Alicia Keys' Writing Process Includes Crystals, Incense, & Leikeli47

Alicia Keys and Oprah go way back. When Oprah first heard Keys’ debut single “Fallin’” in 2001, she booked the newcomer for her show on the spot. The appearance helped launch Keys to superstardom and the two have stayed close ever since. So when Keys was ready to write a book reflecting on her childhood and nearly 20 years in the music business, she knew who she wanted to do it with. “It’s definitely a full circle moment, for sure,” Keys tells Bustle of her book More Myself being the first title out of Oprah’s new publishing imprint. “She has become this really beautiful presence in my life that’s full of sisterhood and mentorship.”

Though Keys is a seasoned songwriter, the differences between writing a ballad and a book surprised her. Working on a project that charts her whole life — instead of just a quick 3-5 minute musical snapshot — was revelatory. “I started seeing myself much more clearly than I ever have before,” she says. “I didn’t realize how many issues I had with self-worth. That was one of the most surprising ones for me. I confused humility with issues of self-worth.” Keys credits the experience with allowing her to become more radically honest with herself — a practice she continues now long after the book has been completed.

To get into the headspace to write her book, Keys focused on creating a zen environment. Ahead of More Myself’s publication, we spoke with the artist about curating her creative space, and the totems that inspired her along the way.

On her secret to creativity:

I’m big on crystals and I put them around my space. It creates a grounding energy. I feel like sometimes you need [crystal] assistance for whatever you’re trying to create. If I’m looking for clarity, I like clear crystals. If I’m looking for something a little more heart opening, I like the rose ones. If I’m looking for strength, I like the darker quartzes. I found this stone on my trip to Egypt that’s blue and so royal and strong. [It makes me] feel in my pharoah.

On her pump up playlist:

The greats put me in the space of what I want to create. If it’s [about] pulling me out of a funk then I’m definitely listening to “As” by Stevie Wonder. If I need something that brings me peace and tranquility, I might listen to some John Coltrane [to] put me in that bluesy space. If I need some good energy, I’ll listen to meditation music. I’ll listen to “Post That” by Leikeli47. That’s total outrageous energy [that makes me] feel like I can do anything.

On the book she can’t put down:

I love to read so much, [but] I found myself in one of those stunted places where I was like, ‘I’m going to read this, I’m going to read that.’ Then I ended up not reading anything. So then my friend passed me along this book and it’s small, skinny, unintimidating, and it has all the jewels in it: Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. I’ve also really been wanting to read An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States.

On unwinding with a flower-filled bath:

I love crystals, salts, roses, flowers or petals in my bath — it just feels really good. Mama Medicine is fire. She has these wooden boxes you can order that already have a candle, incense, salts and flowers in them [for the bath]. I like my bath really hot and just immersing in the quiet. It’s so nice to hear nothing sometimes. That’s a really simple way to be in a moment, in a place all your own.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.