In the pyramid scheme of hip-hop and R’n’B one artist’s success inevitably leads to him attempting to launch the careers of those nearest and dearest to them. 2004 was undeniably the year of Kanye West, and at the same time he helped regenerate Twista’s career. Now Kanye’s attentions have turned to John Legend.
Legend was born in Philadelphia in 1979 into a musical family, although he was denied a Fresh Prince style playground upbringing by moving to Pennsylvania. It was reportedly at university there that he was introduced to Kanye West, and arguably it was there that a remarkable artist was created. Having written amongst other things Alicia Keys’ You Don’t Know My Name the time was rife for his debut major release.
From the soulful opening to Get Lifted it’s clear that this isn’t a hip-hop or even R’n’B album, this is different. The smooth vocals that continue into Let’s Get Lifted ease you into the mood. Without even knowing it I instantly recognised Used To Love U, the lead single from Get Lifted. The impression from the track is that John Legend is what Lemar would be if he had any credibility.
Crude comparisons aside, Alright is the first sign of any influence from Kanye West with his recognisable production infusing his brand of hip-hop with the soulful pianos and husky singing. She Don’t Have To Know however has an altogether different feel.
Think stereotypical smoky jazz and blues clubs and you’re getting close to the ambiance of the track. You can almost picture John Legend sitting on stage crooning, cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth. Number One is more conventional upbeat hip-hop sampling from Curtis Mayfield‘s Let’s Do It Again.
I Can Change is arguably the stand out track of the album, it’s definitely got the vibe of a dark West Coast tune. The song is one of lost loves and while lyrically it lacks in originality the composition more than makes up for it and Snoop Dogg‘s verse is arguably one of his best G-funk rhymes.
The contradictions of the album are epitomised by I Can Change being followed by Ordinary People, a pure piano and vocal track that is as heart warming as it is soul melting. Similar levels of emotion are evoked by the haunting Let’s Get Lifted Again, which also happens to tremble any half decent sound system.
The album could probably do without Refuge (When It’s Cold Outside), despite not being bad when taken into the context of the album there’s far too much R Kelly about it. It Don’t Have To Change however is key to the whole of ethos of John Legend given that it epitomises soul music while also making a key point of modern society, encapsulated by the opening words “Do you remember when the family was everything?”
Certain albums have the power to open the mind into different forms of music, and certainly those who pick up the Get Lifted with the pretence of it being a hip-hop album will have a rude awakening. I approached with trepidation after the opening Prelude but with an open mind or just an appreciation for the finer things in life Get Lifted could find itself being an essential album in anyone’s collection.