The Alicia Keys 'Element' Billboard Cover Story & Video
Alicia Keys Billboard Cover Story Yu Tsai

Who is the producer on that track?

On "Love Is Blind" and "Try," I worked with Jeff Bhasker. He plays beautiful keyboards and piano. We definitely had a great time playing together.

You worked again with longtime collaborator Kerry "Krucial" Brothers. Who else are you collaborating with on "Freedom"?

The album mainly features me. There are one or two more songs I'm working on now that it would be really exciting to tell you about. But I'd like to finalize everything before I start spreading the word.

What triggered this whole freedom feeling?

The process began with "As I Am." I was trying to find the way to totally be myself and what that meant; figuring out what choices I wanted to make and not make in order to truly honor myself. That was the beginning of learning how to do that. And now it's culminated into "The Element of Freedom": the ability to have nothing holding you back; to be totally brave enough to be completely yourself in all of its glory.

You worked with Whitney Houston on her current single, "Million Dollar Bill." Are there any other outside projects on your plate now?

Whitney is an artist who inspired me from [the time I was] a little girl. Fast-forwarding to now and being able to work with her to help create this song that took off was fun. We had a lot of laughs; it was like being with a long-lost friend. Although I'm staying focused now on my project, I definitely see myself working with more artists as time goes by and moving more into the writer/producer lane. It's another interesting and fun way to express my thoughts, ideas and feelings in another style.

Do you also envision having your own label?

I don't really have a desire to do my own label, to be honest with you. It's like a pain in the ass [laughs], because you've got to deal with so much irrelevant stuff. To do like me times six or seven other people, I don't know. I might totally lose it. I have more of a desire to bring talented people to the forefront and help support them. That's why I see myself doing more of the writer/producer thing. But not necessarily running a label because labels are dying. It's a whole different world.

You could feel the fun you were having performing "Empire State of Mind" with Jay-Z during the World Series. What jazzes you about being onstage?

One of my favorite things is experiencing the spontaneous moment that only happens once. No matter how many times you perform, you never have the same moment twice. And I love that. I love the magic of that one moment in that one place shared only by myself and all the people who attended that night. It's our special connection. There's nothing like the energy, communication and unity that happens through music. Even if you don't speak the same language, you understand music.

In the meantime, you've established a new company called AK Worldwide. How did you come up with its slogan: "The business of inspiration"?

AKW is the home base for everything I'm involved in presently and want to become involved with in the future. [Her AKW team includes managing director Erika Rose and director of operations DJ Walton.] And its slogan means a lot to me. When I first started in this business, I was really young and trying to figure out how to balance and make everything work. It wasn't until about 18 months ago that it all made sense to me. That for me-through my music and the various ventures I've done so far-there's a certain inspiration aspect that goes along with the kind of businesses I want to be involved in.

I'd always wondered why I was so attracted to the model of Oprah Winfrey, and I realized it's because she's able to do things in an incredible way that somehow touches your life and makes you think about things in a whole new way. There's a lot of inspiration in what she does and gives to the world.

And that's where I feel comfortable, working with what feels natural and authentic. There's enough in the world that focuses on the other side. I'd like to focus on what can lift us up as a people, help us learn and be open to new things.

Besides your philanthropic endeavor, Keep a Child Alive, what other AKW ventures are being planned?

A new partnership I'm involved with is a jewelry line called the Barber's Daughters. I met a designer [Gisele Theriault] in Toronto who makes gorgeous jewelry. I was just so shocked and stunned by her work. Not only is it all done by hand but it's also hand-engraved with beautiful words and phrases. Being a lyricist, I love words. And every word written on this jewelry gives you something to think about, to strive for or lift you up in your journey. You can feel the words on your skin as if it's your own personal mantra. [Keys will debut the collection Nov. 23-24 at a public event at Collette Blanchard Gallery in New York.]

When will you introduce the jewelry line?

We just did a piece for my Black Ball-beautiful dog tags with the quote: "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." It's from Gandhi. We're gearing up now for the formal launch of our first collaborative line in 2010.

My other AKW venture is an idea I've had for a little while now, an online inspirational site called IAmASuperwoman.com. It will launch Dec. 15 along with my album. It's going to be a great lifestyle place for people to visit . . . ultimately, in essence, an online magazine. A place where you can get overall advice on financial matters, beauty and fitness as well as tips and thoughts on other subjects. I want to engage wonderful women from all walks of life to share their experiences, who can bring specialized knowledge to different areas on the site. It will be a place where people can commune and talk about what's on their minds, what's going on in the world politically and socially.

Any movie or TV projects on your horizon?

On the acting side, there is one main role that I very much want to tell you about, but I can't. I know that sucks [laughs]. I can say it's an action film. But if it all comes together, that would really, really be my goal of the year.

Outside of that, my manager/partner Jeff Robinson and I are working on a TV show for NBC that's coming along well. And we're working on a film with Miramax about a female DJ. I personally want to get involved with Broadway. I have some great ideas in terms of developing new pieces as well as helping to bring other strong projects to Broadway.

If you weren't in music, what would you be doing?

I definitely love people and being a part of people's lives. I guess I'd be of service to people in some way. Still on my list of things I want to accomplish is creating charter schools.

Looking back on your career, has the journey been what you thought it would be?

This industry is difficult to break into. Like anything you want to do, you have to love it and be completely focused on it. Nothing can divert or distract you. It's not going to happen quick, it's not going to be real easy. It's not going to be the answer to all your problems or like some Cinderella story. There's no such thing.

I look back and see where I started from and, in my eyes, I'm just starting. Honestly, all of it is one big surprise. The many accomplishments that I've been able to be a part of . . . I feel extremely humble, grateful and excited to continue on that path. It's all one big "wow."