John Legend, The Roots Talk Levi’s Pioneer Recording Sessions

Collaborators covered soul song 'Our Generation,' after hearing it sampled on classic '90s Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth track.

Ernie Hines probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of soul singers. But the Mississippi singer/guitarist’s “Our Generation” was John Legend and the Roots’ choice when it was their turn to cover a song for the
Levi’s Pioneer Sessions project.

Legend and the Roots, who were already working on an album of covers, Wake Up!, were quick to come onboard when Levi’s called. Legend acknowledged the song was relatively obscure, but said he thought fans would recognize it from a famous hip-hop sample.

” ‘Straighten It Out’ [by] Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth was an important hip-hop record and it sampled ‘Our Generation,’ ” Legend said. The R&B crooner went on to explain that as he and the Philly band were putting his album together, they wanted a sound that was both hip-hop and soul.

“A lot of what we did was try to bring songs that have been sampled or should be sampled or sample-able to make the album,” Legend continued. “It just makes sense to do the song [for Levi's].”

Covering a song previously sampled on a ’90s rap song — in this case, one off the hip-hop duo’s classic 1992 LP, Mecca and the Soul Brother — makes sense for two acts known for playing to more mature audiences, Roots drummer ?uestlove said.

“People might not know ‘Our Generation,’ but there’s definitely people in their mid-30s that know Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth ‘Straighten It Out.’ And it will also hit people that knew the original ‘Our Generation,’ that are now 50 years old,” ?uest added.

The Levi’s 2010 Revival Recordings series asks musicians to choose songs that were not only influential in their careers but also proved to be part of music history. Legend and the Roots decided to bring MC C.L. Smooth into the booth with them, and they all agree it was worth the effort. The singer said he was excited to collaborate with Smooth, but also the Roots drummer; some interesting, unexpected sounds emerged.

“One of the coolest things about working with Ahmir ['?uestlove' Thompson] is his encyclopedic knowledge of music,” Legend said. “He just knows a lot of great records. When you’re thinking about putting an album together of songs that were performed [more than] 40 to 50 years ago, he’s one of the best people to talk about that with.”

The album Wake Up! is due for a September release, and the Ernie Hines cover is available for free download at the Levi’s Pioneer Sessions website.

Does hearing the Roots and John Legend’s Levi’s track make you excited for their upcoming album? Tell us in the comments!