John Legend: Straight Talk

From his platinum selling debut Get Lifted and countless Grammy awards, to successfully launching HomeSchool records; Legend is a true American success story. Everything he touches turns to Gold. The most recent being that of British starlet Estelle’s album Shine, the first lady of Legend’s HomeSchool record label. It is definitely a far cry from his days working as a session musician, toiling the nightclub circuit in New York City, Philadelphia, and DC. But all the success aside, Legend now finds himself in a new space – not wanting to seem like a one trick pony or be dubbed as doing the same old. However, as successful as the same old has been for him, he fully understands the need to evolve. Legend is currently preparing for the release of his new aptly titled album Evolver, which will be released in the fourth quarter of 2008 and will introduce a new sound for the Neo-Soul crooner.We catch up with the superstar backstage in his dressing room at the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, before his performance at the THISDAY Africa Rising event to talk about music, Estelle and those pesky gay rumors. Alternatives: Hey John, so what made you join the THISDAY Festival?John Legend: Well they asked me to do it in Nigeria last year, and we had a great time with them. Then they wanted me to do it here, and I said of course. I think it’s a great show and a great idea; I’m glad to do it with Jay-Z and it’s going to be a lot of fun tonight. AHHA: What can you tell me about your new album Evolver? The first single “Greenlight” is something that I really like, but wasn’t something I was expecting from you…John Legend: [laughs] That’s great. Thank you. Continue to expect the unexpected. I always like to experiment and try different sounds on each of my albums. Don’t expect me to stay in the same [lane], I’m always going to progress and try some different things. I think this album is a mixture of the sounds that you heard on Get Lifted and Once Again, but also mixed in with some new stuff. I think it’s a good mix.AHHA: Do you ever get scared of change?John Legend: No, not at all. I think some fans might be, but I’m not. [laughs]AHHA: Do you feel people have you pigeonholed you or put you in a particular bracket?John Legend: Yeah of course. I mean I think it’s cool to give people what they want and what they expect, but also put a twist on it. I think with each album I have done [I’ve] given them some of what they expect, but also switched it up a little bit. Otherwise it gets boring right?AHHA: Who have you worked with this time around besides Mr. Andre 3000?John Legend: Other than Andre, we have Kanye on the album, Pharrell was involved as well, Will.I.Am, Ne-Yo wrote a song on the album, and I did a record with Buju Banton. So yeah it’s a nice variety of stuff.AHHA: Estelle?John Legend: Estelle of course. How could I forget her! [laughs] I’m very proud of Estelle right now. She’s doing quite well right? AHHA: When I spoke to Estelle, she told me that she first did “American Boy” to prove you wrong because you didn’t like House music….John Legend: It’s funny as I heard the beat and I was like, “Well I don’t usually like this kind of music but this sounds really good.” I actually wrote the chorus idea and gave her the concept of the song and then she wrote the verses. So she didn’t have that much convincing to do. [laughs] I was like, “This sh*t sounds fresh.” [laughs]

"I read some of the blogs sometimes, and I think it’s funny. You can’t

let that get to you, you just got to keep living your life." -Legend on rumors in the blogs regarding his sexuality

AHHA: Would you like to incorporate House music into your sound maybe?John Legend: I never say that I won’t do anything. I’m always willing to try things. I just have to love it, I have to enjoy it, I have to think it’s a good record and think it works you know? If it works, it works right?AHHA: Sticking to Estelle for a second then, did you hear about the debate on soul music and [UK] artists like Duffy and Adele? If so, what are your thoughts?John Legend: Yeah I heard about it. I’m not familiar with either of them, but I don’t really care. I think Estelle makes great music and it stands on its own. I think out of all the albums that I have heard this year, that’s one of the best ones that came out this year. Even if the other ones are pitted against her, at the end of the da, if people are going to like her then they are going to buy her. They don’t have to buy her over anyone else. If they like all three, then they can buy all three. AHHA: Would you want to sign anymore UK acts?John Legend: I would sign anyone who I think is the right artist to sign no matter where they are from. If they make great music and I feel they have a marketable talent, then it could work. If I feel like we would work well together. You know there’s a lot of things into signing somebody, it’s partly about the chemistry and working well together and feeling like you can do a successful project together. I mean, I don’t have a lot of free time to work with a bunch of people, so each decision I make has to be careful. AHHA: It must be exciting though. Your first time managing someone and it has done so well?John Legend: Absolutely. It’s not a bad way to start. [laughs] It’s like with Kanye, the first artist he signed was me and the first artist I sign is Estelle. We don’t have a bad track record right? [laughs]AHHA: Not bad at all. So will we be seeing you experimenting with different styles on the new album?John Legend: Yeah. You heard “Greenlight” obviously so that’s a little different for me. We got a little bit of Reggae on the album, we got some mid tempo, some club tracks, some slow jams, we got a little bit of everything. It’s going to be a fun album. I think people will love it. AHHA: Do you have any non-music related projects happening?John Legend: I have a movie with Bernie Mac and Samuel Jackson called Soul Man, which I was a part of. Other than it’s pretty much all music.AHHA: What can you tell me about the movie?John Legend: It’s a comedy. It’s very music related. It’s about a musical group that broke up and are trying to get back together and stuff. It’s a fun movie. I just have a pretty small role in it but it was fun.AHHA: Regarding the blogs – they definitely are hard on you when it comes to the gay rumors. Do you care to address it? Does it bother you?John Legend: [laughs] No. Blogs, their job is too talk sh*t everyday. They have to fill up space. You know, I understand. They trying to be entertaining. They trying to fill up space everyday and sometimes they don’t have anything interesting to talk about so they got to make sh*t up. I understand, I read some of the blogs sometimes, and I think it’s funny. You can’t let that get to you, you just got to keep living your life.AHHA: So any goals this year?John Legend: For this album to do better than the first two. [laughs] I’m always trying to expand and grow and improve from what I’ve done before and I think I’ve done that. AHHA: The hard work has definitely paid off right...John Legend: You will not make it in this business and succeed over a long period of time unless you work really hard. I had to learn as I went when I was grinding. And it does make you appreciate your success. It makes you realize that it's really about the work. It's really about making the best music you can make. THISDAY's finale will be held at the Royal Albert Hall in London on October 14th.