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Five on it: Alicia Keys is an undersung legend

With her new album out today, our music editor is reminiscing about how great Alicia Keys is. Plus Five on it, with excellent new music from Flohio, Simi, Lex Amor, Rachel Chinouriri and Sola.

18 Sep 2020

I once saw Alicia Keys live at the Three Arena in Dublin – I was at uni, it was the day I finished exams in second year. Dazed from a highly-caffeinated morning of speedily writing essays, in the afternoon I interviewed a then-rising artist called Miguel for my uni mag (yes, Covid now has me using Five on it to namedrop, that’s where we’re at). He was appalled I didn’t have tickets for his show that night – supporting a certain girl who was on fire – so he put me and a mate on the list.

It was, by all accounts, a magic show. My favourite part was when Alicia acted out the waitress phonecall speech from ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ (“you always order the special, with the hot chocolate”) and it was so softly sweet and endearing. But then she also had the glam moments; all sparkly outfits and banging pop (I vaguely remember a sea of phone lights for ‘Empire State of Mind’).

I always remember a family wedding where ‘If I Ain’t Got You’ was the first song – I was a kid, but it was impossibly romantic to me. There’s such power in the intimacy she details – in her vocals, her piano playing and her lyrics.

All of this is to say, Alicia Keys is an undersung legend of the game – someone with consistent greatness who I don’t think gets shouted out enough. Her new album Alicia is out today, and it’s a reminder of how much she holds her own in both the classic but also the contemporary, spanning genres and moods. The features are golden (Jill Scott! Sampha! Tierra Whack! My old friend, Miguel), and her capacity to create genuinely moving moments in her music remains.

Anyway, you should listen to that. And then you should listen to this week’s Five on it:

Flohio – ‘Unveiled’

It is baffling to me that Flohio isn’t one of the biggest rappers in the UK – the energy she brings is unmatched. The SE16 MC’s new track ‘Unveiled’ dropped on her birthday this week and, along with the intense video and the metallic crunch of the beat, it’s a thrilling taste of what’s to come on her mixtape in November.

Sola – ‘White Space’

That voice! South London singer and producer Sola sings rich and deep and beautiful over slinky, beguiling production. Out on Jamz Supernova’s Future Bounce label, this is a gorgeous embracing of Nollywood chaos.

Rachel Chinouriri – ‘Give Me A Reason’

There’s something very epic and cinematic about the latest track from one of our faves, Rachel Chinouriri – but the impact of the music is married perfectly with the delicate softness of her vocals as she considers the breakdown of a relationship. There’s a real vulnerability and power to this one.

Simi – ‘No Longer Beneficial’

Twinkly, silken instrumentals and a sweet as sugar voice, plus excellent lyrics like “friend with benefit, no longer beneficial” – there’s a lot to love here. Ahead of the Nigerian artist’s EP next month, get a taste of the sizzling Afropop melting pot.

Lex Amor – Government Tropicana

The self-described “story of first-generation working-class London”, this project from the rapper, producer and DJ offers a vast, fascinating, quite beautiful sonic palette. Entrancing beats, quietly beguiling vocal delivery and a soft-focus warmth to it all, you get the mixed sense of jadedness and hope that often comes with living in a city like London. 

You can follow the Five on it playlist on Spotify: