But according to Legend, their new album, Wake Up!, out Tuesday (September 21), was anything but a gimme. The LP is a collection of vintage cover tracks with a few contemporary edits, and the singer admitted the studio sessions forced him, in a pivotal way, to stretch beyond his comfort zone.
"I think this album is bold and it's different than anything that I've done but I don't think people will think it's out of my sphere of what I do, because it's very soulful," Legend told MTV News. "It incorporates gospel, it incorporates hip-hop, funk, reggae; it's very classic. It's inspired by music from the '60s and '70s, all these are things you would expect me to do. And all these are things you would think the Roots are a phenomenal band and production team to do it with, and so it works really well in that regard. I think it will feel very powerful to Roots fans, John Legend fans, and all of the above people who haven't listened to us before, because the collaboration felt very natural, it felt very right."
Although both John Legend and the Roots share a connection that stems from their Philadelphia backgrounds — the singer attended college in the area and the bandmembers hail from the city — joining forces wasn't a simple process.
Roots drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson said he's selective about who he works with, limiting the list to a few veterans. But Legend, he said, shares a common palette when it comes to musical tastes.
"As far as doing a full-fledged record with a singer, a lot of times I shy away from singers because a lot of them don't have the seasoning and the reference points that I look for when I do work with particular singers," ?uestlove explained, citing his '70s-era soul music influences. "So it was fun working with John," he added. "John is a double-edged sword: He has a velvety smooth voice, but here, he really, really exercised — much to my delight and much to his chagrin — the rawness."
What do you think of John Legend and the Roots coming together for an album? Let us know in the comments!