Happy 10th Anniversary to John Legends debut album Get Lifted, originally released December 28, 2004.
To the casual observer, John Legend emerged seemingly out of thin air in late 2004 with his debut album, taking the neo-soul and pop scenes by storm, both here in the US and internationally. To the more informed, however, the University of Pennsylvania grad had been honing his professional vocal chops for a handful of years prior, supporting the likes of urban music mainstays like Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Slum Village and Kanye West. The latter eventually signed Legend to his GOOD Music label and introduced him to the broader music world by releasing Get Lifted.
If memory serves, I believe I first heard Legends songs spun on Gilles Petersons BBC Radio show, and I was instantly drawn to his warm, buttery smooth voice and clear annunciation, as well as the discernible substance and weight of his lyrics. Without question, the will.i.am-produced, Grammy-winning Ordinary People is the song that made the most profound impression on me. Its piano-dominated, stripped-down sophistication offers the perfect sonic canvas for Legends vocals to shine, and Legends relatable narrative reinforces his penchant for storytelling that engages and resonates with the listener. Legends exploration of the often complicated and messy nature of love and fidelity never sounds contrived. Instead, the listener gets the sense that Legend has plenty of personal experience navigating past the infatuation phase of relationships and hes here to share what hes learned. Its this song that makes me wonder what Legend could do with a jazz standards album, if he was ever so inclined (my guess is that it would be a perfect fit for him and hed kill it).
The minimalism of Ordinary People does represent a bit of an anomaly in the greater context of Get Lifted, considering the primarily faster-tempo, hip-hop-infused songs that comprise most of the album. Stellar singles Used to Love You and Number One still stand as some of Kanye Wests highest caliber production work. Together, they serve as welcome reminders of the not-so-distant bygone era when Wests music whether his own or his production for others was not overshadowed by the tabloid/paparazzi fodder of his personal life. Hard to imagine now, I know, but there was indeed a time that West was known and respected for his musical prowess, above and beyond all else.
Legends output since his debut has been solid for sure, but he has yet to eclipse this indelible first offering. A total package of pure artistry and irresistible songcraft that effectively blends neo-soul sensibilities and hip-hop flavored originality with a reverential allegiance to old-school 1970s R&B, Get Lifted is quite simply an excellent album.
My Favorite Song: Ordinary People
“Number One” (2005)
“Used to Love U” (2004)
“So High” (2005)