If you’ve ever listened to a Kanye West-produced track and wondered who the soulful voice on the hook belonged to, nine times out of 10 it was John Legend. The singer/songwriter who provided the vocals for singles like West’s “Jesus Walks” and Jay-Z’s “Encore” is now ready to make a name for himself with his debut, Get Lifted.
Due December 28, the album was done in demo form long before Legend signed his deal with Columbia Records. It wasn’t until West took Legend under his wing, however, that people started to take note.
“I was getting turned down by labels with the album that I am now releasing,” Legend said. “I guess timing is important. So the timing worked out, and it is all good. We re-recorded everything and finished the album in June.”
While Legend was shopping his album, he had the opportunity to work with artists like Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill, Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, among others, on their projects, but it was the singer’s affiliation with West that put him over the top.
“Clearly, it gave me a lot of experience working with great artists on classic albums,” said Legend. “Anytime you get that kind of experience it will rub off on you. I learned to make the best of those opportunities, and it helped me to make my project better.
“The exposure for me was great, as well,” he added. “It all started to build excitement around my project for both consumers and labels. Kanye’s album really got things going, and now here I come.”
Legend’s recent experiences as a hook singer for acts like West, Slum Village and Dilated Peoples have also upped his notoriety. However, Legend wants to be remembered for more than being a featured act.
“You have to break that mold yourself,” he said. “I did that by making a great album. However, if it doesn’t do well, I will still just be the dude who sang this or that hook, and there are plenty of artists out there like that.”
It doesn’t look like Legend will have to worry about that. His debut single, “Used to Love U,” is already gaining him his own contingent of fans. According to Legend, the single, co-written and produced by West, was written in a matter of minutes in a Los Angeles hotel room.
“We put it on [Kanye’s] I’m Good mixtape a few months back, and everyone loved it,” Legend said. “It truly was my introduction to the music world. It also reflects our movement on a number of levels, particularly with the hip-hop-meets-soul-meets-gospel vibe.”
Kanye West isn’t the only famous friend Legend recruited for Get Lifted. His second single, “Ordinary People,” was produced by Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas.
“Will played this hip-hop beat with these chords, and I just started singing the hook, ’We are ordinary people,’ ” Legend explained. “It just wasn’t a Black Eyed Peas kind of song, so he let me use it for my album.
“It’s the quintessential relationship song,” added Legend. “My parents were divorced for 12 years, and they got back together, so the song shows that there are ups and downs in any relationship.”
With his album release still a couple of months away, Legend has already had the pleasure of playing in front of huge audiences by going on the road with West and Usher on the Truth Tour (see “Usher Proves He’s ’The Truth’ At Tour Kickoff” ).
“Just like those other projects, the tour has given people a chance to see me before they delve into my project,” said Legend. “Being in front of tens of thousands of people and getting to perform my single is great. There is no pressure because they are not there to see me — my name is not on the bill. I am just an added treat.”