Alicia Keys is promoting her memoir, More Myself, and made a guest appearance on Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Broken Record this week.
The singer spoke about the early phases of her career and remembered a “bananas” story about Prince.
Keys needed legal permission from the late singer to sample his song “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore” for her debut album, Songs in A Minor. “Other people could call [him], but it would likely not go well,” she said. “And I think that they understood that if I called, maybe it made it a little harder for him to say no.”
At this point in her career, Keys was only about 18 or 19 years old and only had her debut single, “Fallin'” under her belt. She spoke about how nervous she was speaking to Prince considering his reputation for denying covers. “I hadn’t spoken to people that I adored like him ever before that phone call,” she said. “That was not a normal occurrence — even today if he were still alive, and I was calling him, I would still feel nervous about calling him.”
Her anxiety was building up as she was on hold waiting for Prince to come on the phone and the conversation went well and ended with an invitation to Paisley Park. I start talking to him, and he was super friendly and encouraging, saying he heard what I’d been working on and that he knows I’m writing and producing my stuff. He said to keep that up. I asked if I could play [the song] on the album, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come to Paisley Park and play it for me?’”
Alicia Keys then traveled to Minnesota in the Winter and basically auditioned for him. He must’ve liked what he saw because he went on to mentor the singer and built a friendship.
“He was definitely observing what I was doing, and he was so veraciously a music lover and really excited about new music, all the time,” she says. “I never met anybody like that, who just knew the pulse of new music so well. That was him.”