John Legend: Get Lifted Album Review
Back when Kanye West was clamoring for respect as a rapper, he was also looking to prove himself as a mogul. In 2003, the first artist he signed to his fledgling label, Getting Out Our Dreams (aka GOOD Music), was a 25-year-old ex-choirboy named John Stephens, whose spare R&B demo tape with piano had been rejected by several labels. Not your typical setting, Kanye was a hitmaker with an ear for narrative tension, naturally drawn to the sinner-saint dichotomy in Stephens’ songwriting. Kanye urged the singer to adopt a nickname his friends called him, John Legend, and when introducing his flagship artist at showcases, he would describe Legend’s sound as “spiritual music”, unlike commercial R&B. which West had called “popcorn shit”. ”
Under Kanye’s creative direction, Legend reworked his demo for his debut album Get liftedwhich fell in December 2004 in the whirlwind of Usher’s confession and with neo-soul on its dominant decline. At the same time, the pop world was always looking for returning singers, and Legend fit the bill: a trained pianist with a new school edge and a raspy morning voice whose closest counterpart was Alicia Keys. His music spanned generations while heralding a new era of millennial entanglements. While Legend made smoldering anthems steeped in love and deceit, Kanye was a newly in-demand producer known for ripping sped-up samples into classic Gems. With Get lifted, they created one of the most soulful synergies in hip-hop and R&B, split evenly between jubilant Kanye-produced records about infidelity and serious ballads of commitment that telegraphed Legend’s next evolution from player to father. The album set the stage for his sacrilegious spin on gospel and R&B – you can practically hear the ghost of old Kanye cackling in the background as Legend embraces his most toxic impulses, singing with all his heart, “You can’t say, I don’t love you/Just because I’m cheating on you.
It’s John Legend 1.0, with the voice of an angel and a Kanye-sanctioned ego. Get lifted feeds on the eternal conflict between gospel and secularism, honed by predecessors like Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and James Brown who could all, as singer-songwriter Ed Townsend said of Gaye, “sing the Lord’s Prayer, and it would have sexual connotations.” Legend’s debut achieves this unholy marriage in stages, but prioritizes evil over emotional complexity, with hints of the latent heartache often buried beneath male pride. Like many of his ancestors, Legend had the power to make infidelity too sexy to resist, and where else to learn the art of sinning but in church?
John Stephens grew up in a musical and religious family in Springfield, Ohio, and began taking piano lessons at age 4. At least twice a week, the family attended the El Bethel Temple, where her mother taught Sunday school and her father sang. and played drums in the choir. His grandfather was a minister and his grandmother an organist. By age 10, John had a regular role as a church pianist. In a 2007 interview, he described the church as an ideal training ground for singers, a space where young people could sing on a pop star-like platform. “You really get used to playing and working with the crowd when you grow up in that setting,” he told Charlie Rose. R&B fans love to mourn that today’s singers are so religiously detached that they miss the lineup that made voices like Marvin, Aretha and Whitney seem anointed from the bench. As one blog wrote in 2021, “Jesus got the girls hitting every note, but now they’re just hitting a few and praying AutoTune instead.” Legend’s roots gave him the ability to witness over a track or bask alongside Rick Ross’ raps of wealth as easily as he could sing a song of praise or float over a sample of soul. He has the cadence of a preacher and a beautiful grain to his voice that can easily slip into smarm if left unchecked.