Sunday, 11 November 2012

Whatever Happened To RnB? - John Legend

Remember when ‘Like I Love You’ ruled the charts and Destiny's Child still had four members? In this weekly feature, I’m going to take a look back at some of the best RnB artists of yesteryear, sharing their signature videos and underrated hits, as well as looking at what they’re up to nowadays.

Previous posts have focussed on Cassie, Ciara, Missy Elliott, Brandy, Monica, TLC and Mya. Now it's the mens turn so today, let's take a look at John Legend, one of my favourite male RnB singers.

Hey John!

John Legend is one of the most successful male RnB artists of all time, with nine grammy wins to his name and a timeless style that combines the atmosphere of classic 70s soul with modern arrangements and banging hip-hop collaborations. Legend also writes his own lyrics and has been playing the piano since he was four years old. Even before his first official album release, Legend had already played piano on Lauryn Hill's classic 'Everything Is Everything' and after a chance meeting with Kanye West, Legend began working with a range of popular artists, including Alicia Keys and Jay-Z. Here he is singing the backing vocals for my favourite album track off Kanye's first album, 'Never Let Me Down' ft Jay-Z and J-Ivy. 

Such a tune!

After a couple of independent demo releases, John Legend recorded his debut studio album 'Get Lifted' in 2004

The album was a huge success, winning the grammy for 'Best RnB Album' and was extremely well received by critics and fans alike. This is definitely my favourite Legend album, with some great hooks and fantastic production from Kanye West and Will.I.Am. Here's the debut single, 'Used To Love U'. 

Absolute classic. Gotta love a good gospel choir!

Legend followed up the success of his first single with 'Ordinary People', a piano ballad written by Will.I.Am. This was a hit upon its release but since then, its popularity has just grown and grown, and now I feel it has become Legend's signature song. Here's the slightly melodramatic black and white video.

If I heard that many people arguing around me, I'd probably just pack my piano up and leave!

'Get Lifted' is one of those albums that you need to listen to as a whole for the atmosphere it creates, but if I had to pick my favourite album track, it would have to be 'Alright'. I love this Kanye produced track so much, for its laid back attitude and a great vocal from Legend. If you don't already own this classic album, listen to 'Alright' this second!

The fourth and final single from 'Get Lifted' was the song 'So High', which was re-recorded as a duet with the normalloy reclusive Lauryn Hill for its release. The 'Cloud 9 Remix' was produced by Wyclef Jean and gained Legend another grammy nomination, this time for the award 'Best RnB Vocal Performance by a Duet or a Group'. Enough with the grammy's already John!

In 2006, Legend returned with his sophomore effort 'Once Again', which was... once again nominated for numerous grammy's. Ha, yeah I went there!

Lead single 'Save Room' is a smooth RnB number which features a catchy hook and strong vocals from Legend, who continued to promote his ladies man persona with the promo for this song.

One of Legend's best songs in my opinion.

Follow up single 'Heaven' netted Legend yet another grammy win but personally, it's actually my least favourite single from this album, as I find it a bit cheesy. See what you think.

However, I loved the third single, 'P.D.A. (We Just Don't Care)', despite it's stupid title. This mid-tempo number is just Legend at his best, featuring charming vocals and simple production. 

The last single release from 'Once Again' was not a huge hit, but I love the animated segments of the video for 'Stero' and the hip-hop beat marked a welcome change in direction for Legend.

I know I'm banging on about 'Once Again' a lot but I really wanted to share my favourite album track with you, the beautiful 'Show Me'. This is a stunning song which features Legend singing with softer vocals than normal and the spiritual lyrics help to create a tender ethereal atmosphere to the track. Watch the video here.

Just two short years later, Legend returned with his third studio album 'Evolver'.

This effort saw Legend experiment more with his production style, yet most of the singles seemed to make less of an impact on the charts than previous releases. Lead single 'Green Light' is the exception however, becoming one of Legend's biggest hits. Featuring Andre 3000 of Outkast fame on guest rap duties, the track has a more uptempo hip-hop feel than previous singles and you can actually dance to it!

Follow-up single 'If You're Out There' was inspired by Barack Obama's presidential campaign and saw a return to Legend's more typically piano based sound. It's an inspirational song which Legend often performs with gospel choirs to lend it more impact. Here's a live performance of the track with the International Agape Choir.

My favourite song off the album which didn't make it as a single is duet 'Quickly', which sees Legend team up with RnB artist Brandy. I love how their voices sound together on the song and I think it would have made a great single. Interesting side note; the track was co-written by Frank Ocean, long before he became successful as a solo artist in his own right!

2010 saw Legend team up with hip-hop band The Roots for a collaborative album of soul covers from the 60s and 70s titled 'Wake Up!'.

The focus for this project was the importance of each songs social message and the collaboration resulted in yet more grammy nominations for the stars and a wealth of positive reviews. However, the album kind of passed me by at the time and it made little impact on more commercial audiences. Lead single 'Wake Up Everybody' was originally sung by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1975 but the song still holds up remarkably well today. The new version also features Melanie Fiona's vocals and a guest rap from Common. This style of music may not be particularly fashionable right now but 'Wake Up Everybody' is a great song that deserved the accolades it received.

John Legend also recorded an original track for the album called 'Shine', which won him the grammy for Best RnB song. Seriously. The man could poop out a song and it would get at least a nomination from the grammy commitee. It's a soulful little number but it hasn't grabbed me like so many of Legend's other singles have. Have a listen to this live studio version of the song to make up your own mind.

Legend has recorded many duets over the years, with a huge variety of artists, but one of my recent highlights has to be his guest appearance on Kanye's masterpiece, 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'. 'Blame Game' has a brilliantly simple chorus sung by Legend, full of restrained aggression, and Kanye's verses tell a great story. This one is explicit though so don't click below if you are easily offended.

Tis' the season and all that so here's a duet John Legend recorded in 2010 with Mariah Carey, called 'When Christmas Comes'. Even though it was only written in the last few years, the song feels like a classic Christmas track and I was surprised at how well their two voices sound together. Watch the video here to get in the Christmassy mood. If it's not Christmas when you read this, then I apologise!

As if Legend wasn't talented enough, in 2011 he took the most beloved song of the year and transformed it into his own haunting acapella version. Yes, It's Adele's 'Rolling In The Deep'. Legend just sounds phenomenal on this cover and without knowing the original, it would be easy to believe that the song was actually written by Legend for himself. That's how good it is. Don't believe me? Or maybe you're just sick of the song? Either way, you need to listen to this version right now and I guarantee that you'll love it.

Legend's most recent single release is the song 'Tonight (Best You Ever Had)' for the soundtrack to the 2012 film 'Think Like A Man'. The track features a topless Legend ogling a semi-naked girl, fireworks and Ludacris on guest rap duties. The lyrics are just a teeny bit arrogant but I quite like the song as it it another change of pace and style for Legend. Watch the video here.  

Legend has stated that his fifth studio album 'Love In The Future' is due sometime in 2012 but it looks like that release date may be pushed back to 2013. He needs to have a big push for the next albums lead single, whatever it may be, to get back into the public consciousness. Otherwise, his sales may continue to decline but as long as Legend comes back with something as good as 'Tonight' or his Adele cover, then I'll be happy.

If you've enjoyed looking back at John Legend's career so far then please  comment, like and share and remember to come back next week for another edition of Whatever Happened To RnB. 

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