Alicia Keys Says She Narrowly Avoided Life of Drugs, Prostitution

Alicia Keys has revealed that she should have been condemned to a life of prostitution and drug addiction.

Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen before it was gentrified, the Grammy-winning singer was surrounded by violence, sex, and drugs. Her fate appeared to be sealed, but she was able to narrowly avoid following in the footsteps of many others. Now Keys is sharing details of her childhood in an interview with The Guardian, which was published Friday.

“I am that person. 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,” she said while discussing a new single, “Underdog,” off her latest album. “I am the one who was supposed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got injured or killed.”

Hell’s Kitchen has now become a tourist attraction. Flanked with multimillion-dollar apartments, the neighborhood is a buzzing hub of activity — a stark contrast to how things were when Keys was growing up.

“The New York that I came from was very dark, very desolate,” she said, adding that the district “had what looked like movie theatres” that were all actually “porno places, with hookers on every corner.”

Keys said she lived in fear of being assaulted.

“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,” she recalled. “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.”

Coming from nothing, Keys said that having dreams of a better life was nothing but a “luxury” when there were bills to pay and children to feed. This is why she understands “so much about what it means to have the strength to follow your own path” and create your own destiny.

“All the songs I’ve ever written that have been considered empowering or uplifting, I’ve written them at my lowest point,” she said. “Because I needed to remind myself: don’t forget that.”

One of her singles, “Empire State of Mind,” is particularly sentimental to Keys.

“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,” she said.

“Listening to the crowd sing it to me, I realized 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.”

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