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On November 4, Alicia Keys released her latest and anticipated album, Here. Recently, Keys has been surprising people all around the world with recent changes to her image. She has been spotted on television and in public with a bare, make-up less face and natural hair. Her image on her new album does no different. It portrays a raw and real Alicia Keys that the world has not yet been exposed to. Her songs lean away from our generation’s popular mantra of “Cars, money, clothes” and toward, to quote the album, “Poetry from the street.”

The album is a love letter to strong black women, unconventional families, and anyone who has ever struggled across America, or even further to the edges of the world. In a time where race still causes bias and differing opinions, Alicia Keys sings to the unity and empowerment of the oppressed. The title, Here, seems to refer to being present in one’s own life, fighting the odds, fighting oppression and becoming empowered in one’s struggle instead of being crippled by it.

One of the first songs on the album, “Kill Your Mama,” reaches out to a mother who is struggling to provide for her family. The lyrics say, “Is there any saving us? We’ve become so dangerous. Is there any change in us, even for the sake of love? How you gonna kill your mama, when only Mama’s gonna love you to the grave.” The song discusses the respect for your mother and the sacrifices she must make for her children and family. It reminds one to treat one’s mother well, because no one will treat you as well or love you more than your own mother. Being thankful for what you have is a common theme all throughout the album as well.

The next songs, “Blended Family (What You Do For Love)” and “Work On It,” bring a sense of family into the album. “Blended Family” talks of love between step parents and children. It goes into the love that they can feel for one another that will go beyond simply being married to the child’s parent, but the relationship that a step-parent can take to become a valid parent to the child. The loving lyrics read, “Hey, I might not really be your mother, that don’t mean I don’t really love you. Even though I married your father, it’s not the only reason I’m here for you. I think you’re beautiful, I think you’re perfect. I know how hard it gets, but I swear it’s worth it.” This sense of unity provides a break from the previous tracks that highlight struggle and hardship. Keys goes into the love that family can bring, despite the lack of blood relation.

The entire album contains an underlying tone of self-love and embracing one’s own life. In that fashion, one of the many interludes entitled, “Coca Butter,” brings comedy to the album by revealing a group of men discussing stretch marks on women. Although some men don’t think that the marks are attractive, one man stubbornly claims that there are always things that people are insecure about. He claims, “Stretch marks are her beauty scars.” Keys’ message of self-love extends to men as well through this interlude. It is as if she is saying to her audience that if one looks, one will find men who thinks of her flaws as “beauty scars,” instead of fixable problems.

Continuing with a more upbeat attitude, the next song delivers a tropical sound as Keys discuses when a girl can’t be herself anymore in “Girl Can’t Be Herself.” The song preaches self-love of natural beauty and choosing not to wear make-up. A lot of Keys’ recent behavior and the changes in her image from diva to natural beauty are answered in this song. She even tells women in this song that their true self may not be covered in make-up, but whoever their true self is, to be that person.

Overall, the album stretches from self-love in the struggles of life, to the beauty of love in family and when one looks in the mirror. She discusses the blended family, same-sex relationships, and the expectations of the oppressed all through a lens of learning to appreciate the life one leads. Keys delivers all her songs with the strong, silky voice we all know and love. She reintroduces real instruments to a generation whose music is mostly created solely on computers and technology. She is an empowering force in every song, encouraging everyone to be who they are and love their life. The uplifting message is an important lesson everyone could use a refresher in, especially when hate is so common.

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