Where To Start With... John Legend
Even before his debut album arrived in 2004, John Legend was already making waves on the hip-hop and R&B circuits thanks to several guest appearances and collaborations with artists like Kanye West, adding his rich, soulful voice to tracks on College Dropout, and Lauryn Hill, for whom Legend applied his piano-playing skills to her hit single 'Everything is Everything'. A live album, 2003's Live at SOB's, marked him out as a performer with the ability to effortlessly combine old-school soul sensibilities with modern styles and influences. When his debut Get Lifted arrived it yielded powerful songs like 'Ordinary People' and drew comparisons to the likes of Stevie Wonder and Isaac Hayes, not to mention winning the singer-songwriter three Grammys.
Since then, John Legend has released a further three studio albums under his own name, as well as a 2008 live album recorded in Philadelphia and a 2010 collaboration with The Roots named Wake Up!, comprised of cover versions of classic protest songs. In addition he has continued to appear as a guest vocalist and collaborator with a range of artists from Common and Big Sean to Meghan Trainor and Sam Smith.
His last album Love in the Future came in 2013, but in October this year began releasing new music again and this week he returns with his fifth studio album. Darkness and Light features 12 brand new tracks and includes the singles 'Love Me Now', 'I Know Better' and 'Penthouse Floor', the latter featuring a guest appearance from Chance The Rapper. Other guests on the new album include R&B singer Miguel and Alabama Shakes vocalist Brittany Howard.
The single with Chance The Rapper is a particular highlight, but overall this another very strong collection that continues to blend Legend's retro sensibilities and obvious songwriting talent with more contemporary production, which is being handled here by Greg Kurstin, John Ryan and Greg Mills.
You can preview and purchase the album at the top right of this page and you can also find the video for 'Love Me Now' below, beneath that we've picked out five highlights from John Legend's career so far...
One of the standout tracks on his debut album, 'Ordinary People' was also the breakthrough single that introduced John Legend's talents to a wider audience, as well as winning him one of three Grammys that year for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (the other two being for Best R&B Album and Best New Artist). Featuring just piano and vocals, the song is a simple but powerful message of the ups and downs of being love, brimming with honesty and raw emotion.
'P.D.A. (We Just Don't Care)'
Taken from his 2006 sophomore album Once Again, 'P.D.A.' (that's 'public displays of affection, in case you were wondering) was one of the album's singles and sees Legend talking about his desire to add a little danger into his love life (“I see you closing down the restaurant / Let´s sneak and do it when your boss is gone”). It also happen to be one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and is a perfect tune for lazy summer days in the park. Incidentally, that's another of Legend's suggested love-making locations...
The opening track from Wake Up!, the album of covers performed with The Roots, was originally recorded by Baby Huey in 1971, but Legend's voice is perfectly suited to the song and this version also includes the vocal talents of The Roots' chief wordsmith Black Thought. The live version performed in the video below is also excellent.
'Who Do We Think We Are'
One of two tracks we've picked from Legend's 2013 album Love in the Future, 'Who Do We Think We Are' features a guest appearance from Rick Ross and is huge-sounding slow jam produced by a team that includes Kanye West and Dave Tozer. Lyrically, this song features Legend questioning the value of the high-rolling image that musicians sometimes present, but it's Legend's soaring vocal on this song that edged it onto our list.
'Save The Night'
Our final pick is one of the deep cuts Love in the Future and while it wasn't released as a single, it's one of our favourites from his 2013 album. Of all the tracks co-produced by Kanye West on the album, this is perhaps the moment where his input is most evident and while the arrangement is fairly uncomplicated, based around a towering drum beat and piano chords, it sounds absolutely massive.