Music is an artful expression that drives many of our emotions on a daily basis. Whether it’s pop, rhythm and blues, rap, country, or even alternative. Every genre has an identity and every identity has its legends. Every generation of music has its distinct sound and share of one hit wonders. Groups explode onto the scene and break-up just as quick as they rise to stardom and some artists simply get placed on the shelf when they are not able to capture an audience past their debut single. In a music world full of bass lines and hip hop samples, simplistic melodies and heartfelt lyrics can still be found.
Not since many of our favorite NeoSoul artists dominated the charts, has lyrical expression stood out and made itself known among the hard hitting beats and repetitive themes supplied by urban radio today. Columbia Recording Artist, John Legend, has joined the club with bold and true artistry. Serving as a singer, songwriter, and producer, this musician is ready to take us on a journey that is sure to be one to remember.
John Legend has already become “legendary” in the sense that he has done work with such acts as Kanye West, Twista, Janet Jackson, Eve, Common, and The Black Eyed Peas. However, it’s time to branch out and show the world what he is capable of on his own. MiddleChild Promotions got a chance to talk with John Legend and discuss a few things as he prepares to bless us with his debut album, “Get Lifted” in December.
John Legend: What’s up?
RoJay: Hey. Thanks for talking with me.
John Legend: No problem. What’s the company name? MiddleChild Productions.
RoJay: Promotions. MiddleChild Promotions.
John Legend: Oh. MiddleChild. I’m a middle child myself.
RoJay: Oh Really? How many children are there in the family?
John Legend: There are four of us. Three boys. I’m the middle boy and I have a sister.
RoJay: Ok cool. Just wanted to let you know what MiddleChild is about. My goal is promotion of new artists, artists that are locally and regionally known, and also the ones strong in the game.
John Legend: Ok.
RoJay: Ok. So let’s go ahead and get this started. How long have you been singing?
John Legend: Since I was about three or four. Maybe since the womb. [laughs] I’ve been singing about as long as I can remember.
RoJay: Tell me who your favorite artists are.
John Legend: Uhm. Let’s see. Outkast and Jay –Z. Does Jay-Z count? I mean since he retiring?
RoJay: (laughs) But did he really retire? I mean he still dropping cds. We’ll count Jay-Z.
John Legend: Ok. Outkast and Jay-Z.
RoJay: Ok. Well music has changed a lot since I was younger. Not really much like it was in the 90’s and seems like everyone is less concerned with quality these days and more concerned with getting that quick hit. What do you think of the state of music today?
John Legend: I think people have always tried to get hits out. I mean even back with Motown…they were the “Hit Factory”. They always tried to find that bubblegum that people wanted to have. But they also had artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder who were like true artists. There has always been like that instantaneous…there has always been bad music and good music. And hopefully when people look back at this era they will remember the good stuff. That’s how they felt about the 70’s, how they felt about the 80’s and also the 60’s, they remember the good stuff. There’s bad music out now and there’s good music out now. Hopefully it’s the good stuff they remember.
RoJay: Well, I’m sure we will be remembering “Used To Love You” years from now. That’s a hot song.
John Legend: Hope so. I hope they remember stuff from me, some of the things by Kanye, and stuff from a lot of the great artists out right now. There is a lot of great music out right now. A lot of great artists.
RoJay: So how did that song come about? “Used To Love You”? How did you come up with that?
John Legend: Uhm. I worked on it with Kanye in early 2003. We were in the “W” hotel…out in LA. He was working on his album and we were trying to get my demo together. And I was writing a song and of course the chorus came to me (starts to sing) “Baby, when I used to love you…” and uhm, he was actually working on a beat with a similar melody at the same time. We were originally gonna write it to that beat, but then we started playing with the idea of doing it in the same form of “Just To Get By” by Talib Kweli, so we kind of switched up the beat and I had these verse ideas but Kanye didn’t think they really made me standout. [He] Said ‘why don’t we do something more funny, more sarcastic’. We started working with the Puffy and Jay-Z idea. I’m really happy with it. I think it came out well.
RoJay: I think it did too.
John Legend: We did like a demo version of it back then. You might’ve heard it. It was like underground, everyone was loving it and got a lil buzz. And then we did a little sprucing up for the final version. It’s doing really well. It’s in the top 20 at urban radio now. I’m feeling good about it.
RoJay: Cool. Yea, I was watching television this morning and the video played several times because I watch all the video channels…I watched it each time. There may be some people who don’t get the video. Can you explain it?
John Legend: The idea was, with the setting…One was to take it back to church, which is where I came from. And really since it was my first video we wanted to of course introduce me as the artist and church was the best setting to do it because it’s like home for me. It’s where I started and where my music gets its foundation. Even the song has a lot of gospel influence. You can hear that in the background vocals, so we wanted to take it there. And then we felt the message kind of worked for that basically saying ‘you’re gonna choose material things over love’, Basically saying that ‘your love should be a light’ and you should love people for who they are. Also the concept of ‘love is a light’ in the sense of everything that people value and respond to. Like in whatever is shining to her in the video she is checking out rather than looking at me while I’m singing to her. So whatever she has her attention on at the time lights up. So it basically shows why I’m breaking up with her.
RoJay: Yea. I actually like how creative it is.
John Legend: Thanks.
RoJay: So, we had been checking on the album on October 26th, but I hear there was a pushback to December.
John Legend: Yea. December 28th...my birthday.
RoJay: Really? How old will you be?
John Legend: I’ll be 26
RoJay: Oh, so you’re old…not like “old”, but old enough…(laughs) you have an “old soul.”
John Legend: yea.
RoJay: I checked you out on BET’s Walk of Fame.
John Legend: Oh Yea. I was excited about that.
RoJay: Smokey Robinson! Do you count him as an influence?
John Legend: You know what? I mean, I think he was one and I didn’t even know it. My dad, while I was growing up, used to play a lot of The Temptations and a lot of Motown stuff that I didn’t even know he wrote. And so he definitely is a big influence, but a lot of it, you didn’t even know he influenced you because he wrote songs people didn’t even know he wrote.
RoJay: So what made you choose the song you performed?
John Legend: Oh, they chose it for me. BET picked it and I’m glad they did because it was perfect for me.
RoJay: So who else would you consider influences?
John Legend: I think Stevie [Wonder] and Marvin Gaye are like the biggest. Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, and Aretha Franklin. Donnie Hathaway…
RoJay: Speaking of Lauryn Hill. I know you have a connection with her.
John Legend: Yea, I worked with her on her first album. I played on ‘Everything Is Everything’. I was actually in the studio with her when she was working on that record and I ended up on the piano. And then we both have friends and friends of friends and things like that. We’re actually gonna try and reconnect soon.
RoJay: That was fiyah huh? I mean, you’re now making it “out front”, but I know you been in the game for a while. What’s some of the other things you’ve worked on that we may not know about?
John Legend: I played piano on “Overnight Celebrity” by Twista. I played piano for Jay-Z on his black album [“Encore” and “Lucifer”]. Sung on Alicia Key’s “You Don’t Know My Name”. Slum Village’s “Selfish”…and I worked on Talib Kweli’s “I Try” that features Mary J. Blige. And some other things that can be found in my bio on my website.
RoJay: What’s the hardest song for you to sing vocally?
John Legend: Vocally? Would be a song called “Live It Up”. It should be on my album. But it’s kind of difficult for me to sing that one all the way through. [laughs] So we take it down a key when we do it live. I mean, it’s not that hard, just a little more challenging because of the range. But I’m pretty quick in the studio, very efficient and it usually never takes me long [laughs] but with that one it does. [laughs]
RoJay: There are many methods used to sell records…mainly sex these days. [laughs] But you haven’t had to get half naked to get noticed. It seems pretty safe to say that you will sell off your talent…
John Legend: Well, you know, I think people get by on different things. Like dancing or maybe their sex appeal. I don’t fault them for that. If it fits the music that they are doing then I feel it’s all right. But like me and my music, I don’t have to. And maybe the people will buy my records because it’s me…it’s true and it’s real.
RoJay: You know sometimes it don’t even have to be all “in your face”…just being confident can be sexy.
John Legend: I think that’s true. I really think that’s true. Because when you’re comfortable in your own skin and confident, then people will be attracted to that.
RoJay: I agree. [laughs] I just saw you with Kanye on Usher’s “Truth” Tour. And I must say that you were really a highlight of the show for me. I really wasn’t trying to go, but I’m glad I did. I got to see a lot of great things that night. I really enjoyed your set.
John Legend: Thanks.
RoJay: So say that you were able to put together your dream tour. You get to choose the people and you’re going to be the opening act. Who would you choose?
John Legend: Uh…[pause] I have to think about that one.
RoJay: Anybody. You get to choose anybody.
John Legend: See…I don’t want to be the opening act, man. [laughs]
RoJay: [laughing] OK. Scratch the ‘Opening Act’. You’re a big part of this tour. Who would you choose?
John Legend: I mean, some of my favorite artists are people like Lauryn Hill, you know what I’m saying? I think that would be interesting for us to do a tour together. I think her music and mine are similar in some ways. You know there is some influence by her, so I think her fans and mine would be very compatible. I feel that me and Kanye would be a great tour. After my album is out, hopefully it does well and everything, that could be a great tour. He’ll do his thing, I’ll do my own set and then we’ll come together or something like that. That would be hot. And maybe like me and Alicia Keys would be a good tour.
RoJay: Yea. Any idea on the next single?
John Legend: “Ordinary People”
RoJay: Ok. Nice. People on the forum are really feeling that one. We’ve heard snippets and things.
John Legend: Yea. It’s actually on the sampler…full length. Some people have the sampler. And radio and everything…there are some stations playing it without us even sending it out.
RoJay: That’s tight. Ok, well...I won’t hold you up much longer. But before I let you go, let’s play word association. I’ll say something and the first thing you think of, I want you to say it. Deal?
John Legend: Ok.
RoJay: “Crunk & B”
John Legend: [laughs] It’s really not my cup of tea. It’s cool, you know, but I won’t be doing ‘Crunk & B’ anytime soon.
RoJay: [laughs] Keeping it soulful! [both laugh] Alicia Keys
John Legend: Alicia is very talented.
RoJay: Jermaine Dupri
John Legend: He makes the hits!
RoJay: Missy Elliott
John Legend: Missy is very creative. Very energetic.
John Legend: I like Monica. Her music is cool. I don’t have any of her albums, but her music is cool.
RoJay: Alright John. I appreciate you talking with me. I enjoyed the interview. I’ll definitely be looking for that album dropping in December.
John Legend: No problem. Thank you.
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