(his real name is John Stephens) is well on his way. Get Lifted,
his debut album, produced by Platinum rapper-producer Kanye West,
has become one of the top sellers in the nation. Legend assisted
on West’s double-Platinum College Dropout CD as a vocalist,
pianist and co-writer on several tracks. He performed its biggest
hit, "Jesus Walks," with West, Mavis Staples and the
Blind Boys of Alabama on the 47th Annual Grammy Awards Feb. 13.
West was the most nominated artist in the awards, with 10.
singer, songwriter and pianist John Legend was born into a musical
family in 1979, the grandson of a minister who spent much of his
childhood singing and playing in church. His family moved from
Ohio to Pennsylvania when he was a child, and he was playing the
piano and singing in the church choir from an early age.
accomplished singer, musician, songwriter and producer, John Legend
has been making music of one kind or another since his early childhood.
Influenced by a musical family active in the church, the young
Legend embraced gospel, classic soul and hip-hop, and the fusion
of all three epitomizes his unique sound.
performed and recorded with various groups as well as a solo artist
while attending college in Philadelphia and subsequently became
seriously involved with the area's neo-soul explosion of the late
musical influences of his childhood included classic Soul and
Gospel singers ranging from Stevie Wonder and Al Green to Shirley
Caesar and Edwin Hawkins, as well as more modern acts like Jodeci
and Boyz II Men (okay, I'm feeling kind of old when a singer cites
Jodeci as a childhood influence). He attended college at Penn
and served as musical director at Bethel A.M.E. church for nearly
a decade during high school and college.
introduced by his college roommate to hot young rapper and producer
Kanye West, and the two began working together, with Stephens
proving himself a fine songwriter as well as a singer and session
musician. He wrote the great "You Don't Know My Name"
for Alicia Keys as well as a couple cuts from Kanye West's College
Dropout album. He also played on albums by Lauren Hill, Keys,
Taleb Kwili, Slum Village and decidedly hip-hop artists such as
Twista, Jay-Z. He also recorded a couple of solo live albums,
which gathered for him a minor following.
Stephens to his new KonMan production company, and helped John
strike a deal with Columbia Records under the new (and somewhat
controversial) moniker, John Legend. Legend narrowed his dozens
of compositions to an album's worth, and began working with West
and number of big name hip-hop and modern R&B talents in making
his debut studio album, Get Lifted.
debuted in the Billboard top 5 in late 2004, which is not a surprise
anymore for a heavily promoted debut album by a noted hip-hop
backup man. The surprise, however, was the Get Lifted was not
a hip hop album -- it was actually a real soul album in hip-hop
clothing. Listen to "Live It Up" and "So High,"
and you're hearing Curtis Mayfield or Bobby Womack, and "It
Don't Have to Change" is a nostalgic song that is pure church
(including a Gospel choir composed mostly of Legend's family).
Radio is rightly
eating up the excellent mid-tempo "Used To Love U" and
the piano ballad "Ordinary People," each of which is
appealing to an impressively broad group of listeners, hitting
both the hip hop and Urban Adult Contemporary crowds in the same
way that Alicia Keys has been able to do.
does Get Lifted fall into hip-hop lyrical traps that may turn
off some listeners ("Number One" is unfortunate in that
regard); for the most part it shows a very talented, young singer
who knows his Soul Music history and who is taking it in progressive,
interesting directions. It is an impressive debut and could well
mark the emergence of an important artist. Worth checking out.