January 12, 2005


John Legend.jpg

From the background to the spotlight

John Legend couldn't have planned a better time to make an impact on the music scene.

With not only the hip-hop faithful but the entire music community praising Kanye West, his producer and Grammy-nominated mentor, Legend --who up until now was best known as a session player for the likes of Alicia Keys, Jay-Z and Britney Spears -- can't help but be showered with attention, too.

The 14 tracks featured on Get Lifted (Columbia), Legend's first studio effort, are an interesting mix of modern R&B songs. The lead single, "Used to Love U," is the attention-grabber. It features a punchy backbeat and smooth vocals. It also contains a real head-scratching lyrical turn -- "Maybe I should rob somebody/ So we could live like Whitney and Bobby" -- that does what it intends to do, and that is force a quick second listen to verify what he said.

It seems that the intention of the album is to present a concept or a running theme of the cheating lover who finally sees the error of his ways. The album features three cheating songs, and two of them are forgettable -- "Alright" and "She Don't Have to Know." The other, "Number One," is a highlight that features West stepping out from behind the boards to spice up the track with one of his typically playful rhymes.

"I Can Change" keeps the momentum going steady by featuring another prominent rapper -- in this case Snoop Dogg. What makes his contribution that much more special is that Snoop isn't trying to make the listener believe that he or she is the main focus of the song by name-checking himself or referencing his own songs, both common mistakes with many rapper collaborations. Snoop's voice works extremely well with not only Legend's voice, but with the choir of backup singers.

Another album strength is the ballads. "Ordinary People" is by far the best of the crop. Legend goes it alone with just a piano and his voice on a song that is delivered in a style very reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's. "Stay with You" isn't as memorable as "Ordinary People," but still has a great vintage R&B feel to it, with the lead vocal up front and harmonies during the chorus.

As the song cycle of cheater to reborn family man winds down, so does the once steady momentum. "It Don't Have to Change" is a nice enough song, but seems like filler on what is otherwise a strong effort.

If West's stamp of approval is a way to open the doors to success, then Legend has proved with this album that drawing from your influences is the way to go.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at January 12, 2005 09:08 PM