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John Legend - Get Lifted Music Album Reviews

John Legend - Get Lifted Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the 2004 debut from John Legend, one of hip-hop and R&B’s most soulful synergies.

Back when Kanye West was clamoring for respect as a rapper, he was also looking to prove himself as a mogul. In 2003, the first artist he signed to his fledgling imprint, Getting Out Our Dreams (aka G.O.O.D Music), was a 25-year-old ex-choirboy named John Stephens, whose demo tape of spare, piano-backed R&B had been getting rejected by multiple labels. Not your typical executive, Kanye was a hitmaker with an ear for narrative tension, naturally drawn to the sinner-saint dichotomy in Stephens’ songwriting. Kanye urged the singer to adopt a nickname friends had been calling him, John Legend, and when introducing his flagship artist at showcases, he would describe Legend’s sound as “spirit music,” contrary to the commercial R&B that West had deemed “popcorn shit.”

Under Kanye’s creative direction, Legend reworked his demo for his debut album Get Lifted, which dropped in December 2004 amid the whirlwind of Usher’s Confessions and with neo-soul on its mainstream decline. The pop world was, at the same time, still pining for throwback singers, and Legend fit the bill: a trained pianist with a new-school edge and a raspy morning voice whose closest peer was Alicia Keys. His music crossed generations while heralding a new era of millennial entanglements. While Legend was making smoldering hymns steeped in love and deception, Kanye was a newly in-demand producer known for mining sped-up samples into classic gems. With Get Lifted, they created one of hip-hop and R&B’s most soulful synergies, split evenly between jubilant Kanye-produced records about infidelity and earnest commitment ballads that telegraphed Legend’s forthcoming evolution from player to family man. The album blazed a trail for its sacrilegious spin on gospel and R&B—you can practically hear the ghost of old Kanye cackling in the background as Legend embraces his most toxic impulses, singing heartily, “You can’t say, I don’t love you/Just because I cheat on you.”

This is John Legend 1.0, with the voice of an angel and a Kanye-sanctioned ego. Get Lifted thrives on the eternal conflict between gospel and secular, perfected by his predecessors like Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, and James Brown who could all, as singer-songwriter Ed Townsend said of Gaye, “sing the Lord’s Prayer, and it would have sexual overtones.” Legend’s debut achieves that unholy matrimony in stretches but prioritizes mischief over emotional complexity, with hints of the latent heartache often buried under male pride. The album’s cockiness is a necessary evil. Like many of his forebears, Legend had the power to make cheating sound too sexy to resist, and where else do you learn the art of sinning than in church?

John Stephens grew up in a musical, churchgoing household in Springfield, Ohio, and started taking piano lessons around age 4. At least twice a week, the family attended El Bethel Temple, where his mother was a Sunday School teacher, and his father sang and played drums in the choir. His grandfather was a minister, and his grandmother an organist. By age 10, John had a regular role as a church pianist. In a 2007 interview, he described the church as an ideal training ground for vocalists, a space where young people could sing on a platform akin to a pop star. “You really get used to performing and working the crowd when you grow up in that setting,” he told Charlie Rose. R&B fans love grieving that today’s singers are so religiously detached that they miss out on the schooling that made voices like Marvin, Aretha, and Whitney seem anointed from the pew. As one blog wrote in 2021, “Jesus had the girls hitting every note, but now they just hit some of them and pray to AutoTune instead.” Legend’s roots gave him the range to be able to testify on a track or luxuriate next to Rick Ross’ affluence raps as effortlessly as he could sing a praise song or float over a soul sample. He has a preacher’s cadence and a handsome grain on his voice that can easily slip into smarm if uncontained.

As a skilled pianist, Legend had the makings of both a star and dream collaborator. He graduated high school early and entered the University of Pennsylvania at 16 as an English major, juggling two jobs: director of his school’s a cappella group, the Counterparts, and of an Afro-Methodist church choir in Scranton, Pennsylvania every Sunday. In his junior year, he landed his first major placement after a friend who’d been singing backup for Lauryn Hill hooked him up with a studio session for Hill’s 1998 solo debut, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Then just 19, Legend wound up playing piano on “Everything Is Everything,” earning a $500 session fee. Four years later, he quit his job as a management consultant to pursue music full-time in New York, where he worked with producer Dave Tozer on recordings like 2001’s Live at Jimmy’s Uptown and 2003’s Solo Sessions Vol. 1: Live at the Knitting Factory and sold the CDs at his shows. That’s when a college roommate, Devon Harris, introduced him to Kanye West, who Legend pinned back then as “just some cousin that made beats as far as I knew.”

Kanye was intent on being much more than that. He felt he was filling a lane in mainstream hip-hop with equally flossy and uplifting rhymes, and he saw Legend as a spiritual counterpart. After Legend signed to G.O.O.D Music in 2003, he earned a cushy slot as a background pianist and vocalist on some of Kanye’s most buttery early productions: JAY-Z’s “Encore,” Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name,” Slum Village’s “Selfish.” By then, Legend had already completed most of the songs that would land on Get Lifted, but he needed Kanye’s cosign to get noticed. The College Dropout’s runaway success in 2004 helped Legend land a deal with one of the labels that had previously dismissed him, Columbia. The duo re-recorded his demo tracks and led with the Kanye-produced single “Used to Love U,” a jaunty breakup anthem where Legend sarcastically relents: “Maybe it’s me, maybe I bore you/Maybe Puffy, Jay-Z would all be better for you,” which is something of a complement to Kanye’s subsequent anthem about ambitious women, “Gold Digger.”

On Get Lifted’s first half, Legend embarks on a doomed journey toward fidelity with an impressive four-track run where he moves from deception to remorse in the most chaotically slick fashion. “She Don’t Have to Know” is a tale of two indiscreet cheaters reveling in the threat of being caught: “Damn, it’s so stressful doing the dirt we do/So sad but true,” he sighs over breezy chapel organs. The gleefully catchy “Number One,” which samples the funky 1975 Staple Singers single “Let’s Do It Again,” builds Legend’s jovially-sung lies into a Jenga tower of excuses. “You can’t see all I do to keep you from knowing the things I do,” he sings, before assuring a partner that he wears protection while sleeping around and then swearing to be faithful, accompanied by a festive background choir: “I said it the last time… But this is the last time.” Kanye swoops in with a verse about his own wayward penis: “I tried to jag off/He said, ‘Who is you playing with?’” If the 2004 version of Legend were on a dating show like Too Hot to Handle, he’d be cast as the playboy, pretending to reform while smirking during a confessional. The album’s tone can be so cheeky as to seem affected sometimes, but there’s an overall soothing levity to the project. It helped that Legend’s shallow indiscretions came in witty couplets that painted him as a forgivable anti-hero.

Get Lifted’s latter half transitions from sinner to penitent, with “Ordinary People” as a clear divider. The redemptive, gospel-tinged “I Can Change” opens with a testimonial moan, then the keys and horns drop, and Legend pledges to do evidently challenging things like listening when his partner talks and staying home at night. Snoop Dogg’s recommitment meanwhile requires a river baptism: “Man, it’s cold, I ain’t been clubbing, dranking, or smoking—I’m focused,” Snoop professes. Legend turns the act of being faithful into a cliff-hanger at the end, repeating cynically, “This time I mean it…,” with implied ellipses that suggest otherwise.

The rest of the album pulls back on the guilty pleasures, easing into restraint with stripped-down ballads like “Stay With You,” a sincere slow jam about choosing devotion, produced by Legend’s frequent collaborator, Tozer. But it’s “Ordinary People” that remains Legend’s most immortal tune, a beautiful homage to the reality and suspense of long-term love, set on a misty arrangement of keys. The lyrics are timeless, inspired by Legend’s parents, who remarried 12 years after they divorced. And though the song sounds pre-programmed for Grammy praise (it won in 2005 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance), Legend sells the conflict with genuine clarity, making it believable that his character could effortlessly evolve over the course of 15 tracks.

It took until his fourth studio album, 2013’s Love in the Future, for Legend to complete his transformation from philandering frog to Prince Charming. He wrote his wedding classic, “All of Me,” as an ode to his then-fiancée new muse Chrissy Teigen, netting him his first No. 1 single. In his 2020 Verzuz battle with Alicia Keys, the two sat back to back behind their respective pianos, and Legend stated the obvious: “A lot of people get married to both of our songs.” Like other prestigious R&B acts, they’ve evolved into artists whose records now soundtrack Oscar films and pander to spouses and former presidents. As Legend moved toward making music for lovers and lounges, mainstream R&B has incidentally shifted away from conventional romance and into the arms of situationships, with women like Jazmine Sullivan, SZA, and Summer Walker leading the way, carrying the spirit of imperfection that fuels Get Lifted.

The John Legend of today is too wholesome an artist to bend the rules of monogamy. He’s a political family man who regularly posts about his two children on Instagram and defends his wife’s social media faux pas. Adult contemporary R&B dooms musicians to the fate of virtuousness that way. A faded portrait now, Get Lifted is Legend is at his most intriguing, singing about being unable to evolve as a man. But so it goes. It’s fun to be reckless until you discover the only thing more enticing than making the same mistake twice is stability.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
John Legend - Get Lifted Music Album Reviews John Legend - Get Lifted Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, March 13, 2022 Rating: 5

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