He's sold more than five million albums world wide, garnered multiple hit singles ("Ordinary People," "Used to Love U," "So High," "Save Room," "Heaven," "Another Again"), received countless awards (including five Grammys) and wowed rapt audiences across the globe. Music's leading producers clamor to work with him. Fashion aficionados can't get enough of his incomparable style. And the humanitarian community has rallied around his fight to end poverty.
Critics have called him a genius, one of the most compelling and important singer/songwriters of this generation, an elegant ambassador of soul.
With all of the acclaim, it would be easy for John Legend to rest on his laurels, but he continues to push himself, always striving to break new musical ground. "Some people have been making the same album for years and they don't really push the envelope," Legend says. "That's not me. Expect me to experiment. Expect me to always approach the music in new and different ways."
Legend does all that and more on Evolver, the follow-up to his Grammy award-winning Once Again. His new album's name is as succinct as it is bold, a one-word mission statement encapsulating the singer's ambitions. "I am constantly evolving as a person and as an artist," says Legend. "You still have the legacy of what you did before and the people's memory of that will always be there, but with each album you get to question that, to play with it and even rebel against if you want to and I did that with this album."
He proved he was no ordinary R&B singer with his outstanding debut Get Lifted and he successfully evaded the sophomore jinx with the classic Once Again. Bona fides secured, Legend is ready to party on Evolver.
He kicks off the fun with "Green Light," the album's rollicking first single featuring Andre 3000, OutKast's rhyme-wizard-meets-bespokesmodel. "I am a true Andre fan and he doesn't rap much any more so I was really happy he wanted to do this," says Legend, who leaves the piano behind on this synthesizer-driven track. "I knew he wouldn't have chosen to be on the song if it wasn't hot."
On the Pharrell-penned track, "It's Over," Legend repeatedly croons, "What do you keep calling for?" over a thumping new jack swing-inspired beat featuring Kanye West giving his paramour the kiss off. Getting dumped never sounded so good.
"Cross the Line" has the singer attempting to take a platonic relationship to the next level. "Men and women can be friends," Legend says, "but guys always have sex on the brain to some extent. On the right night, in the right dress, with the right amount of drinks, she can get it."
He teams up with Buju Banton on "Can't Be My Lover," a reggae-tinged bonus track that has Legend resisting the charms of a relentless seductress. "Buju brings the dance hall authenticity to this song," John points out. "No one sounds like him."
"Good Morning" has Legend sweet-talking an overnight guest into staying to watch the sunrise and more. "I've never been the kick-the-girl-out-of-the-bed-at-the-end-of-the-evening guy," he says. "I want her to stay."
While Legend tackles the emotional complexities of relationships on tracks like the will.i.am-produced "Satisfaction" and "I Love, You Love" "This Time" find the artist pledging to give up his playboy ways. "This time I want it all," he sings in his signature full-bodied baritone. "I'm showing you all the cards/Giving you all my heart." "You can hear my voice crack on that song and it sounds like I'm struggling, which is a good thing," the singer admits. "Everyone is auto-tuning their voices in an attempt to sound perfect and as a result everyone ends up sounding the same. But I like to hear the imperfections. That's what gives the voice character."
John turns serious with the socially conscious anthem "If You're Out There," which he debuted in Denver during a historic performance opening the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. "The song is a rallying cry," says Legend, "and when I was writing it I knew I didn't want to temper it with cynicism. I wanted to be unabashedly hopeful. Let's go all the way."
"If You're Out There" reflects John's passion for social change. In 2007, John and his team launched the Show Me Campaign whose mission is to fight poverty through fostering sustainable development. Through John's work with economist Jeffrey Sachs and Millennium Promise, the Show Me Campaign has adopted a village in western Tanzania called Mbola. The campaign funds a robust program to help lift this village out of extreme poverty. Additionally, Legend and Sachs have toured the U.S. on a "Poverty Action Tour" to bring the message of sustainable development to the nation's college students. Legend has recently been honored with the 2008 Humanitarian Award from CARE and the 2008 Difference Award from OneXOne.
John Legend has come a long way since his days an in-demand session writer and musician working with Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys and Kanye West, among others. Born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, the singer (born John Stephens) began playing piano at the age of four. He was singing in his church choir by seven and blossomed into a choir director in his teens. He began to work his way into the Philadelphia music scene while studying at the University of Pennsylvania (where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1999). Kanye West gave Legend his first big break when he signed the artist to his G.O.O.D Music production company in 2004.
It would prove to be one of West's smartest decisions. Legend's debut, Get Lifted, opened at #7 on the Billboard Top 200 and turned the singer into an overnight sensation. Featuring the hit singles :Ordinary People," "Used to Love U," and "So High," the album quickly became both a critical and commercial success, selling more than three million copies and earning Legend a slew of awards, including Grammys for Best New Artist, Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B album. Reviews of Get Lifted were glowing:
"His debut will easily set him apart from his R&B counterparts…In Legend's case, believe the hype,"---Billboard.
His critically acclaimed follow-up, Once Again, released in 2006, not only cemented his status as a true artist's artist, but secured his place in the soul music pantheon. Entering the Billboard Top 200 at #3, the album quickly went platinum and won Legend several more awards, including a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance for the single "Heaven." That same year, he was awarded yet another Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for the single "Family Affair" (from the Sly and the Family Stone tribute album, "Different Strokes by Different Folks"). The artist had successfully evaded the sophomore slump and once again critics across the globe were raving:
"Legend triumphs. Vintage sounds, witty storytelling, romantic
optimism and expressive vocals make him one of R&Bs most engaging new stars. Rather than simply trying to duplicate Get Lifted, Once Again pushes things forward." ---USA Today .
"The new level of excellence Legend reaches on Once Again is breathtaking," wrote the Telegraph (UK). "Beautifully rendered, this is a celebration of the music Legend knows and loves."
Reflecting on his evolution, Legend says that at this point in his life he is the most confident that he's ever been. "I'm more comfortable with my entire being," he says. "I'm more engaged in the world around me. In every aspect of my life--in relationships, sexually, emotionally, intellectually--I've grown up. This album is a statement about where I am right now."