"I always say you have to believe that if you're going to get into this business, you have to believe that you're great," says talented singer/songwriter John Legend, due in town for a concert on Saturday. "You have to believe that you're going to be around for a long time, and you're going to make music that the world wants to hear ... I just felt like this was what I was supposed to do in life."
Legend, a native of Springfield, Ohio, had four live albums to his credit before he was signed by Columbia Records in 2004. He also had the notoriety of being a primary collaborator with Kanye West on The College Dropout, the 2004 debut that rocketed West to superstar status. His 2004 debut Get Lifted brought a classic soul style back into the contemporary music scene.
Get Lifted drew strongly from the classic soul of artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Curtis Mayfield, but it also blended in modern hip-hop beats as well. 2006's Once Again found Legend leaning even deeper toward a vintage soul sound. It became another success story, topping one million copies sold, even though its three singles, "Heaven," "Save Room," and "Another Again," failed to crack the Top-25 at any radio format.
But Legend's recently-released album Evolver brings some significant shifts in his music. Legend says the thought of being pigeonholed as a retro-soul artist played a role in the direction it took.
"Part of the thinking when I was making this album was that I didn't want to be typecast," he says. "Even though I have such a love for vintage soul, it's not all that I am. And I didn't want my whole repertoire to become kind of revisiting one particular era of music over and over again."
Legend believes Evolver reflects his overall goal to progress musically. "I think each album is in some ways a reaction to the last album," he says. "The last album was more kind of mellow and more intimate, more romantic, more explicitly vintage and classic. So I felt like I could do something different on this album and still make a great album , but just with a different form of expression."
He immediately signals his intentions on hooky lead track "Green Light." It bounces out of the speakers behind a thumping beat and takes on even more of party jam sound with rap contributions from Andre 3000 (of OutKast fame). The jams continue with songs like "It's Over" (featuring Kanye West), the perky "Quickly" (a duet with Brandy), and "Satisfaction." These blend Legend's silky vocal melodies with pumped up beats.
"We approach even the older songs in a new way, just so we can kind of integrate them to make it pretty seamless," Legend says of his current live show. "We want to try to get to a lot of the songs that people like without making the show three hours. As a fan, I don't like long shows. I think a good zone is between 90 minutes and two hours."
Sharing the bill with Legend on this tour is acclaimed soul/R&B vocalist India.Arie, who began writing songs while attending college in Savannah, Ga. Motown Records released her 2001 debut Acoustic Soul, which earned seven Grammy Award nominations. Arie's second album, 2002's A Voyage to India, did nearly as well. Four years later, Testimony: Vol. 1: Love & Relationships went to No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
"I wanted to make music that moved people in a positive way," she remembers. "[After Acoustic Soul], I decided to walk that fine line between my complete craft and the commercial world. In hindsight I like that album. I felt I was compromising, and I did compromise. I like that album now in hindsight. When I listen to it, it's nice. I stand by the songs, definitely, but the production, uh, sometimes not so much."
Arie was true to herself more than ever on her latest disc, Testimony: Vol. 2: Love & Politics, taking control of production duties.
"It's been really fun because Testimony Vol. 2 is my favorite one ever, and not just the sound of it, but the whole process and what it means to me on a spiritual level and also the sound of it," Arie says. "It's the first time I really feel that I presented myself the way I see myself."
For more on Legend and Indie.Arie, go to the music section at charlestoncityaper.com.