Soul Savior? New Hope in Legend's New Take on Old School

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Soul Savior? New Hope in Legend's New Take on Old School


Byline: Robyn-Denise Yourse, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As the backlash against the violent misogyny pervading gangsta rap and hip-hop culture spreads - Al Sharpton and Essence magazine have recently added their voices to those of Bill Cosby, Spike Lee and others - John Legend just might be emerging as a credible positive alternative.

A good thing too, because you can't fight something with nothing.

Released in late December, the 26-year-old singer-composer's debut album "Get Lifted" - an introspective look at the complexities of love that's steeped in old school soul - debuted at No. 7 on Billboard's album chart, selling nearly 500,000 copies in its first week. Within days, Mr. Legend's name - along with the predictable headline puns it generates - was everywhere. In February "Ordinary People," the album's torchy ballad and crown jewel, was released as a single. The buzz built.

"John Legend has a great kind of gospel influence, much like that of Ray Charles," said Michaela angela Davis, a District native and fashion and beauty editor at Essence magazine, which has organized Take Back the Music, a yearlong campaign against the degradation of women that has become endemic in hip-hop.

"His music and videos are decidedly positive," Miss Davis continued. "He makes music that my 14-year old daughter and her friends can listen to, and he even found a way to play with Snoop [Dogg] - someone who at times has drawn criticism for his music - on his record. We need someone who offers an alternative that is positive and fresh. And John Legend is in that group, which also includes folks like Alicia [Keys], Jill Scott and India.arie.

"Plus, he not only respects women, he looks like someone who has self- respect. When you're grounded in yourself, you respect others."

Moreover, Miss Davis says, Mr. Legend has "street cred" because of his long association with Grammy winning rapper Kanye West, who has played a key role in Mr. Legend's rise and the release of "Get Lifted."

"We need more people like Kanye, who will help others make it through," Miss Davis says. "And John has definitely made it through. His music is out there."

Don't misunderstand. Healthy, humane and positive Mr. Legend may be. Naive and sentimental he is not.

"Get Lifted's" 14 songs are really two albums in one. Its first half is a hard-headed acknowledgement of the games both sexes play in affairs of the heart.

The hip-hop tinged "Used to Love U," by Mr. Legend and Mr. West, is clearly aimed at a gold digger ("Maybe I should rob somebody/So we could live like Whitney and Bobby/It's probably my fault, my bad, my loss/That you are above cost/And all I could do was love you").

"She Don't Have to Know" deals realistically with the passions of infidelity - and the price it inevitably exacts.

"I Can Change," which features an appearance by Snoop Dogg, is a litany of promises - to "stay out of the club, stay home," to "go to church, get baptized" - of personal renewal for the sake of a woman. It's not clear just how seriously these vows to reform are to be taken in the context of the song. …

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