John Legend bet on himself by using a “rather presumptuous” stage name before his career took off.
The musician, real name John Stephens, started calling himself John Legend even before his debut album Get Lifted was released in 2004, and he has admitted his early collaborator Kanye West and poet J. Ivy encouraged him to adopt “this rather presumptuous name.”
“(J. Ivy) started calling me the Legend, because I reminded him of some of the artists we grew up listening to, and he heard the ancestors in my voice,” he told The New Yorker. “That morphed into John Legend, and he and Kanye and a bunch of the other people around us were, like, ‘Man, that’s a stage name, John. You should go with that!’ I had already been performing around New York and Philly as John Stephens. I was selling my CDs on my Web site, john-stephens.com.”
John explained that the Legend nickname was initially used within their inner circle but then Kanye, who signed him to his G.O.O.D. Music label, started introducing him to people as John Legend and he decided to roll with it.
“Kanye started referring to me as that when he was introducing me to people: ‘Check out this artist I’ve signed! His name is John Legend.’ I was, like, F###, how am I going to tell people to call me John Legend? I don’t even have a record deal yet! What if I’m a flop?” he recalled. “I’m just going to bet on myself and spend all my energy trying to live up to this lofty stage name. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
John and Kanye worked together on their respective debut albums – Get Lifted and The College Dropout – and have collaborated many times over the years.
However, they are no longer close friends due to a falling out over political differences.