Of the R&B darlings that year, Alicia Keys' first week sales would be the one to stun. The Diary of Alicia Keys, unveiled December 2, 2003, shot to the top of the album charts and moved 618,000 units in its first week. "You Don't Know My Name," the lead single, was a mirror to the sound that started her career. It featured cascading piano runs and expressed feelings of longing, except this time with a bit more optimism. Earlier that year, Keys saw many of her peers perform intense choreography, but she remained true to her identity. Consumers actually found joy in her being able to deliver right behind the piano.
Now that is not to say she did not have fun. On "Karma," she showed an equal ability to make people think and move, harkening to Stevie Wonder's gift to do the same. But more than anything, this album is likely the one out of this crop that you can imagine an artist still singing when she reaches her golden years. "If I Ain't Got You" will be just as convincing when Alicia is 70 as it was when she was 22.
We do not know what the ultimate future holds for these any of these ladies. After all, none of them are even 40 yet. Still, it is undeniable how the year 2003 shaped their careers.
Monica's music almost sounds as if it is stuck on repeat since "U Should've Known Better." Despite constantly using the same production and lyrical content that can come across as a bit preachy, she has remained far too engaged with the masses to now struggle to have Top 40 success. In this period of 90s nostalgia, now would be a great time for her to tap into her Miss Thang roots. Just have fun releasing singles and see what sticks.
Beyonce has had a remarkable career, but she toyed with some sounds in 2003 that still have listeners curious. "Hip Hop Star" was a wonderful, unexpected experiment and has an element that deserves to be revisited. Her natural affection for Shuggie Otis on her debut is also worthy of further exploration.
Mya has publicly stated that she is a peace with going the independent route. It would be great to see her go deeper in the house music scene as her dancing skills are still in peak condition.
Ashanti seems to be struggling with the same thing for 15 years now--finding the right song to re-establish herself. Perhaps she should go back to be how it began for her. Do some features for established rap artists and write for others rather than chasing the latest pop hit. She should let the hit come to her naturally, as it did the first time.
Alicia Keys is not having as much commercial success as she once had, but she did manage to establish a rather timeless catalog that still allows her to appeal to an exclusive sector and receive great exposure like being a judge on The Voice. She could easily find mainstream music success again if she returned to her relaxed vocal delivery and made her music more piano-centric again.
Out of all the growing pains these ladies have had, perhaps the greatest injustice is that this stretch did not last longer or that female R&B is not as competitive today. The best way to measure greatness is to put it beside greatness. One of the things that made the 90s so special is that Janet, Whitney, Mariah, and Toni all reigned together, along with other female acts who had strong runs as well. This anniversary is not just to say some of these ladies missed out. The fact is we have missed out too.