Alicia Keys says music saved her from a life of prostitution and drug addiction

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Photo credit: Frazer Harrison - Getty Images
Photo credit: Frazer Harrison - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

Alicia Keys has spoken candidly about her career and childhood in a new interview with The Guardian.

The 15-time Grammy Award winner, who has just released her seventh album, Alicia, revealed that her glittering career is not what she expected for herself growing up in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen during the 1980s.

Photo credit: LEE CELANO - Getty Images
Photo credit: LEE CELANO - Getty Images

“I am that person [the underdog]” she said. “The one that wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hell's Kitchen, who was supposed to end up being a prostitute, a young mother at 16 years old, or addicted to drugs.

“I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got injured or killed.”

Reflecting on her 2010 mega-hit, Empire State of Mind, the 39-year-old said: “The New York that I came from was very dark, very desolate.”

The Hell’s Kitchen district of her childhood “had what looked like movie theatres, but it was all porno places, with hookers on every corner. I had to always wear something very baggy, very dark, always had my hair back; I felt like if people saw me, they might try to touch me. That’s why I’ve always been such a tomboy – I’ve never been the one in pretty dresses and nails, because I could not have nails and hair. And for a lot of girls it still is a safety risk to walk the streets.”

Photo credit: Paul Bergen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Paul Bergen - Getty Images

But a few streets away, “you walk towards Broadway, and you start to see these iconic theatres ... it was this weird dynamic of the have-nots and the maybe-possiblies”. She added: “It feels unbelievable – we have this modern-day anthem of New York City. But I remember that the first time I performed it in France, I didn’t have to sing one word. Listening to the crowd sing it to me, I realised it has nothing to do with New York, it has to do with hope. That you could have a dream and it could maybe come true.”

Having first bust out on the music scene in 2001, today Alicia Keys is one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

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