This was co-written and co-produced by Alicia Keys' rapper boyfriend Kerry "Krucial" Brothers. Brothers also contributed to Keys two previous albums.
Keys told Billboard magazine that this was one song that wrote itself: "A lot of the songs didn't happen like that. It was one of the last songs I wrote. I needed to say this. It's full force, classical yet vintage, desperate yet triumphant. I want people to feel my soul."
Keys filled in MTV Canada on the song's meaning: "'No One' is really talking about the way that in relationships, so many things are around you all the time to try to distract you. And even though people may talk and say whatever they may want to say, but then no one can get in the way of this."
The album is titled As I Am, Ms. Keys told the New York Times September 9, 2007, because she has grown far more straightforward in recent years. "I was becoming a very hidden person," she said. "I would just always try to keep everything even keeled and cool and just smooth everything over. That mask was getting very scary. And I didn't like it."
This kept up Alicia Keys' record of having an American Hot 100 #1 every 3 years. In 2001 she hit the top with "Fallin." "My Boo" reached the summit in 2004 and "No One" became the American R&B singer's third chart topper in 2007.
This song features some experimental keyboards. Keys told the Daily Mail December 14, 2007: "I still write most of my songs on the piano, but I messed around in the studio. I played a Mellotron, a Wurlitzer organ and used effects pedals."
On the December 29, 2007 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, this song was #1 and it's follow-up "Like You'll Never See Me Again" was #2. This meant that Keys became the first artist to hold the top two positions on the chart during the same week with no help from guest or featured artists. Previously 8 other artists had been at #s 1 and 2 simultaneously, but in each case they had had help from duet partners or featured artists, or were the featured artists themselves.
Keys performed this with John Mayer at the 2008 Grammy awards, where it won for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
This was a massive hit in Europe, becoming Keys' first #1 on the Euro 200 chart. In addition it reached the summit of the singles charts in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey. The song was also Keys' first to top the United World Chart.
The song's music video was the #1 most viewed clip on the Yahoo! Music site in 2008.
This was the most listened song in the US in 2008, an estimated 3.08 billion listeners heard this song the radio, an average of 10 times per every American citizen. Flo Rida's "Low
" was second with 3.02 billion listeners and Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love
" ranked third with 2.75 billion.
As I Am was the biggest selling album in America in 2008. Josh Groban's Christmas '07 set Noel came second and Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III third.
This song returned to the UK singles chart in May 2009 after being performed on Britain's Got Talent by 10-year-old contestant Natalie Okri.
Reflecting on the song to Entertainment Weekly in a 2012 interview, Keys said she believed it was divinely inspired: '''No One' was, like, straight up from God," she said. "It just came down from the heavens and fell into my lap. I don't know how to explain it any better than that. I'll never forget, we had already picked [another] single, but I called everyone - my A&R, my manager - and I was like, 'I think y'all gotta come down.' It was undeniable. You just knew it. I love it with all my heart, and every single time I sing it, it sets me free all over again.''
Aretha Franklin covered this for her 2014 album, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, meshing it with a Caribbean vibe. Longtime collaborator and album producer Clive Davis said at an album listening party it was Keys who suggested that flavor from the beginning. "Because I have lunch with Alicia every several months," he explained, "and I discussed the prospect of it, and she did say, `If you do know what, I just hear a Caribbean, reggae flavor.'"