Usher remarked. "I respect Alicia as an artist ... and have been following her career. And every so often ... there are those artists that come together and just have great chemistry."

In February 2024, nearly two decades after "My Boo" hit the airwaves, the song was in the spotlight again for a different reason. At the Super Bowl LVIII halftime show, Usher and Keys performed "My Boo," much to the excitement of its fans, but it was the finish — a warm hug from the back to Keys who had a wide smile and closed eyes — that sent the internet ablaze. Although the public called out Keys for being too cozy for someone who is hitched, her spouse, Swizz Beatz, brushed off the sentiments in an Instagram post.

Despite the controversy, Keys has undoubtedly proven to be an all-round musician and performer who makes timeless music. From living in a rough neighborhood to conquering America's largest stage, here's how she has transformed through the years.

Alicia Keys was raised in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan

Alicia Keys grew up in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan. Born Alicia Augello-Cook, her flight attendant father, Craig Cook, was not in the picture. The pair eventually reconnected to amend their father-daughter relationship when the singer got older. Keys' mother, Terria Joseph, was a dancer-turned-Broadway actor. "I wanted to be on Broadway, of course. That's everybody's aspiration," Joseph revealed on "Noted: Alicia Keys The Untold Stories." Joseph couldn't make ends meet, so she found work as a paralegal. Money was still tight, but she made sure Keys took piano classes on a run-down vertical piano that was a gift from a friend. Keys was only 7 when she started. By the time she was in her early teens, she was able to compose original songs.

Keys' Hell's Kitchen childhood was a paradox. On one end, she was surrounded by rhythm. "You could go down any block and any street, there was nowhere that you didn't feel music," she shared on "Noted: Alicia Keys Untold Stories." On the opposite end, Keys' neighborhood was crime-ridden. "When I lived there it was how it sounds," she told CBS News. "There was a lot of desolation. There was a lot of, you know, drug addiction. There was a lot of prostitution."

She first crossed paths with Swizz Beatz in her teens

When Alicia Keys was 14 years old, she met Kasseem Daoud Dean, known by his stage name Swizz Beatz, through a mutual pal. At the time, a young Beatz was introduced to her as a deejay. Keys' relationship with Swizz Beatz started off rocky, as she was not warm toward her future husband. "I thought she was gonna fight me. She had on a purple Columbia jacket and some Timbs," Beatz said of that particular day on an episode of "Noted: Alicia Keys The Untold Stories," adding that Keys declined to give him her phone number.

Afterward, Keys and Beatz both got into the mainstream entertainment scene and would run into each other, but the former stayed in her lane. "He'd usually pull up in some fancy car, rolling deep with his Bronx crew and shining with diamonds. I wanted nothing to do with that scene or with Swizz," Keys wrote in her March 2020 memoir, "More Myself," per People.

The singer's recording deal with Columbia Records crumbled

Alicia Keys attended the Professional Performing Arts School, where she was the valedictorian of her class. She then got into Columbia University, attending for only a month before she dropped out. Keys left because she landed a recording deal with Columbia Records. Although it seemed like she'd hit the jackpot, the reality — at least from a creative perspective — was not as rosy.

"I get with these different people that have hits. So I'm working with them, and them being not receptive to the fact that I play," Keys recounted in a 2002 interview with The New York Times. "I'm working for like five, six, seven months, and I'm starting to become more and more depressed and frustrated and upset because I'm getting calls like, 'Well, do you have anything?' No, I don't."

Keys resorted to working on her own. Having left her mother's place at the time, she created a studio set-up in the bedroom of her apartment, but had to leave when her neighbors couldn't stand how loud she was. She had a brief stint in New Jersey before settling in Queens. Her basement became the home of KrucialKeys Studios, from which Keys composed songs that would feature in her debut album. All this while, she was still under Columbia. When she finally gave the record label a demo, it was disapproved. Her contract was ultimately cut short.

She released her first hit single, Fallin'

After her deal with Columbia Records came to an abrupt end in 1998, Alicia Keys moved to Arista Records. When Arista lead Clive Davis left the label under duress in 2000, per The New York Times, he began J Records and brought Keys on board. Through the record label, Keys released her first single, "Fallin'," off of her debut studio album, "Songs in A Minor."

The track marked Keys' debut on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2001, but surprisingly, she was the only one who believed in it. "Everybody told me that, that song wouldn't work," Keys recalled in a 2019 chat with Billboard. "Everybody told me that it would never happen. It didn't fit into any genre. It didn't fit into any stations. It was too slow for some stations. It was too, you know, soulful for other stations."

The fact that the song stood out, Keys said, was its selling point. Its success represented the true essence of art: originality. "It really signified that you can be who you are, that I can be who I am. I don't have to follow anybody else to get to where I hope to go ... You can just be you," she remarked.

She scooped five awards at her first Grammys

Alicia Keys was only 21 when she made her debut at the Grammys. That night, the singer was the biggest winner with a record five trophies; Best R&B Album for "Songs in A Minor," Best R&B Song for "Fallin'," Best R&B Vocalist, Best New Artist, and Song Of The Year for "Fallin'." In her acceptance speech for the Song of the Year award, her most-hyped win, Keys said, "You don't know how much this humbles me. To a dream — To sticking to your dreams no matter what. Please believe in yourself ... Thank you for loving this song as much as I love it."

Unknown to the public at the time, Keys was unwell, as she later revealed in her chat with Billboard. However, the star-studded event was surreal since she was in the presence of musicians whose songs she knew but who she wasn't personally acquainted with. "I was literally in outer space," the "No One" singer recalled. "Who are all these people? Why do I know them, but I don't know them?"

 It's been years since Keys' first victories at the Grammys. As of this writing, she has 11 more Grammys under her belt and hosted the event twice.

Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz had a private wedding

Although she was cold toward Swizz Beatz when they first met in the '90s, Alicia Keys warmed up to the music producer when they collaborated on a project and she saw how he worked. Beatz, she said in her memoir "More Myself," was more down to earth than she'd initially thought, and kept up to date with current affairs. 

He, however, nearly missed his chance of getting with Keys when he turned up late to their first date. "I finally agreed to have lunch. I made a reservation for noon at an outdoor restaurant in downtown Manhattan. I arrived at 12 on the dot. Swizz was nowhere in sight," Keys wrote. "He finally came strutting in at 12:20. As much as I wanted to stay mad at Swizz, he lifted the mood with a steady stream of humor and fascinating conversation."

As it turned out, Beatz was late because he'd been perfecting his first gift for Keys: a painting. The couple went on to walk down the aisle in a low-key July 2010 wedding officiated by multiple-time author and friend of the couple, Deepak Chopra, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea (via CBS). Beatz couldn't contain his excitement, as he made a post on X (formerly Twitter) the following day that read, "It's a brand new day :) I feel like Nas and Diddy song :) love y'all and blessing!"

They welcomed their son, Egypt Dean

When word about Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz's engagement got around in May 2010,  it was also reported that the couple had a bun in the oven. Two months after their July 2010 nuptials, they welcomed their first child together, Egypt Dean. Egypt grew up to have a musical ear, just like his talented parents. At the age of 5, he produced the Kendrick Lamar song "Untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016" on the rapper's 2016 album, "Untitled Unmastered." "As parents of creative children, this is an amazing day in music," Keys and Beatz said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly back then. "We have always encouraged Egypt to create the music he feels, and as much as he has fun with it, he works very hard and is always practicing."

At the 2019 iHeart Music Awards, Egypt joined Keys on stage to perform a duet of her song, "Raise A Man." His musical prowess, as it turns out, has an entrepreneurial flair to it. When he performed in front of a large crowd at Keys' June 2022 concert in Mannheim, Germany, he got paid, as Beatz revealed on "The Jennifer Hudson Show."

Egypt's brother, Genesis Ali Dean, whose birth was announced in a since-deleted December 2014 Instagram post by Keys, is equally on a fast track to joining the family business. In an interview with "Today," Keys revealed that Genesis was fascinated by stage performance and wanted to be included.

She ditched makeup

In August 2016, Alicia Keys showed up to the MTV VMAs without an ounce of makeup. Alicia's bare-faced look became a movement, owing to the singer's large platform. In an essay for Lenny Letter, Keys made the revelation that, before going makeup-free, she was clouded by self-doubt. "Every time I left the house, I would be worried if I didn't put on makeup: What if someone wanted a picture?? What if they POSTED it???" She wrote. "These were the insecure, superficial, but honest thoughts I was thinking. And all of it, one way or another, was based too much on what other people thought of me."

As a result, she began an introspective journey which ultimately led to her decision. Her turning point, she shared, came at a photoshoot she had right after a gym session. Being pictured while fresh-faced — and eventually using those pictures as artwork for her single, "Common" — permitted her to tap into a more deep-rooted strength. "I hope to God it's a revolution," Keys concluded. "'Cause I don't want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing."

The songstress endorsed Mashonda Tifrere's book on co-parenting

Although Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz have created a beautiful family, it's not without its fair share of controversies. The couple got together after Swizz Beatz had an acrimonious divorce from singer Mashonda Tifrere. Beatz and Tifrere had to settle their differences for the sake of their son, Kasseem Jr. "He [Kasseem Jr.] wanted to know why I couldn't go see him at his dad's, and why can't his dad come over and see his bedroom at our house. It was really a wakeup call," Tifrere said when the trio had a joint interview with ABC News, adding, "Even if we don't want to for ourselves right now, we have to do it for him."

Tifrere penned the book "Blend: The Secret to Co-parenting and Creating a Balanced Family," which hit the shelves in 2018. The book's foreword was written by Keys. Speaking to Blended and Black, Tifrere disclosed that she fostered a secure relationship with Kasseem Jr. that allowed him to share his experience at Beatz and Keys' house whenever they spent time together. Beatz also co-parents with Nicole Levy, with whom he had a son, Prince Nasir Dean in 2000, and singer Jahna Sebastian, the mother of his only daughter, Nicole Dean.

She released a memoir

Alicia Keys released a memoir named "More Myself" in March 2020. During an interview with "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," Keys said she preferred to call the body of work a "journey," and not an autobiography as some may perceive. She explained how the book came about, saying, "I've been on a journey to discover more of who I am and how to be more authentically who I am without, kind of, worrying about what other people think or changing because other people might like it better."

The making of the book was a combined effort between Keys' recollection of events and consultation with people with whom she shared memories. In it, she covered a wide range of topics, such as how she set limits when it came to her career after a trip to Egypt. Although that process began with a declaration that she'd have two weeks of solitude before and after each tour, standing her ground took a lot of practice. "It's tough to consistently begin holding your boundaries, but it gets easier the more you do it," Keys wrote. "You start to realize that the earth doesn't fall off its axis because you turned down a speaking engagement or even a movie role."

On the idea of abundance, Keys recalled how her poverty-stricken past had led her to be overly frugal, and it took a shopping spree for her to turn her thinking to one of affluence.

She was named the No. 1 female R&B singer of the millennium

Alicia Keys was named the highest-selling female R&B artist of the millennium in August 2020, with 20 million album units sold and 27.5 million sales digitally. Keys wasn't aware of the accolade and was busy doing dishes when Swizz Beatz delivered the news. Beatz captured the moment, and afterward, Keys posted it to Instagram with a caption that read in part," He thinks I'm too humble but that's just me. I'm grateful. I'm honored that you chose to connect with me and show me so much love!! Wow!! The most certified female R&B artist of the millennium????? I had to re-look up the word millennium!!!"

Since the success of her debut album, Keys has released several chart-toppers. Keys' third studio record, "As I Am," was also a hit after selling 742,000 copies and dethroning Norah Jones' "Feels Like Home" in 2007, as Billboard reported. Similarly, her fourth studio release, "The Element of Freedom," came second to Susan Boyle's "I Dreamed a Dream" on the Billboard 200 Chart, having boasted 417,000 copies in sales. In 2012, "Girl on Fire" topped the Billboard 200 Chart with 159,000 copies sold, per Nielsen Sound Scan (via Billboard). 

Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz bought the Razor House

Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz parted with a reported $20.8 million to purchase the "Razor House" — a three-story Los Angeles residence overlooking the ocean — in September 2019. According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, the palatial home is the brainchild of architect Wallace E. Cunningham and was tailored to suit the area's topography, and it inspired Tony Stark's house in "Iron Man." It features four bedrooms, a two-bedroom guest house, two kitchens, and an auditorium, amongst other luxurious additions.

In an Architectural Digest tour, Keys revealed that despite the spaciousness that comes with their home — all of which is fully utilized — their disk-like living room provides the most fulfillment. "There is something about the circle that feels so good, especially with the view and the water which feels so calming and peaceful," the "Empire State of Mind" singer said. "This is the perfect way to welcome people in." The house's furnishing, Beatz added, was intended to be mellow and represent the countries they have visited.

Alicia Keys launched a beauty and skincare line

In September 2020, Alicia Keys launched Keys Soulcare, a skincare and beauty line that aligned with her no-makeup movement. "My Fam!! I've been dying to share something really special with you," Keys partly wrote in an Instagram post. "Something that will bring us closer to ourselves, our radiance, our confidence, and each other. A place where we can have real conversations about who we are and who we want to be."

Nearly a year later, Keys shared her Sunday skincare routine featuring Keys Soulcare products like a golden cleanser, an exfoliator, and a harmony mask. Keys revealed that she'd had a tough time taking care of her skin through the years, and it often showed when she was under duress. Hollywood beauty standards, she said, hadn't made her journey easier.

Despite asserting her belief in being makeup-free, Keys added a string of makeup products to her catalog in May 2022. Per People, the range included lip balm, cheek tint, and brow gel. Once again, the internet was up in arms, claiming that Keys had stabbed her own initiative in the back.

Alicia Keys and Swizz beats showcased their art collection

On the day he was late to his first date with Alicia Keys, the painting Swizz Beatz gifted Keys was of a piano that had brushes sticking to the keys. As Keys detailed in her memoir, Beatz interpreted the artwork to be a portrayal of their relationship. Beatz has a love for artistic displays that has grown every year since he bought his first significant piece when he was 18 years old. Both the couple's home and Beatz's studio house several masterpieces.

In 2015, Beatz partnered with Bacardi to display "The Dean Collection" at a three-day show in Miami dubbed "No Commissions," and following its positive reception, had exhibitions in London, Shanghai, and New York. As of February 2024, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz's private art collection is on showcase at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition goes by the name "Giants" and features over 100 works by artists with whom the duo is acquainted.

"We collect from our heart. It's not transactional for us," Beatz said in a joint Interview with "Today." "All of the artists ... in the show are actually friends. They come to our house, some stay at our house."