“You are going to get a tour from Billy, which is rare, I never seen a Billy tour,” says our driver. Prince’s Funk Castle is well appointed, in the manner of, well, a prince, who can have whatever his heart desires. Finally we are taken to giant performance space the size of a medium size gym. There is a weeklong soul festival taking place here.“He played the club owner in Purple Rain.” Alicia Keys and her posse – the band, the three back up singers, her manager, her musical director and Wayne, AKA, “Freaky Little,” a tiny, shoulder popping, dancing dynamo who introduces her show, all crowd through the metal detector and are duly greeted by Billy, a huge burly man in a football jersey and shorts, who proceeds to show us around. There is the giant, state of the art recording studio A. Last night Maceo Parker and Prince jammed till five in the morning. Everyone watches the end of the Common Sound check, then ambles onto the stage and starts their own sound check.She closes her eyes, belts out half a tune, then does a running jump off the stage and skips to the center of the room to listen to the band, cornrows clacking and jumping, butt shaking, grooving to the sound of her music.* Spending a day with Alicia Keys is like watching one of those fast motion movies of a budding flower bloom. Today she is Chanhassan, Minnesota, an innocuous suburb of Minneapolis.And slightly smaller state of the art recording Studio B. A keyboard is placed smack in the middle of the stage and finally, after listening to the band from the middle of the giant room (standing on the huge Prince insignia painted on the floor, like the logo of a basketball team at halfcourt) Alicia gets up onstage.The back up singers sound marvelous, but Alicia’s voice cuts through the cavernous room. She closes her eyes and lets that eerie hint of cold mercury into her voice, a dab of Steve Wonder, a tiny pinch of Billie Holiday.As soon as Alicia Keys and her band arrive at the front gate of Prince’s house it is apparent to all that there is no paisley in Paisley Park. The hallways are painted to look like a sky with a few happy clouds; framed Gold and platinum records cover the wall space.Prince’s compound looks, from the outside, like the athletic facility of a state University, a big boxy building with gates around it that gives no hint of what lies inside. And the “play” room, which is lit by black lights, has stars painted on the ceiling, and several overstuffed leather couches, and where Prince no longer goes ever since he’s been “saved.” We walk past something that looks like a life size replica of the Batmobile but turns out to be a piano. Then Alicia Keys cocks her head, listening to a strange cooing sound that drifts through the hallway. Prince is like the biggest, baddest Dentist of all time—he’s got so many diploma’s on his castle walls it makes your head spin: Gold Records, Platinum records, awards of every variety, a kaleidoscope of plaques and honors, and a formal looking document from the governor of Minnesota, dated 1987, declaring September 11th to be the official Paisley Park day in the state..
Yesterday, the video for her single, Fallin, was number two on BET’s most requested videos. Tomorrow, she flies to LA to tape the Tonight show.
Alicia Keys from the ground up: red and white Jordan sneakers, tight black XOXO corduroys hugging her full hips, a red bikini-strap tank top with black cardigan sweater over it (one button done up), and a red knit skullcap over her Cornrowed and beaded hair, which click-clacks like rosary beads whenever she moves her head.
With one hand she presses a cell phone to her ear, and with the other she brings a yellow apple to her mouth and, pearly white teeth bared, takes a bite.
“I love yellow apples,” she remarks in her sultry, streetwise voice, presumably for the benefit of whomever is on the other line.
My first glimpse of her comes as I walk into the hotel lobby, past a parked Budweiser truck whose radio is blaring Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City.” I enter the bland hotel lobby.
Shining in the middle of it is a beautiful light skinned girl eating an yellow apple.